Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 17: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

No fear

Mal 3:19-20; Ps 98:5-6, 7-8, 9; 2 Thes 3:7-12; Lk 21:5-19

Raging fires in California; chaos in Syria; anguish and confusion at our southern border; unrelenting political strife in our nation’s capital — this list of woes provides plenty of reasons to be anxious. No wonder opinion surveys report that many people have a sense of fear about the future.

At first glance, the readings for this Sunday seem to add to the fear quotient. The elusive fourth-century prophet Malachi writes at a chaotic time when the Israelites attempt to rebuild their temple and Jerusalem after years of exile while still under the watchful eyes of their Persian overlords. He warns of a day of reckoning, a day that will “blaze like an oven,” a fire that will consume all evildoers like “stubble.” 

But his prophecy ends on a note of hope. Those who trust in God will experience a very different type of fire, a sun that will warm and heal: “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

The Gospel of Luke also presents a foreboding scene as Jesus enters Jerusalem and its magnificent temple for the final time. This enormous structure, its beautiful white limestone buildings trimmed in gold and gleaming in the Judean sun, was the second largest structure in the world at the time of Jesus.

The crowds mill about its vast courtyards and admire its adornment “with costly stones and votive offerings” from the thousands of grateful pilgrims who visited the temple every year. But Jesus predicts the unspeakable — that “days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Even this sacred house of God would not escape human chaos and violence — an event that would in fact happen when Roman troops would destroy the temple in 70 A.D.

The specter of the temple’s destruction — the place where Mary and Joseph brought their child to have him blessed by the holy prophets Anna and Simeon and where, as a young boy, Jesus would mingle with the priests and learn from them — seems to trigger in Jesus a sense of the tribulations that lay ahead: “wars and insurrections … nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom … earthquakes, famines and plagues … persecutions.” Even families will be torn apart. The disciples are warned that they, too, can expect “to be hated by all because of my name.”

This is not a comforting picture of the future. In some ways, Jesus’ words are standard biblical rhetoric about the chaos and suffering that the future may hold. But what Jesus truly intends in this passage is not to increase anxiety but to assure his disciples that no matter what the future holds, “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” By persevering in their trust in God’s loving providence, “you will secure your lives.”

We discover the power of the Scriptures in these readings. Our Bible does not hide its face from the reality of human suffering. The biblical peoples, both in the long history of Israel and in the early church, experienced suffering caused by violence and political strife.

The disciples knew that in following Jesus they could encounter the same opposition and rejection he had endured. At the same time, there is a powerful spirit of hope that runs through God’s Word. Because God’s Spirit of love remains with us, we are not to give way to fear. Our individual future and the future of the human family lies in God’s hands — not with the forces of evil, hatred and fear.  

The spirit of Jesus’ powerful words in today’s Gospel reminds me of Paul’s defiant words of hope in his letter to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us. … For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, not present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”



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