2004—Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time—C
Hope amid wars and rumors of wars.
Today's readings' talk of the end of time probably leaves many of us uncomfortable. The prophet Malachi describes the day of the Lord that is coming in language that sounds like a fundamentalist television preacher proclaiming that the end of the world is near: it is a day "blazing like an oven when all the proud will burned up like stubble." The gospel proclaims the final day when not one stone of the great city of Jerusalem will be left upon another. How can such words speak to us in helpful ways?
The readings do indeed speak of destruction and the ending of great human achievements. In the gospel, the people of Jerusalem are admiring the glory of the Temple Israel had created. Its facade was decorated with polished white marble, and its gold decorations flashed brightly in the sun. Building it was such a holy work that all the masons had been consecrated as priests. So when Jesus said not one stone of this temple would be left upon another, he was saying a reality at the heart of Israel's identity would be destroyed. It is as if he said to us Americans that the US Capital building or the White House would be destroyed. It is like telling Catholics that St. Peter's in Rome would be bombed. No wonder that the charge that led to Jesus's execution was connected with his prediction of the temple's destruction. Despite all he said about turning the other cheek and being peacemakers, people thought what he was doing was something like encouraging terrorists to destroy the capital in Washington.
In the year 70, 35 years after Jesus's prediction, the temple was in fact destroyed, by legions seeking to keep Israel under Roman control. The Jewish historian Josephus's work The Jewish War says that "every trace of beauty" in Jerusalem "had been blotted out by war." Our gospel passage was written by Luke about the year 80, after the destruction has already happened. What Jesus predicted had become a present reality. So Luke applied Jesus words to the events of his own day. As Luke writes, there are wars and insurrections. Nations fight to the death against nations. Tribes, peoples, and clans are clashing. Just as Jesus himself was rejected, those who follow Christ in challenging the way things are will be rejected and persecuted.
Does any of this sound familiar to you today? Listen to the New York Times from 2 days ago: "In separate incidents to the north and southeast of Falluja, two Super Cobra helicopters were brought down after being fired on from the ground. In downtown Baghdad, a powerful suicide car bomb exploded on a busy commercial street, killing at least 17 people and wounding at least 30 others. Violence surged throughout the Sunni triangle west of Baghdad, with bombings and mortar attacks jolting Ramadi, just 30 miles west of Falluja." Wars and rumors of war.
Jesus's predictions were being realized a generation after his death as Luke wrote. They are being realized in our own time today. Has there ever been an age without such trial and turmoil? Has there ever been a time when a true Christian has not been ridiculed and rejected for urging us to seek peace and turn away from war? Today's readings speak not just of an end that is to come, but of what is happening now. Each day, in a certain way, is the last. Every sunset announces the closing of a day that will never come again. All of us daily face the end of our world, our span of a life, whether it is long or short. So each time is a kind of end-time. Everything Christ predicted has taken place and is taking place and will continue to take place.
Does this mean, as Shakespeare's Macbeth says, that life is "a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"? For those with Christian hope, this is not the way it is at all. Through all the turmoil of our days and our generation, not death but a new and fuller life is assured. As Malachi puts in the first reading, "there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays." And Jesus tells us that in the final analysis "not a hair of your head will be harmed." Despite the wars and upheavals, God wants to give you fullness of peace and life. So hang in there! Have courage; keep alive the patient endurance you need to keep struggling for peace and for justice in this broken world. So together let us pray in hope for the rising of that sun of justice, the sun of peace. Let us pray for the coming of the One who says don't be afraid, not a hair of our heads will be lost. With that hope, we can persevere despite the wars and rumors of war of today. David Hollenbach, S.J. St. Ignatius Church November 14, 2004 Readings: Malachi 3: 19-20a; 2 Thess 3:7-12; Luke 21: 5-19