Wednesday, November 9, 2016

PERSEVERANCE AMID TRIALS AND DISASTERS

Nov. 13th, 2016: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  Luke 21:5-19.
AIM: To assure the hearers that God is with us in times of trial.
 
AThere will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.@ That sounds like some kind of antique science fiction. What is Jesus telling us?
Let=s look at the passage in context. To people who were admiring the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus says: AAll that you see here B the day will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.@ The people who heard those words would have thought them either shocking or crazy B as shocking and crazy as the statement of a hypothetical Manhattan tour guide on September 10, 2001, to tourists gawking at the World Trade Center: ATake a good look folks. It won=t be here tomorrow.@                  
Jesus= prediction about the destruction of their beloved Temple was made to people who had been told times without number that they were God=s people. He had chosen them, from all other peoples on earth. He had promised to be with them and to protect them always. How could God permit the destruction of his earthly dwelling place? Small wonder that the people ask: ATeacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?@
Jesus= reply to these questions, as so often, is disappointing. He tells them they don=t need a timetable. They should distrust anyone who offers one. >If you are living as my followers,= Jesus tells them in effect, >future trials and even disasters will not defeat you. Stay close to God and you will have nothing to fear, even when everything around you is collapsing: your nation, your church, your own personal life.=
Luke recorded Jesus= words in his gospel to reassure his own Christian community amid difficulties and persecution. Their trials are not ours. But the truth behind the strange sounding language in today=s gospel remains. Today, as in Luke=s time, we are witnessing a struggle between the forces of good and evil: in the world, in our own county, in the Church, in our own personal lives. We need not look far to see evidence of evil=s power. We find it in the newspaper each morning, and in the evening news on television. We feel in our own hearts and minds the dark forces that threaten to drag us down from what, in the depths of our being, we most deeply long to do and to be.
Jesus never promised to preserve us from trials or even from disasters. He promises to be with us amid disasters. Jesus made that promise out of his own experience. Taunted on Calvary to produce a final dramatic proof of his claim to be God=s Son, by coming down from the cross, he remained silent. Jesus had really to die. Only then could he be raised by God=s power to a new and higher life beyond suffering, disaster, and death. 
If Jesus was not preserved from suffering and death, how can we expect to be immune? Neither the Church, nor any nation, nor any individual has any guarantee from God that things will always work out, that catastrophes will be averted.
Jesus Christ gives one guarantee only. He will always support with the power of his Holy Spirit those who try to be faithful to him; and in the end (though not necessarily before then), the power of good will prove stronger than the power of evil B because it is the power of God. That is the message of today=s gospel.
How should we respond to that message? Jesus tells us in the final sentence of our gospel reading: ABy your perseverance you will secure your lives.@ This perseverance is not something we can summon up from within simply by willpower, by gritting our teeth, holding the right thought, or (as the saying goes) Ahanging in there.@ The perseverance Jesus commands must be given to us from without.
That is why we are here once again: to receive from God strength to endure the humanly unendurable; to hope when we see no reason for hope; to continue the journey when we feel our strength at an end and we are tempted to give up.
We receive this power to persevere in Holy Communion. We receive it also, however, at what the second Vatican Council taught us to call once again, as our Catholic forbears did almost two millennia ago, the table of the word. From the rich storehouse of Holy Scripture listen, in conclusion, to a passage from the prophet Isaiah. Though not in our readings today, it was surely familiar to Jesus. It is quite possible that he knew it by heart. It is the source of the contemporary hymn, AOn eagle=s wings.@
 ADo you not know, have you not heard? The Lord, the everlasting God, creator of the wide world, grows neither weary nor faint; no man can fathom his understanding. He gives vigor to the weary, new strength to the exhausted. Young men may grow weary and faint, even in their prime they may stumble and fall; but those who look to the Lord will win new strength, they will grow wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will march on and never grow faint.@  (Isaiah 40:28-31, NEB)