Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

If someone asks us if it is raining, there are only two possible answers – yes or no.


This Sunday, we hear a Gospel reading (Luke 21:5-19) that raises a possible question that seems to require either a YES or NO response.


In that passage, Jesus speaks about the coming destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. He tells those who were admiring its beauty, "All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."


Jesus then goes on to speak of the events that will indicate the temple’s coming destruction. He says that false prophets will arise. There will be natural disasters, wars and insurrections. He warns that his followers will be persecuted by synagogue leaders, government officials, and even by their family members.


If we were asked if Jesus was predicting future events in that passage, we would most likely answer YES. After all Jesus himself began by saying, “The days will come….” 


However, someone could answer NO. That passage does not tell us what will happen, but rather it tells us what already happened.


Both YES and NO could be correct answers. It would depend on the time the question was asked.


When Jesus first spoke those words, around the year 30 AD, the temple in Jerusalem was standing in all its glory and the persecutions Jesus spoke of were not taking place. That passage then was a prediction of what would happen.


However, when Saint Luke wrote his Gospel, most likely after the year 70 AD, the Roman army under the command of Titus had already captured and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and laid waste to the temple. Sunday’s Gospel passage then would not be a prediction, but a recollection of a past event.


While Luke may have included that passage to show the insight of Jesus about something that would occur some 40 years in the future, Luke might have had another reason. He may have wanted to encourage his fellow Christians of every age to remain strong in their faith no matter the threat.


Just as the first followers of Jesus had persevered in their faith, the Christians who were reading the Gospel in the later part of the First Century and those reading it in the first part of the Twenty-First century were to do the same.


In our day, Christians are being persecuted perhaps more than ever. Our temples, our churches, are literally being torn down in parts of the world. War and violence are widespread. Those are not future predictions but present realities


The words of Jesus spoken in Sunday’s Gospel are words meant for us today, not for some future time. “By your perseverance you will secure your lives." No matter what is happening around us, we are to remain strong in our faith in Christ. We are to trust in the Lord’s promises.


So then, are the words in this Sunday’s Gospel a prediction of the future? For those who first heard them, YES, they predicted the future.


For us who now hear them, NO, they are not about tomorrow but about how we are to deal with what is taking place today.


It is like the question that began this reflection. “Is it raining?” The answer depends on when we are asked the question.


© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

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