Lesson for our 'older brothers' meaningful for us, too
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 14
Malachi 3:19-20a; Psalm 98:5-6,7-8,9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19
My father attended a one-room, country school, in rural Dixon. When his teacher would instruct the students at the various grade levels, his older and younger brothers couldn’t help but overhear each other’s lectures.
The younger brothers would often puzzle over the more difficult lessons intended for the upper level students, while his older brothers had opportunity to listen again to what they had previously learned.
An experienced student of the Bible will appreciate how similar my dad’s experience was to a mature encounter with God’s Word. Some New Testament passages pertain to those living in the first century; some to future generations, and others to Christians of all generations. These distinctions are of immense significance for a responsible interpretation of the Bible -- and never more so than when interpreting prophetic passages like Luke 21:5-19.
Jesus shocked the disciples by informing them that Jerusalem’s glorious temple would be destroyed, that “there will not be left one stone . . . that will not be thrown down.” Their response is understandable: “When will this happen?” and “What sign will there be when it is about to happen?”
Jesus detailed a series of events that would occur before the destruction of the temple: false prophets, wars and insurrections, powerful earthquakes, famines, plagues, and awe-inspiring signs in the sky.
Before all this happens, waves of persecution will commence, with believers being seized and thrown into prison. This will provide Christians with unprecedented access to kings and governors, who will be powerless to resist the supernatural gifts of eloquence and wisdom granted to the imprisoned. Paradoxically, while some will suffer martyrdom, Jesus promised that “not a hair of your head will be destroyed.”
When Jesus spoke these words, the temple was under Jewish control. However, when the Jews revolted against the Romans (between 66 and 73 AD), the Roman laid siege against Jerusalem and completely demolished the temple. Except for the subterranean foundations, not one stone remained.
“DO NOT BE DECEIVED”
The first-century, Jewish historian, Josephus, informs us that 6,000 refugees perished in the flames of the temple porticos, deluded by a “false prophet, who had on that day announced to the people . . . that God commanded them to go to the temple to receive the signs of their salvation.” There were “manifest portents which signaled the coming desolation.” “A star, looking like a sword, stood over the city, and a comet lasted for a year.” Josephus wrote of strange omens that preceded the destruction, such as lights visible in the temple sanctuary and a cow giving birth to a lamb.
One prominent Catholic scholar has written, “When one considers such false prophets, portents, and ominous signs associated with the historic destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, it makes it plausible to think that ‘the end’ (Luke 21:9) could well be in Luke’s view that of Jerusalem and its Temple. For this reason we see no need to import reference to the end of the world at this point in the Lucan eschatological discourse…”
It seems, then, that this week’s Gospel reading was really intended for our “older brothers” in the first century. But, as we “overhear” God’s Word to them, might there be something for us? I suggest we concentrate on Jesus’ admonitions -- “Be not deceived!” and “Do not be terrified!” --- and on his promises -- “I will give you wisdom to speak.” “Not a hair of your head will be destroyed.” and “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Jesus’ message to those living in post-apostolic times is found in Luke 21:24b-27: “Jerusalem will be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. . . . Then they will see the Son of Man coming . . . with power and great glory.” Privileged to overhear God’s message to us, our “older brothers” must have been thrilled with the reminder that, at the end of the Christian story, everything turns out just fine.
FATHER DOUGLAS Grandon is parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline.