Year C: Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The destruction of the Temple foretold

Luke 21 5-19

While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, he said, “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.” Then they asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, “I am he,” and “The time has come.” Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, 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 on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has your perspective and relationship with “external-physical” and “internal-spiritual” elements of faith changed as you’ve matured? Are you becoming less reliant on the things of this world that will pass away?
  2. In what ways do you identify or struggle with the idea of the Temple as a place within you that cannot be destroyed?
  3. When have you given testimony? Have you ever experienced a kind “wisdom in speaking” where the words were inspired and may have come from the Holy Spirit? Explain.
  4. This reading is more about the meaning and future of our own sufferings than about being present at the end of days. Can you name specific ways your faith life is helping you to trust God will be present in the suffering that will come for you?

Biblical Context

Luke 21 5-19
Sr. Mary M.McGlone CSJ

Even today, in the 21st century, there are some who, claiming to be prophets, look to this Gospel and other similar apocalyptic narratives as a timetable by which to predict the end of time, and who interpret those signs that supposedly signal its appearance. Even today, some followers of Jesus use such texts as a “literary bludgeon” to frighten the faithful into submission or to instill in them a fear that might result in their conversion and repentance. However, if the genre of apocalyptic literature is to be correctly appreciated and understood, all of the events described in this Lucan apocalypse have already become the stuff of memory.

By the time the third Gospel appeared in written form in the mid-to late 80s, the temple in all its beauty was no more. It had been destroyed by Titus and his troops in 70, and not one stone stood upon another. Gone, too, was the temple liturgy. Only the synagogues survived as places of prayer. It was in these gathering places that the first followers of Jesus tried to preach in his name the good news of salvation. For their efforts, they were officially expelled.

Handed over to the civil authorities, many died during the persecution under Nero in the 60s; more were perishing at the order of Domitian in the 80s. In the midst of all these struggles, imposters were purporting to be the messiah whose return in glory they awaited. Yet each in turn was proven to be false, and some followers of Jesus had begun to wonder if and when he would ever return.

To allay their fears, bolster their hope and strengthen their resistance, the Lucan evangelist reminded his readers of the promise of Jesus that was ever-present. He urged them to look at Jesus in whom the presence of the eternal God took on flesh and a face that looks with love on those who struggle. Don’t be terrified, said Jesus. Don’t follow false leaders. Look upon the persecution you will surely suffer for my sake as an opportunity to give testimony (v.13).

Scholars suggest that the advice of the Lucan Jesus (v.13) could also be translated as: “You will be called upon to act in a way that witnesses to your fidelity to me” or “to what you really are.” If and when that opportunity becomes ours, Jesus has promised to give us wisdom in speaking that our adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.

Jesus’ promise encourages purity of spirit and integrity in his disciples. Disciples do not testify to Jesus with their lips and then live in a manner that contradicts their testimony. To do so is to live a lie that serves no one — not Jesus, not the Gospel, not the community or even oneself.

Jesus has promised that his gift of wisdom will be available to those who are willing to witness to him in truth even when that truthfulness might result in persecution. We, for our part, are to welcome his gift of wisdom, to continue looking first and foremost to God for every good grace, and then to roll with the punches and the pain until he comes again to take us home.

Temples of the Spirit

Deacon Ross Beaudoin

Haven’t I sometimes heard “Weren’t the flowers beautiful at church this morning?” Or, “I just love the statues and candles at that church. They make me feel so good.”

Luke says, “Some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings.” Jesus wasn’t impressed. He threw a wet blanket on that. “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.” That was an unwelcome prediction!

You and I would be upset by such words if they were spoken about our own parish church, cathedral or a favorite shrine. People sacrificed much to build these places of worship. We are quite attached to them.

The people who were present with Jesus were attached to their temple and all its magnificence. But Jesus admonished them not to be too attached to these outward displays. They will come to an end, and sooner than they could imagine. Jesus is saying that people should focus on what is of long-lasting value. What is important behind the appearances.

Time was short for Jesus, and he knew that time was short for the people of Jerusalem. When this passage was written, Luke knew that the Temple had already been destroyed. Jesus’ prediction had come to pass by then.

As we approach the end of our liturgical year, we hear Jesus telling people in his time that even the most revered place in their lives, the very temple itself, will come to an end. They must be ready. “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is at hand” (Luke 21:20).

These ominous words of Jesus may bring to mind images and memories for people in the world even today. How many places in recent times have been destroyed by hostile armies or determined terrorists? “Wars and rumors of wars” were expected to signal the coming of the end times. If that were literally the case, how many times throughout history could humankind have anticipated the immanent end of this world? But, “Do not be terrified,” Jesus said, “for such things must happen” before the end comes. We are still here. The end has not yet come.

In the first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Malachi, we find a glimmer of hope. We read that “…for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” In the gospel Jesus assures us that he will be with us and give us words to speak when we are challenged and called upon to testify on his behalf. When we are persecuted for our faith, Jesus says, “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking….” When we are handed over to others, by the mercy of God “not a hair of your head will be destroyed.”

Throughout Jesus’ ministry and into our day, there is the challenge for Christians to recognize the structures that underpin their lives: the temples of religion and society… temples made by hands and temples of the mind. Someday all these temples will come down. But there will not be a void in their wake. Through the presence of Jesus in his people, temples of the Spirit are being built up for eternity. Through baptism we become incorporated into Christ and become temples of the Holy Spirit.

Earthquakes, fires, and floods; armies and gunmen; mistaken people-even of good will…. Nothing can harm us for our everlasting life. God in his mercy will see us through all of these times.