Where does our ultimate hope lie? Is it in the frail and ever changing realm of humanity, or is it with the ever loving, ever faithful God who gave us His only Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ?
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Gospel 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 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?”
“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.”
The Gospel of the Lord
We’ve just emerged from a very contentious presidential election. And no matter what the outcome would have been, half of the country would have been disappointed. If Hilary Clinton had won, half of us would have been distraught, but Donald Trump has won and half of us are distraught. And the question is: What lies ahead? We can be filled with uncertainty or filled with fear or cling to hope that is the hallmark of a great people of faith.
Our readings today address those questions of uncertainty. And let me begin by just making a distinction between proximate hope and ultimate hope. Proximate hope is everyday hope and we need that gift because it brings joy to our hearts. We have all kinds of things that we hope for and hope in. But we need to go deeper and pray for the gift of the virtue of hope, which is ultimate hope; Which rests and belongs to the Lord alone.
So what’s the context for today’s reading? Jesus is in the Temple and the Temple is the center of worship for the Jewish community. It was the sign of their nation, the sign of the greatness of God. It was the mark of their hope. Think of all the symbols of America rolled into one: The Statue of Liberty, the Jefferson Monument, the Washington Monument, the White House, think of all of that rolled together into one and it doesn’t begin to approximate the joy and the pride that the people of Israel had in their Temple.
This was a magnificent structure built on a hill, selected by David: Mount Zion. The Temple itself was built by Solomon and then rebuilt by Herod the Great, in a much more magnificent style. Herod the Great began building the Temple in the year 20 BC and it wasn’t completed until the year 65 AD; 85 years of construction.
Josephus, the Jewish historian, had this to say about the Temple. Now the outward face of the Temple and its font was covered all over with massive plates of gold and that the rising of the sun reflected back a very fiery splendor and made those who forced themselves to look up to it, to turn their eyes away just as they would have done at the Sun’s own rays. But this Temple appeared to strangers when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow. For as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceedingly white. Of its stones, some of them were 45 cubits in length, 5 in height, and 6 in breadth.
A cubit is about a foot and a half long, that means some of the stones of the Temple were 67 feet in length, 7.5 feet in height and 9 feet in breadth. This is a magnificent structure. And Jesus says, I’m telling you a day will come when not a stone will be left upon a stone. Can you imagine the downer that would be for these people that are looking and adoring and say: “Wow, wow, wow?”
And almost 40 years after Jesus’ prediction, the Roman empire came in and absolutely obliterated that Temple, in the year 70 AD. Luke’s Gospel was written approximately—scholars debate this—but I think there’s consensus that Luke’s Gospel was written about the year 85 AD, approximately 15 years after the destruction of the temple, when the people’s proximate hope had been decimated. And so Jesus’ words are meant to fill us with a deeper hope to look into the horizon of the Lord of justice coming into their lives.
This is the second to last Sunday of the Liturgical year, next week we celebrate the culmination of the Liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the King and then we begin two weeks from today with Advent, with beginning again. And so the Church selects these—what we call apocalyptic—readings that deal with the end times, not to discourage us, but to help us face the inevitable disappointments and discouragements of us as a family, as friends, as members of a church, as members of a nation, as members of the world, there will be disappointments. And if our proximate hope becomes our ultimate hope, we will be decimated.
This weekend we have a 12-step retreat at the Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House. Fr. Tim Meier, a Jesuit priest who is an army chaplain with 3 tours of duty in war zones of our country, was talking about a young soldier who had been killed and his father was absolutely overcome with grief. Keening, rocking back and forth, wailing and wailing, and wailing because his son had been killed. And when this grieving father finally paused, Fr. Tim approached him to offer his condolences and try to offer some words of hope and he said to him, “Do you have a religious tradition?” and the man said, “No, my son and I are atheists.” The man had no hope. His proximate hope in the joy of his life, his child, had been extinguished and he had no ultimate hope to hold on to. And so his life had been decimated. But that—brothers and sisters—is not us. We gather here today clinging to a rock that will not be cracked; to a stone that will not be thrown down. For our hope is in the Lord Jesus.
And let us not be naive. Jesus did not say that my hope in you will not protect you from deep suffering. In fact, what he goes on and says in today’s Gospel is you will be persecuted. You will be vilified. Your families will be divided. Your nation will be divided. There will be wars. There will be insurrections. There will be great signs in nature. Your proximate hopes will be dashed. If you are clinging to some thing or someone other than the living God, your life, like that grieving father, will be over.
Jesus witnesses to the power of martyrdom. The word martyr in the original Greek means witness. Jesus calls us to be witnesses of hope, brothers and sisters, in the midst of a darkened world, in the midst of a divided nation, in the midst where many of us are at each other’s throats. Jesus calls us to be witnesses to hope. To point to something beyond the temporal. To root our lives and to call others to root their lives in the security of the Gospel message of a deeper faith, a stronger hope, a more lively love. That’s how Jesus can say, “Some of you will be put to death but not a hair of your head will be harmed.”
Now that’s kind of a strange comfort isn’t it? We’ll lose our lives but at least our hair will look good? Of course, Jesus is speaking metaphorically, he’s saying, what really really matters is not this flesh and blood because eventually it’s all gonna go one place. What matters is what’s inside. Those are the hairs of our head that will not be destroyed. Pray with me this act of hope, pray with me that we may go deeper as we face the tumult and uncertainty of our own time. Let us pray and live an act of hope.
An Act of Hope by J Michael Sparough
Lord, my hope is anchored in You, not in the shifting sands of time, nor the ephemeral breezes of our culture. I choose to anchor my life in the anchor who is You. My faith is in You. My trust is in You. My hope is in You – alone.
You are the reason I arise each day, the morning star to which my heart awakens, the light in the darkness of my sin, the bright moon that guides me through my nights of discouragement.
You are the calm that settles my frazzled nerves, the refreshment that quenches the deep thirst of my soul, the food for which my soul hungers.
You alone satisfy. You are the voice, still and small but true that guides me when I am lost. You are my true lover, for in You alone am I known. In You alone am I am fully embraced. It is for You that I long.
In You and through You and with You is the peace that surpasses all understanding. For with You I can do all things to which I am called.
Through You I face my enemies unafraid. With You, I stand on mountains. In You, I know myself loved, blessed, forgiven, and called to mission.
You are my only hope, my savior, my strength, and my reason for living. You are my Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of my every journey.
You are hope when I feel no hope. You are my hope when my reason causes me to fear. You are my hope when my virtue fails, my faith falters, and my deeds of love are few. You are my living hope – for You have granted me a deep trust in Your mercy to me, a sinner.
My hope is not just in You. My hope IS You. I feel You alive in me, and my hope is this hope never departs. For my hope is deeper than my feelings. My hope is rooted in my faith in You and confirmed by my prayer.
I believe You are who You say You are. You are the promise on which I base my life. This is the assurance of my faith that You alone are worthy of my hope. In You alone I will never be confounded.
But when we forget You, we forget the reason why we walk this earth. We wander as lost sheep, as frightened children. Gather us in hope in the shelter of Your wings, as a mother hen gathers her chicks. For the enemies would scatter us in hatred, sowing the seeds of discord, of pride, envy, suspicion and distrust.
My hope is not in any of my accomplishments. My hope is anchored not in our strength, our goodness or our virtue. My hope is not in my government, nor in any elected official or leader of industry and certainly not in our technology, our economy, or in anything that we create. All these will certainly and eventually fail us. My hope is not even in Your Church for even the Rock of Peter denied You three times. You alone are worthy of my full trust.
When I take my eyes off of You, I despair. I sink into the very depths of discouragement; I wallow in the disgust of a fallen humanity, a failed system, a gridlocked government, corporations of broken promises and ugly half-truths.
But in You, the sweetness of each morning is born again and again, a new day beckons and light brightens the horizon of a new day. You, the Lover of my Soul, You come to gather, to heal, to restore, to build and to plant.
My hope is in You who walked among us that we may learn to walk in such hopeful, humble love. My hope is in Your love for me, for us, for our fallen humanity. You alone will never break Your promise.
O Sweet Jesus, come take possession of my soul. I surrender to You all I have and hold for in You alone is my hope – I want only to please You, to let You grow in me and transform me to become a living invitation to Your love. I want to become a face of hope for this troubled world, to be Your face of merciful hope amidst the fear that robs us of the hope to which we are called.
Transform me. Transform us – to become more fully Your face, Your hands, Your voice, and, especially, Your heart of hope.
Let the ancient prayers of the psalmist be fulfilled in our time:
“In You, O Lord, have I hoped; let me never be confounded.”