Sunday Homily – 33rd Sunday C
Malachi 3:19-20; 2
Jesus is speaking about the future. What his first listeners hear him saying is grim stuff – real doom and gloom. As we listen to what he says we must ask ourselves how much of his message is meant for us too? Where is the hope in what he says? Is there any hope in what he says?
Jesus is responding to a group from the Fine Art Society of Jerusalem discussing the beauty of the Temple building. They are entranced by the splendour of the edifice and the magnificence of its decorations. But Jesus responds to their pride in the Temple with thundering words. He says that Jerusalem is heading for total destruction and the rest of the world for disaster. This is just what happened to Jerusalem with one exception. When the Roman general Titus in the year 70 destroyed the city and the Temple, he ordered that a wall should be left standing for the Jewish people to mourn the loss of their sacred site. That ‘Wailing Wall’ is still there.
The first disaster for the wider world that Jesus warns against is the arrival on the scene of deceivers. They make out that they are saviours, and pretend to know the ultimate secret – when will the world end? Out of sheer fear some people believe them.
It is difficult to follow the advice of Jesus not to be frightened by wars and revolutions. In a world with stockpiles of nuclear weapons, it’s a challenge not to be frightened by the sheer idiocy of some unpredictable leader who wants to launch a nuclear strike that would wipe out a swathe of cities and regions. In the time of Jesus, wars and battles were limited by the weapons available. Today we are feeling threatened with ‘weapons of mass destruction’, that are so lethal that they could end up destroying the whole earth, our shared home.
Jesus goes on to mention earthquakes, plagues, and famines. For thousands of people, these are still regular features of life and the causes of indescribable suffering. Despite all the advances in science and medicine, there are still epidemics of incurable diseases. With the globe getting warmer and warmer, there are more famines, fires, and floods than ever before, and there are still thousands and thousands of people going hungry or starving to death. For millions of people, such disasters do mean the end, even though they don’t mean the end of the entire world.
Jesus adds that his followers will be persecuted for their beliefs. But their sufferings will allow his followers to witness to their faith and trust in him. Down the centuries Christians have revered the memory and prayers of those men and women who have valued their faith more than life itself, and who have refused to change their commitment to Christ and the Christian way of life for the sake of their survival. They have lived the truth of the words of Jesus, and have lived the pattern of his life, that led to his cruel and unjust passion and death, but which climaxed in the triumph of his resurrection.
The last item on the list of Jesus’ warnings is betrayal. He warns his followers that they cannot always count on their own families to understand them and support them in their commitment to Christ. On becoming Christians, particular people are still being shown the door by their own families, who never speak to them again, and have nothing more to do with them.
On coming to the end of this list of possible disasters that test our faith and trust, it’s time to keep looking for comfort and reassurance. There is comfort in that Jesus has told us before it happens that living our faith in him will at times be very painful. Living among people who do not believe in God, and mixing with those who sneer and jeer at what we do, is hard to take. It takes much courage to persevere. The courage to stay faithful is a grace from God, a special blessing. A poet wanting to portray the blindness of society to the questions confronting us used this image: – ‘We picnic at the edge of the precipice with our backs to the abyss.’ Jesus asks us to face the abyss with faith and trust.
Many good people lose their faith when they see the amount of evil and suffering in the world. They cannot observe the apparent pointless suffering of so many and still believe in a God who cares. They cannot look into the eyes of a starving child e.g., and still praise God. They know that no one chooses to die from famine. They know that no one wants to be blown up by a stray bomb or a drone, and yet these things keep happening.
Their questions are our questions too. There are times when all our faith can do is to hang on, to endure. Jesus has no quick or slick answers. He just calls on his followers to stay faithful, despite all the horror and suffering that may come their way.
If we had the answers, our faith wouldn’t have to endure. But because the questions are still with us, still unanswered, still unresolved, let us pray for ourselves and one another, for a faith that lasts till the end of every dark night! Meanwhile, let us keep witnessing to Jesus with truth, courage, and love, and keep leaning on him for the strength to endure whatever happens!
Brian Gleeson is a Passionist priest, and a member of the Passionist community in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne.