November 15, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Despite challenges, ask Jesus to inspire you with his words, example

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“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” (Lk 21:17-19).

The Gospel reading for this Sunday (Lk 21:5–19) gives us a prophetic image of the end of the world as we know it. Jesus tells us, in effect, that things will get much worse before they get better.

The reading is framed by the comments of bystanders who expressed their admiration for the “costly stones and votive offerings” that adorned the temple. Jesus surprises them by prophesying 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” (Lk 21:6).

This is the prophecy that will be used against Jesus at his trial. It was considered blasphemy to speak ill of the temple which was sacred to the Jewish people. But that’s not what Jesus was doing. He was calling attention to the fact that all things built by human hands in time—including things that are good and beautiful and sacred—are temporary. What is permanent is God’s love for us and his desire that we be united with him now and at the end of time.

In the same Gospel passage, Jesus is pressed for details. When will these destructive things happen? What sign will there be that the end is near?

Jesus warns his listeners not to be deceived by false prophets or by those who interpret wars, natural disasters and other catastrophic events as indications that the end is near. “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 ” (Lk 21:9). Then Jesus says 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” (Lk 21:10-11).

But before any of this happens, the prophecy continues, there will be widespread persecution. Jesus warns his followers (and all of us) that they will not necessarily be welcomed with open arms. In fact, if we truly accept our calling to be missionary disciples, we can expect to be scorned and rejected as Jesus was. Even those closest to us—spouses, parents, siblings, relatives and friends—may separate themselves from us “and they will put some of you to death” (Lk 21:16).

These are gravely serious words from the Lord of Life and Prince of Peace. They are meant to stir us out of our complacency and remind us that the commitment we have made to follow Jesus involves responsibilities that may be quite risky. To speak the truth in love, or to say “no” when the world around you is saying “go for it,” or to be willing to be criticized, mocked and ostracized because of a refusal to compromise Gospel values, is the via dolorosa, the way of the cross. Paradoxically, this is the only way to life and joy in Christ. But our Lord warns us that it’s not easy.

Jesus’ way may be difficult, painful, challenging, uncomfortable and even life-threatening. And yet, he offers us encouragement and hope, provided that we stay the course. “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” (Lk 21:17-19), Jesus says.

Be not afraid, Jesus will tell the disciples (and all of us) after his resurrection from the dead. The worst has already happened, but its effects have been overcome by the power of God’s grace. In fact, no power on Earth, including wars and insurrections, powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues, can harm us in the end. Yes, things may get a lot worse before the end of time, but ultimately God’s kingdom will prevail.

Faithful Christians don’t go looking for trouble. Most of us would much prefer to live quiet, peaceful lives with our families, friends and neighbors. But we also don’t shy away from making tough decisions even (or especially) when they contradict what the world considers important. We stand with Jesus, who was never harsh or judgmental but who also never shied away from speaking the truth with love.

Let’s ask our Lord to inspire us with his words and example. Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will fill our hearts with patience (after all, the last days may be a long time coming) and with the courage to let Jesus speak in us and for us whenever we’re called upon to defend our decision to follow him. †

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