Sunday, November 13, 2016

It Is Not a Question of When

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Luke 21:5-19. In these verses, Jesus predicts future events, and his followers, as usual, ask the wrong question,
"When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.'"
‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.' 
‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by 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 of your head will perish. By your endurance, you will gain your souls.'"
The initial disaster that Jesus predicts is the destruction of the temple. This certainly would be alarming to a people for whom the temple and temple worship were so central to their identity, but instead of asking, "Why will this happen?" the people ask, "When will this happen?"

By asking the question. "When?", the people betray their insecurity and lack of faith. An insecure person, if given the foreknowledge, will opt to get out of Jerusalem before the temple falls. A person of greater faith might resist the urge to flee being secure and trusting in Lord.

If they had instead asked, "Why should God let the temple fall?", perhaps Jesus could have enlightened them on God's plan for himself and for the world, but Jesus responds by doubling down on the prophecy, describing the challenges to their faith that are to come, challenges to their own bodies, and these might strike them as things far more frightening than the destruction of the temple.

Solomon in 1 Kings 8:27 told his people that the temple made of stone is not everything,  “
But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!"
In the end, we are taught by God who really dwelt on earth as Jesus that we must stand firm and not let our faith be shaken by terrible things when they happen. He has shown us how to endure the worst even the destruction of our physical temples. He endured the cross out of love for God and neighbor. Are we prepared to do the same?

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