Luke 21:5-19, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
If you go to Wikipedia and search “list of dates predicted for apocalyptic events,” you’ll see that the specific dates of the world’s end has been predicted at least 190 times by many, many individuals from the 1st millennium until today. The forecasters range from cult leaders to Christian mystics, from Catholic bishops and saints (like Hilary of Poitiers, Martin of Tours, Irenaeus) to Protestants (Martin Luther, John Wesley). Even four mathematicians (scientists!) are on the list, and one calculated the year of the world’s end based on the numbers in the Book of Revelation. I was surprised to see Pat Robertson on the list, the leader of the 700 Club, who said we’d all be dead by 1982. But you’ll also be surprised to see Christopher Columbus here who also predicted the end. How the world would end is also indicated, like: a final world war; a global forest fire; nuclear holocaust; a comet; a computer crash (remember Y2K?); a flying saucer!
Regarding today’s Gospel, did Jesus really predict the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, roughly 40 years after his death? Mark and Luke sound like he did. However, bible scholars say that end-of-the-world scenarios we find in the Gospels are echoes of three “voices,” so to speak: (a) OT apocalyptic (especially fromDaniel), (b) the despair and hope of early church communities that were persecuted, and (c) the despair and hope of our Lord himself.In other words, we can’t be absolutely sure if Jesus really predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, and even less, the end of the world. Yet, no matter how many times we read that Jesus himself said “no one but the Father” knows when heaven and earth will pass away, and kno matter that every single one of the 190+ forecasters down world history was shamelessly wrong in their “prophecies,” still, somebody will crawl out of the woodwork and come up with yet another date for the end of the world, and worse, many Catholics will get nervous because, “What if he’s right this time!?” Why?!
Roller coasters and horror films—they have something in common, do you know? The most terrifying moment is when we anticipate the worst—and that happens when the roller coaster is just about to plunge over the crest, and when the ghost is just about to pop onto the screen. After making the plunge and after screaming when the ghost appears, we immediately realize that the worst we anticipated wasn’t so scary after all. In fact, we would even do it all over again, if only to feel strange comfort in anticipating the worst, only to realize it hasn’t actually killed us.
A bible scholar says that apocalpytic writing in Scripture is the “literature of the dispossessed.” End-of-the-world scenarios, he says, arise from “oppressed or alienated people who have little chance of fighting back against the powerful, (little chance) of gaining political, military, and economic power.” They’re not predictions as much as expressions of hope, prayers for salvation, a communal yearning for an end to agony, tyranny, strife. I look at today’s doomsday prophecies in a similar light. Anticipating the worst happening to the world is like a reset button. When we witness worsening injustice, violence, corruption, moral depravity, we imaginatively anticipate a historical catastrophe. It will wipe out all evil people. It will put an end to all the suffering they’re causing. And thereafter, God gives us back original peace and justice. God restores primordial harmony. Everything resets. We all reset. We begin anew.
But that kind of an end is not Jesus’s concern in the Gospels. I dare say it has never been. Never mind what nightmares happen to the earth in a future nobody except the Father knows. What we must anticipate, Jesus says, is the real possibility of persecution, mockery, judgment that people will level on us, even as we try our best to be Christ-like. Powerful people will wish us harm and do us harm. They will blackball usby playing up our past failures to becloud our present goodness. They will goad us into showing our bad side, trigger us to retaliate, badmouth us to fellow authorities and to our friends.“You will be hated by all because of my name,” Jesus says. Then comes his reassuring consolation: “But not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.”
In other words, we can anticipate the worst things that people can ever do to us, but the most wonderful thing of all is that no matter the plunge and the scream, it’s not going to kill us. There is a reset button, but it is not with them. “I myself,” Jesus says, “shall give you a wisdom…that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.” The reset button, dear sisters and brothers, is with God…as it has always been ans will always be.When he presses his gentle, creative, loving hand upon it, he will make all things new.