I would be less than truthful if I said I knew precisely what to make of the Gospel lesson before us now.
On the one hand, I do know at least a little bit of what it means when ‘temples fall.’ Anyone who has experienced the world changing around us has experienced the impact of this.
For instance, I drive by the house that was my childhood home and I see the fence which now cuts off most of the back yard we ran and played in when we were small. After much deliberation rooted in the growing realization that it was becoming too much to care for, several years ago my mother sold that sturdy old farmhouse to the local Catholic Church. The house backs up to their cemetery. One day the house itself will be torn down to become a place where the dead are buried and people go only to remember.
I drive by my grade school which now stands empty. All the children on the south side of my hometown are now bussed to the other end of town to attend school.
The high school where I discovered and was coached in some gifts I still use today has been replaced by a Walgreen’s.
Temples? No, of course not. At least not in the way that Jesus speaks today. But places that seemed permanent and immovable? Yes, they were that. Even so, all these changes do seem to fit into a natural order of what we might understand as progress.
So while I have not seen temples fall in the violent way that Jesus speaks of now, I do know the ache in my own soul to see so much of what I thought would always be, be no longer. The older one gets, the surer one becomes of this. The things that last are not always the things you think will last. Not even the big, impressive, amazingly beautiful ones. No, not even the ones that helped make you who you are.
So while I sort of get the first part of this week’s Gospel reading, I can’t really begin to say that is so about the second part. Except for what I catch on the evening news or skim on my news feed, I don’t know much of nations rising against nations. I have experienced tremors here in Northern Illinois — even ones that can wake you in the night — but not great earthquakes. I have never known hunger nor plague and I certainly don’t know what Jesus is getting at when he talks about dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
For that matter, what comes next is pretty foreign to me, too. I know nothing of the sort of persecution Jesus speaks of now. Nor have I experienced betrayal at the hands of trusted loved ones. And while some may see what I do as irrelevant, I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything offensive enough to stir up hatred in another. At least not lately…
This was not the case when these words were first recorded and passed on. Those who first heard them knew precisely of what Jesus spoke. And I would venture to say there are people in the world today with whom these words resonate as well. For those who hear them as meant for them, these are surely meant to be words of promise and hope. For them the words they must cling to are those at the end of this section where Jesus assures them that not even a hair on their heads will perish. That all they have to do is hang on. And yet, while these words do speak to some how do they speak in the world I am called to serve?
Indeed, how do these words resonate in a time and place where I sit in a warm office on a brilliant November morning as I scratch out these words today? How do they speak in a world where all I have to do is simply turn off the news of the rising death count as a result of the typhoon which has just devastated the Philippines? Where I have become numb to the report of another wounding or death by gunshot of an innocent child in the nearby city of Chicago? Where I find myself looking away from the sign at the cash register line informing those using LINK cards that their benefits have been cut, so they had better check their balance?
Oh, I wonder sometimes if I am not like those gawking at the temple so long ago. I wonder if the signs are all around me and in my own personal comfort and denial I have just chosen to look the other way. Maybe I need the hard words of Jesus now to wake me up. Perhaps I need to be reminded that just because the ‘temple’ still stands for me, it doesn’t mean this will always be so. And it is already not so for much of the world.
So I suppose I end where I began. For while I know for sure that they do speak, I can’t say for sure how these words speak today. And maybe it is so that Jesus’ words ring more true for those in devastating circumstances than they do for me. So, I expect it is true that those who are in the midst of the struggle are lifted up by his promises in ways I may never fully know. At least not yet. Maybe this is one of those lessons which calls me to simply stand alongside and listen to those for whom these words do speak. Maybe then I won’t have time to ‘gawk at the temple.’ Maybe then I won’t find myself resting in the false promise that the world is secure and things made by human hands will last forever. Maybe then I will finally be about what Jesus calls me to. What do you think?
And so, for now I am venturing out into this crisp November morning to go to our local hospital where dear ones from the congregation I serve are struggling to ‘endure’ in the only way they know how. I expect they do find themselves in the midst of circumstances which mirror Jesus’ words, if only in individual and limited ways. As I walk the hallway I will remember that in many of the rooms I walk by some are discovering that the ‘temple’ of modern medicine with all of its gifts will simply not always do all we hope it will. In other rooms others will be finding that in the midst of a health crisis, family relationships are becoming more clear than perhaps they would like. And yes, at the same time I know I will be passing by small acts of kindness and large ones, too, which point to the promises Jesus offers now.
Indeed, whatever else may be true, even if these words don’t resound for you today, the time will come when they just might. And then, as now, the promise for many and for you and me, too, while it may not always seem like it, remains. God is watching out for you, too. Even down to the hairs on your head. Just hang on and even should our ‘temples’ fall, you won’t lose what matters most of all. For God has claimed you as a Beloved Child. You are God’s Own.
- Do you hear Jesus’ words today as meant for us universally or cosmically, individually, or both/and?
- When have you experienced ‘temples falling?’ What was that like? How did you receive a promise of hope in those times?
- If you are living and serving in a time and place where these words do not seem to immediately speak to your context, how do you hear them? If you are living and serving in a time and place where these words do speak to your context, what hope do you find in them?