“The charms of prosperity must not lead us astray; for only a foolish traveler, when he sees pleasant fields on his way, forgets to go on towards his destination.” – Pope St. Gregory the Great
Luke 21:8-24: ‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said, ‘because many will come using my name and saying, I am he and, The time is near at hand. Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven. But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defense because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.
‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you must realize that she will soon be laid desolate. Then those in Judaea must escape to the mountains, those inside the city must leave it, and those in country districts must not take refuge in it. For this is the time of vengeance when all that scripture says must be fulfilled. Alas for those with child, or with babies at the breast, when those days come! They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive to every pagan country; and, Jerusalem will be trampled down by the pagans until the age of the pagans is completely over.’
Christ the Lord Imagine the tone of this conversation. One of the bystanders makes an offhand comment, a little bit of small talk about the beauty of the Temple. Christ takes up the theme as a chance to voice what has been on his heart. He describes the coming destruction of the Temple by the Roman army (this was to occur in 70 AD), which will mark the definitive end of the former age, the Old Covenant epoch. And then, in response to that description, one of the disciples asks him when this will occur. That question is what immediately precedes this speech of the Lord. He tells them that other claimants to his Messianic title will appear – and they did appear. He tells them that wars and natural disasters will occur – and they did occur between the years of his death and the destruction of Jerusalem, all over the Mediterranean basin (e.g., the Parthians moved against the eastern border of the Roman Empire; Laodicaea was devastated by an earthquake in 60 AD; a famine ravaged Rome during the reign of Claudius, etc.). He tells them that foreign armies will surround Jerusalem and lay a horrible siege to it, and he tells them that they should get out before the siege begins. And then he tells them that before Jerusalem is destroyed, they themselves will suffer fierce persecution from all sides, but that very persecution will afford them an opportunity to spread the Good News.
Maybe his listeners didn’t grasp the whole meaning of his prediction until the events began to play themselves out, but as Jesus spoke they would have had no doubt that Christ was declaring himself to be the lynchpin of time and eternity. With the completion of his earthly mission, human history takes its final turn; the Old Covenant is being brought to its definitive end (“Jerusalem will be trampled down by the pagans until the age of the pagans is completely over”), and the New, Everlasting Covenant is about to be inaugurated by the Lord.
Christ the Teacher Although this speech was the response to a question about when the Temple would be destroyed, Jesus doesn’t really give a specific date and time. He is more interested in explaining the pattern of events so that his disciples will have reference points as they experience life in the era of the Church. He’s interested in pointing out the three most critical facts about the future:
- He is going back to the Father’s house, but he will return to bring to fruition the eternal Kingdom that he founded through the Church (thus the reference to the “age of the pagans” being “completely over”);
- In the meantime, he is sending his disciples to announce that Kingdom to all peoples; and
- Although this mission will bring with it a crescendo of suffering and humiliation and opposition of all kinds, he will be with his Church always, working in and through his followers by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christ the Friend Christ’s mission is much greater than many people think. It isn’t only to make life on earth a bit easier; it is cosmic and eternal. His bottom line is not measured in dollars and cents, but in salvation itself – in everlasting life for real people like our neighbors, our family members, and us. He calls all his followers to share in this mission, to make it their priority, and to persevere in it by leaning on him and not on themselves as they weather storms of pain and violent rejection. They may even suffer rejection at the hands of their closest relatives, but he assures them that if he permits that to happen, it’s only because it will redound in the end for a greater good. Consciously, actively sharing in Christ’s mission grows our friendship with him, because it leads us to continue seeking his will and trusting in him. And when all the battles are over, the victory will come. He is looking forward to sharing that victory with us. After all, that’s why he came.
Christ in My Life I am struck by how vivid these future events were to you, long before they occurred. All knowledge of the universe is yours by divine right. And yet, the teaching you left us was so simple, understandable, and straightforward – above all, your commandment of love. I want to know your teaching better, Lord. I want to follow it. You are the Lord of history; be also the Lord of my life…
What do the petty concerns of my typical day matter in light of the great events of history? Sometimes I let myself listen to the seductive gospel of the news programs, and I think that my petty concerns don’t matter at all. But I know better. What matters to you is that I choose in each moment of the day to love you by doing your will. If I do, I will be a true revolutionary…
Persecution isn’t my favorite thing, Lord, but you promised it would come. Sometimes I think it would be easier if it came in the form of a sword or a gun – being talked about behind my back, laughed at, and criticized wounds my vanity and self-love so deeply. Teach me to overcome evil by doing good, and to love even my enemies as you have loved me…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70, David Roberts, 1850, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.