Look, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all the evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the Lord of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.(P) The word of the Lord.
Sing praise to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and melodious song. With trumpets and the sound of the horn sing joyfully before the King, the Lord. (R)
Let the sea and what fills it resound, the world and those who dwell in it; let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy. (R)
Before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to rule the earth; he will rule the world with justice and the peoples with equity. (R)
Brothers and sisters: You know how you must imitate us. For we did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food received free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any one of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us. In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should he eat. We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others. Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.(P) The word of the Lord.
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "All that you see here - the days will come when there will not be left one stone upon another, all will be thrown down."
Then they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?" He answered, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, "I am he," and "The time has come." Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powered earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky."
"Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
The liturgical year, also known as the church year, is made up of six seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Ordinary Time. The Ordinary Time is divided into two periods. The first period, spanning between four to eight weeks, depending on when Easter falls on that particular year, runs from the Baptism of the Lord until Ash Wednesday. The second period, spanning twenty six weeks, starts after Pentecost and ends before Advent. Today we observe the Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. Next Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King which falls on the last Sunday of the liturgical year.
The Church has adopted a three-year cycle of scriptural readings labelled A, B, and C for Sundays, and a two-year cycle for weekdays. On Sundays of Ordinary Time we read through one of the three synoptic Gospels - Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which contain Jesus' teachings and works among his people.
In our church, every Sunday we choose one of the three scriptural texts for reflection. On the past thirty two Sundays of Ordinary Time, we have meditated on Saint Luke's narrative of the life and works of Jesus. Now as we approach the end of the year, we focus on the end of time in preparation for Advent. In today's gospel we hear Jesus' final instruction in the Temple, regarding the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, Luke (21:5-19).
What do we know about the Temple? Four hundred and eighty years after the Israelites had left Egypt, King Solomon built the first Temple which his father, King David, had dreamt about. It was destroyed and ransacked by the Babylonians led by King Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. In 539 B.C. after the Persian conquest of Babylon, the Jews returned to their homeland and rebuilt the Temple with the help of the great Persian King, Cyrus. In 20 B.C. King Herod tore down that Temple and built a new one to rival pagan temples built by rival rulers. This was the Temple that Jesus predicted would be destroyed.
As Jesus was preaching, some people looked up and spoke in awe of the Temple which was "adorned with costly stones and votive offerings dedicated to God". They admired the external beauty and majesty of their Temple but had neglected their spiritual heritage and ignored God's law. So, Jesus, seeing an opportunity to preach about something more important said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be torn down", Luke(21:5-6). Jesus was not just talking about a few stones tumbling to the ground, but every, single stone. That prediction seemed incredible to the people because the Temple in Jerusalem was the centre of their life. Therefore, terrified they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?"
Jesus did not tell them exactly when this would happen but told them about various dreadful signs or catastrophic natural disasters, such as earthquakes, famines, and plagues, and social and political upheavals, which would occur prior to the destruction of the temple. He also cautioned them to stand on their guard against false saviors and false teachers who may take advantage of the fear generated in their minds due to such events, Luke (21:7-10). Nevertheless, Jesus assured them that they need not be afraid because even though "such things would occur the end will not come right away".
Then Jesus perhaps looking at his disciples foretold the persecutions that they would have to face before the end of time. He admonished them not to be terrified but prepare themselves with spiritual fortitude for their approaching trials and destruction. He urged them to firmly trust that God is present even amidst these trials. Moreover, he encouraged them to accept the trials as opportunities to bear witness before their persecutors, Luke (21:12-19), and he assured them of divine wisdom as to what they should say. Ultimately they would be protected by God. He promised them that "not a hair of their head will be lost", Luke (21:18), and they would save their souls if they persevered in their loyalty to his teachings till the end, Luke (21:19).
Jesus' prophecy was fulfilled a few decades later, in 70 AD when the Jews rebelled against the Romans and were punished by a siege. Hundreds of thousands of people died, many more were enslaved, and the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were completely destroyed. As a consequence of professing their faith, early Christians were persecuted and tortured by both the Jews and the Romans. For instance, of the eleven disciples, five were crucified, two were stabbed with swords, one was thrust with a spear, one was pierced with arrows, one was beheaded and one was stoned to death, in various parts of the world, and only John died a natural death. Despite the persecutions they kept their faith and lived on the teachings of Jesus, and found peace for their souls.
What is the message for us?
As the Liturgical Year comes to an end, today's gospel invites us to give serious thought to the impermanence of our life on this earth or the end of the world or the end of time and the Day of Judgment sooner or later. We often forget that as we get older and older, life becomes shorter and shorter for us, and we draw nearer and nearer to our permanent home in heaven. We don't have to know when it will come but we must prepare ourselves - mentally, emotionally and spiritually - for the approaching end.
Just like the Jews of Jesus' time, often we too are perhaps so overly concerned with the externals that we neglect the internals of our life. We work so hard to have a great and beautiful house with rich furniture, costly paintings, and all the elegance but fail to adorn our life with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience which make a happy home. We focus on the physical things in life rather than the spiritual. We listen to people who delude us with false hopes, illusions, a world of materialism, a world of secularization, a world of greed and selfishness, and a world of "godlessness".
We go after people who make us busy in amassing material things and who instill hatred and fear of wars, famines, revolutions, natural disasters and all kinds of extraordinary events. Despite all our rituals and worship in beautifully decorated churches and strict observance of religious practices, we may be spiritually deprived, undernourished or impoverished.
As we prepare ourselves for the end of time, regardless of exactly how and when it happens, let us not permit our fears and anxieties to take control of us. Instead, let us every day, with God's grace, train our minds not to rely fully on our own human efforts and resources but in God who has promised to be with us in the midst of our trials, illnesses, sufferings, and hardships and until the end of time. Let us courageously bear witness to His name by firmly and patiently holding fast to His teachings. Let us persevere in our faith in our Lord Jesus no matter what happens and find rest for our souls.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!