Homily for 17 November
In the Gospel the disciples were commenting on the splendour of the temple and it was, by all accounts, splendid – grander even than our beautiful Cathedral. It was a source of comfort and strength. Here God dwelt with his people. The previous temple had been destroyed six hundred years previously. And the temple the disciples were admiring was to be destroyed by the Romans under the command of the Titus just forty years after. The Romans would slaughter the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the Jewish witness Josephus wrote of the soldiers climbing over heaps of bodies in the city.
It was a terrible tragedy and crisis. It would have been easy to abandon one’s faith in God. We keep identifying our Kingdom with God’s Kingdom, our plans with God’s. Jesus tells the disciples that crisis and upheaval will be their experience throughout history. Disciples are not spared the tragedy and turmoil of human history. But he says, ‘not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance you will gain you your souls.’ I am…but Jesus was telling his disciples to have faith, to trust in the care of God for them. Their story, the story of their soul does not match the ebb and flow of history.
We hear this Gospel now, Christians would have heard the Gospel when Rome was being sacked by the Visigoths in 410. It was news which shook the world, St Jerome when he heard wrote: ‘My voice sticks in my throat, and, as I dictate, sobs choke me. The city which had taken the whole world was itself taken.’ Disciples would have heard it between 1378 and 1417 when two and at times three men were claiming to be pope and the church was divided. They heard it through the Reformation, the French Revolution, the massacres of Christians in Vietnam, Korea, Japan. Tragedies on so many levels – ‘nation will fight against nation’, ‘people will seize you and persecute you’ yet they heard the Lord’s promise as we do: ‘your endurance will gain you your souls.’ Everything passes. What we know for certain is that in we can trust in Jesus’ word to us, God’s tender care for us; we are never forgotten. And in God’s time the Kingdom will come.
I remember reading something Fr Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, wrote about living through crisis. There are many temptations which we experience in crisis, for example, we can be tempted to put our energy into getting annoyed and wanting to correct the world. But that is misplaced effort. We shouldn’t ignore our feelings, but attending to them, to how the crisis is affecting us, we need to ask ourselves how they are affecting commitment to discipleship. It is important to remember what is truly important. Whatever is happening faith, hope and love will always be our way.
We are not living for our own Kingdom, our Kingdoms will always pass. The world may not be as we would like it, our life may not be as we would like it, but we are called always to live in faith, hope and love for there is the Kingdom to come.
Whatever may shake us, the church or the world, the Jesus’ call is still the same: Follow him in faith, hope and love. Do not let fear rule us: not a hair of our head will be lost. By our endurance we will gain our souls.