Gospel Reflections

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Luke 21:5-19

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Maureen Lomax

Published: November 13, 2016

Read Luke 21:5-19

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... Read More…


Jesus’s followers seem to be in a very secure place. They are with Jesus in Jerusalem admiring the splendour and solidity of the Second Temple. For almost a thousand years, the holiest city in Judaism had been the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people. The First Temple, built by Solomon in 950 BC, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. But it was this Babylonian exile, of more than 4,000 Hebrews for less than two years that necessitated the codification of the Judaic Law. The earlier struggles of King David to capture and establish Jerusalem as the Judaic centre were remembered and rehearsed by the captive exiles until they became the Written Laws (Old Testament) of Judaism. The Pop Group Boney M captured something of the yearnings and distress of the exile in their rendering of a psalm:

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered Zion.

…By the rivers of Babylon (rough bits of Babylon)
There we sat down (you hear the people cry)
Ye-eah we wept (they need their God)
When we remembered Zion (ooh have the power)

Out of this horrific exile came the basis and centre of Judaism. It was the re-built city of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, familiar to Jesus and his disciples, that was the solid and visible reminder of the monotheistic Judaic faith and worship.

Chapter 21 of Luke’s Gospel is situated in this Second Temple. The first four verses tell us of the poor widow who pays her Temple dues. Is this story there to remind us of what good Jews do? In a way it does, but Jesus turns the story round. He points out that others (the rich by implication) give of their abundance whereas the widow gives ‘more than all.’ She gives out of her poverty, that is, from her basic living. The Sunday reading (Luke 21:5-19) follows this and, in a sense, builds on it by mentioning the fine stonework (richness) and votive offerings (by rich and poor). The whole setting, ‘all these things you are staring at now’ becomes the context of what Jesus is about to pronounce: the destruction of Jerusalem.

Luke’s account gives no hint of any emotional reaction to Jesus’ declaration that ‘not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be destroyed.’ Is Jesus merely using the context as a figurative vehicle to demonstrate that all is not as it seems? What may seem settled and solid will not last. There is no dwelling on the terrible effects of a future siege and demolition of the central Judaic city. There is no lament.

Every day our news reports tell of the destruction of cities in Syria. The scenes of the people of Aleppo and Mosul escaping from their damaged homes trying to find safety makes the foretelling of the destruction of any city real and painful. For the people of Syria any sign that they are to be attacked, their homes destroyed and their family and friends maimed or killed is not to be ignored. The actual destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD has made us, with hindsight, view Jesus’s statement as a foretelling of the future rather than general prophetic truths about the world we live in.

It is clear that Jesus tells us to ‘read the signs of the times,’ not to be influenced by false leaders and their promises and to act in His Name in spite of opposition. He promises ‘not a hair of your head will be lost’ but he also says that some will suffer persecution and some will die. In our world we know that buildings and cities are being destroyed, that wars and revolutions occur between nations, earthquakes, plagues and famines happen, people are persecuted for their religion, families and friends do betray each other and some die for their beliefs. The reality of everyday living is hard, not easy.

These teachings are not comforting. They are a test of faith. Jesus promises us an ‘eloquence and wisdom’ if we speak in his name but he does not promise his disciples heaven on earth. Sometimes our Christian theology refers to us having ‘no abiding city,’ looking to our ‘heavenly home’ and being in ‘exile.’

I leave you with more words from Boney M.

“When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required of us a song
Now how could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
…let the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart
Be acceptable in thy sight here tonight.”

Reflection:

  • Be in ‘exile’ with those who are homeless, stateless, friendless and without the basics of living.
  • Read the ‘signs of the times’ with discernment knowing that we cannot remedy everything.
  • Dwell on how we can ‘be Christ’ to others even in small ways.

 

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