Scholars suggest that by the time Luke composed his gospel the temple had already been destroyed. This grand edifice, seemingly unmovable, adorned with costly stones that people were admiring in this passage was, by the time of Luke setting quill to parchment, just a heap of ruins. It demonstrates how quickly things can change and also how little we really know about what will happen tomorrow. We like to think we are in charge … but we are not.
Using the temple’s destruction and our Lord’s prophesying of that even as a springboard; today’s gospel (Lk. 21:5-19) invites us to go deep in the spiritual life.
There are levels to the spiritual life. Saints and mystics throughout the Church’s history testify to this. The first level and most basic is a level often caught up with outer things. The grandeur of a temple, the use of precious stones, only a certain style of music or liturgy in worship, only this type of devotional practice or prayer. Is there a value to the beauty of a church or worship or prayer? Certainly, that is not being denied but all of these exist in order to usher one into an encounter with the Divine. If they themselves become the focus then something is off-kilter. As a friend of mine once said, there is always the temptation to major in the minors.
We have all heard of the recent earthquakes that have hit Italy. In one of these earthquakes a beautiful church connected to St. Benedict completed collapsed. A picture I saw just had the front façade standing with all else behind it flattened out. Miraculously no person was killed when this happened. What I found inspiring was that as soon as the monks and nuns of the community whose church has been destroyed determined that everyone in their community was accounted for they went out into the larger area and began to minister to others in need – helping physically to dig people out of the rubble and also bringing the sacraments to people. They did this because they were rooted in something deeper than a building (an external).
The deeper reality our Lord is inviting each of us to in the journey of faith is relationship with him. There will be false predictions that the end is upon us, nation will rise against nation, and there will be earthquakes, famines, plagues and signs in the sky. These are all shifts in the greater turning of human history but there will also be personal shifts and turmoil. People will be led before kings, governors and all the different powers of the world and our lives. Families will be split and there will not be understanding. Christians will be hated. Yet in the midst of all this foretold turmoil of the history of our world and our own personal histories, our Lord – the one who foretold the destruction of the temple – says this, “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”
“…for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking…” The truth implied here in the midst of all the turmoils that this life brings is a living relationship with Christ. Remaining on the level of the external spiritually – while not really knowing the Lord or allowing him to know us – will not cut it when life gets tumultuous. In all seasons of life the Christian must root him or herself in relationship with Christ. Only in this relationship can be found the wisdom and perseverance that we need in life.
Our Lord listened as people who had no idea of what tomorrow would bring spoke admiringly of the temple. He asked them to move beyond the external to that which truly lasts. He asks us to do the same – to trust in him and to find life.