Gospel: Luke 21:5-19
Appearance Over Content?
How important are appearances to other? How important are appearances to you?
In the 1960's, a critic of popular culture proclaimed, "The medium is the message." In many ways, his prediction has come true. Many television outlets emphasize style over content. Media marketing reveals the masses prefer to watch attractive people who report the news with flashy computer graphics. Appearances are as important as content. In some cases, appearances confuse content. (When was the last time you saw a local news program blow a small issue out of proportion?)
Why are we fooled by appearances? Why are we lulled into complacency by the calm before the storm? (Remember September 10th?) Why are we tempted to give up when the world finally comes crashing down around our ears? Focused upon the end of the world, Jesus addressed these questions in Luke's gospel.
5 In the Temple, some of Jesus' followers exclaimed, "Look how this building is decorated with beautiful stones and people's decorations!"
6 "Everything you see here will soon be gone!" Jesus replied. "A day will come when a stone won't set upon another stone in the Temple. Every stone will tumble down!"
7 "Teacher! When will this happen? And, how will we know it's about to happen?" they asked.
8 "Watch out so you're not fooled," Jesus told them. "Many will suddenly show up and exclaim 'I'm the one you're looking for!' and 'The time for God to come is near!' Don't follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and revolutions, don't be afraid. These things need to come first, but the end will not happen right away."
10 "Nations will fight each other," Jesus continued. 11 "There will be large earthquakes. People will be sick and starve in many places. There will be great and terrible things from heaven.
12 "But before all this happens, people will chase you, arrest you, put you in jail, and drag you before judges and kings, just because you follow me. 13 This will be the time to tell everyone about me.
14 "Don't make up your minds now how you will defend yourselves. 15 I will give you the words and the wisdom you will need. Your lying enemies will not be able to stand up and speak against you."
16 "Your parents, family, and friends will betray you. And some of you will be put to death. 17 Everyone will seem to hate you because you follow me. 18 But you will be safe with me. 19 If you endure these times, you will gain eternal life."
When people commented on the glory of the Temple, Jesus prophesied doom to shake them from their spiritual slumber. Then he assured his followers of divine help in the time of trial.
5 When some said about the Temple that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive offerings, HE said, 6 "(Concerning) these (sights) that you see, days will come in which stone upon stone will not left upon another, (stones) which will be thrown down (from its place)."
7 They asked HIM, saying, "Teacher, when will these things be? What sign (will be) when these things are about to happen? 8 HE said, "Watch so you might not be misled! For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am (the one)' and 'The right time is near.' Do not follow them! 9 When you hear of war and civil unrest, do not be afraid. For these things need to happen first, but the end (will) not (happen) immediately." 10 Then HE said to them, "(They) will rise up, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be large earthquakes in various places, (as well as) famines and plagues. 12 Before all these (things happen), they will get their hands on you and will persecute (you), turning (you) over to synagogues and prisons, bringing (you) before kings and (Roman) rulers on account of my name. 13 It will go for (as an opportunity) for (your) testimony. 14 So, set (clearly) in your minds not to prepare beforehand (how) to defend (yourselves). 15 For I will give you a mouth and a wisdom which all those lying against you will not be able to stand against or to speak against. 16 You will even be turned over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. They will put you to death. 17 You will be hated by all on account of my name. 18 A hair on your head will not be destroyed. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives."
21:5 " . . . Temple that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive offerings." The "beautiful" stones are the fine stone out of which the building was built. The "votive offerings" are decoration placed on the Temple. The disciples were awed with the Temple itself, not additions made to the building.
21:12 The main verbs of this sentence ("they will get their hands on you (i.e., arrest you)" and "persecute you") has two results: 1) turn over people to synagogues and public prisons and 2) put them on trial before kings and Roman officials. This verse leads up to 21:13, the opportunity to witness.
21:16 "(The authorities) will put you to death." The subject of the sentence is actually "they" which could refer to the trial authorities in 21:12b or to the family-friends in 21:16a. One or the other (or both!) could put the believers to death. In some cultures at the time, a patriarch had the power of life and death (especially over family members who disgraced the family).
21:18-19 The proverb in 21:18 seemed to contradict 21:16b; some would be martyred for the faith. The verse can be taken spiritually (the martyrs will enjoy heaven). Or, the verse can refer to the survival of the community itself. 21:19 echoed the sense of 21:18. It can refer to the afterlife of the individual or the survival of the community.
Throughout time, people have taken spiritual comfort in sacred times, sacred places, and sacred events. In the time of Jesus, the Temple was THE spiritual center for Jews. It was the only place of sacrificial worship for a people that lived throughout the known world. It's priestly institution had a central place in the Torah, the Jewish Law. The Temple represented the core of Judaism that had lasted for centuries.
However, many people have confused sacred times, places, and events with a relationship with God himself. They define faith by these times, places, and events. To many Jews traveling with Jesus, the lavishly rebuilt and adorned Temple was a sure sign God was with his people. But, as Jesus pointed out, appearances were deceiving. [21:5-6] "What is here today," Jesus seemed to say, "won't be her tomorrow." With the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D., the prophecy of Jesus came true.
With his comment, the ears of Jesus' followers perked up. For centuries, Jews had awaited the coming of Judgment Day, when God would save his people and his wrath would fall on those who persecuted Israel. Prophets great and small had included a corrupt Temple priesthood with those who oppressed the people. With the fall of the Temple, God's kingdom would finally come. Now Jesus maybe would speak on the end. "Is this the end?" they seemed to say. Then, his followers asked him for details. "What sign would precede the end?" [21:7]
Jesus began with the last question first. The sign his followers sought might be a cosmic or world-changing political event. Or, it could be a person. Many have preached in the name of Jesus ("come in my name") only to line their own pockets with contributions or to flatter their own egos. Many charismatic leaders have been proclaimed "the Christ" ("I am he" or "The time is right.") only to fall. [21:8a] (A second great Jewish revolt against Rome in 130's A.D. was led by a charismatic leader proclaimed the Messiah by the chief priest in a liberated Jerusalem. In the end, the Romans recaptured the city and killed the leader in a desert cave that overlooked the Dead Sea.)
As many people have sought comfort in religious institutions, others have sought comfort in the prophets that doom the institutions. Those zealous for the doom prophets did not heed the wisdom of Jesus to watch and wait. In the face of righteous mob or the burning issue, Jesus taught patience. [21:8b]
Prophets of doom point to historical calamities (wars and revolts) and cosmic disasters (great earthquakes, famines, pestilence and "signs in heaven" like solar eclipses and comets) as signs of the end. Jesus taught that wars and revolts would at first shake the great "Pax Romana" (the forced peace in the Roman Empire) and undermine social order; but this would not be the end. [21:9] Upset in the social order would be followed by cosmic disaster. [21:10-11]
But before the signs marking the end (indeed, as a sign that marked the end), Christians would be persecuted in general (i.e., throughout the known world). For their belief in Jesus' name, Christians would be arrested and tried in court. This test of faith was also an opportunity to witness to the court officials and to the public at large. A general persecution would be a massive evangelization campaign. [21:12-13]
How do Christians prepare for coming problems? They don't, according to Jesus. The Lord himself will provide the eloquence and the wisdom in speech that cannot be contradicted or overcome. [21:14-15] The only response one can make to coming troubles is trust in the Lord.
Christian faith divided families and friends as well as nations. Indeed, if the verses were read backwards, the first sign of the Lord's coming would be the stress in families and social circles, then within nations, and finally in the natural order. But, Jesus began from the universal to the personal to make a point; even personal distress was a sign of the Kingdom. Such personal persecution could even lead to death at the hands of family and friends. Such was the hatred of the Christian faith; such was the power of Christian witness. [21:16-17] This thought leads to a distressing insight. If we do not have some problems in our lives because of our Christian faith, are we effectively witnessing to others?
The costs were high but the faith would continue. Not only would the individual martyr see the Lord in heaven, but the Church would flourish in persecution. [21:18-19] Persecution was a key reason the Church grew at a tremendous rate. People desired the calm trust of the Christian, the great love of the follower even in the face of death.
Catechism Theme: The Second Coming
675 Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
The second trial before the end of time is like the sin of Adam. People try to play God; they put their trust in others rather than their creator. As the Church teaches, we should beware of the easy solution, the charismatic leader who has the answers, or the means to manipulate that we cannot control. There are no short cuts to salvation. Our opposition to the easy way, our witness to the power of God, will lead to persecution. But our trust in God will engender faith in others.
Have you ever been impressed by the unwavering Christian witness in another? Who was it? Why were you impressed? Did he or she face hardship? How did they endure the hardship?
How impressed are we with appearances? After all, media, Hollywood, and much of computer software are built on appearance. Sometimes, we Americans are swayed and even hood-winked by appearances. There was calm before the storm. Then, there was a panic with a world that failed us. Are we lulled by calm? Are we surprised by panic?
The challenge Jesus put before us is clear vision. Can we see beyond the crises of life and nation? Can our faith help us to withstand the challenges of these uncertain times? With God's help, we can.
Pray this week for the strength to see clearly. Look at the world at large, or at your world. Try to see beyond the troubles and look for God's will. Trust your prayer will be answered.