Saturday, November 16, 2013

Life as it is (Reflections on the Gospel of the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 21:5-19)

“While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "All that you see here-- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down”. 

Imagine being a tourist, standing with a whole bunch of people, ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘aah-ing’ at the beauty of some magnificent tourist spot. You’re snapping photos right and left as you listen to a guide say all sorts of interesting historical stuff about the place. Then all of a sudden, there’s this man who starts saying rather unpleasant things—even frightful ones. What would your reaction be? You’d probably go, “Ok… whatever buddy…” And you’d most likely begin moving slowly away, to enjoy the scene and take your photos, far from this scary person.

Now put yourself in the position of the people around Jesus in today’s gospel. Historians tell us that the Temple of Jerusalem was a sight to behold. All the gold and jewels embedded in its walls made it shine and glimmer in the sunlight for miles. So all these people were there, admiring its beauty. Then Jesus suddenly says: “This will all be destroyed”. And then he continues by talking about disasters that are going to take place: wars and insurrections, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, famine and plagues.

If I were one of the people there, I probably would be a bit scared, and I’d move away from the guy. I don’t want anyone ruining my vacation.

What seems to have gotten into Jesus in today’s gospel? Why is he being so pessimistic? Was he in a bad mood perhaps? Or was he saying something else?
The fact is, the things he mentions did take place. Israel was destroyed by the Romans and the temple was obliterated in 70 AD. All that remains today is one of its walls. Jesus wasn’t being scary. He was just being realistic about things and about life.

If you really think about it, one of the really odd things about human history is that there seems to be more bad news in it than good ones, more destruction than construction, more death than life. Despite all our hopes, “our history”, as one philosopher said, “seems written in blood”.

Who can forget the revelry of the year 2000? The whole world was so hopeful and happy. The Y2K scare proved to be a dud. The future looked bright for everybody. Perhaps human beings would now learn to live in peace. A year later of course, September 11 happened, and much of our optimism about humanity hit the hard rocks of reality.

Jesus wasn’t being pessimistic. He was in fact being realistic about the world and the challenges we face. Our faith as Christians doesn’t isolate us from the hard realities of life. The headaches and heartbreaks of life are real. And being a Christian won’t shield us from them. In today’s gospel, Jesus is simply showing us, life as it is. 

Christianity is a very realistic religion. It doesn’t promise us a pie in the sky. It doesn’t tell us that if we believe, everything in life will be easy, or that everything will be alright. Rather it tells us that at times, or even often, things will not be easy. Many times, things will not be alright.

It makes us realize and accept that suffering and difficulty are part of life. We can’t escape or deny them. If Jesus went through it all, so will we. Our faith in him doesn’t assure us a carefree and worry-free existence.

But Christianity is also a religion of genuine hope. Because sorrow and pain are not our promised lot. God’s promise to us is one of joy, of fulfillment, of abundance and life. As Saint Paul tells us, “suffering and death are not the final word. Life is.” And just as Jesus triumphed over suffering and death, so will each one of us triumph over the headaches and heartbreaks of life. The joy and hope of a Christian lies not in the guarantee of an untroubled existence; it rests rather in the conviction that “my Savior lives! And where he has gone, so shall I be”.

"The souls of the just are in the hands of God", the Book of wisdom tells us, “and no torment shall ever touch them”. For while our Christian faith gives us no guarantee of a problem-free life, it does guarantee us that Christ will always be there for and with us, guiding us at every moment of our life, our names forever written in the palm of his hands. 

“Do not worry too much”, Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. “Try not to be too weighed down when the difficulties and challenges of life come your way. And they will come. But trust. Because not a hair on your head will ever be destroyed”.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)