As we come to the end of the Church year the focus of our readings turns to the final coming of the Son of Man. Thus, today’s Gospel is an Apocalyptic. This type of literature uses graphic images to portray God’s future salvation. Apocalyptic was not written to inspire guessing about when the end of the world would come. Instead it was written to remind people who suffer that God is in control of history and that God will punish the sinful.
Today’s Gospel reminds me of my father, who suffered with cancer for three years before dying. Any of us might think of someone in our own lives who suffered and lived faithfully while dealing with a challenging and painful illness. In the midst of his suffering Dad’s relationship with Mom, his entire family and God deepened. He remained active in his church parish and other charitable organizations even almost to the moment that he was taken to the hospital. I remember Mom telling me that Dad was doing the books of the League of Women Voters the night before he was taken to the hospital. His life and especially the end of his life reflected the perseverance about which Jesus speaks in the Gospel.
Apocalyptic literature is written by people who are persecuted. It shows that in spite of their suffering in this life, they can be assured of eternal life at the end of time. Therefore, they can live with faith and hope.
The Gospel of Luke was written by Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire. It is thought to be written from 80 AD to 85 AD, probably in southern Greece. As in all Apocalyptic readings this Gospel reading reminds us that our focus as Christians is not only on this world but on the end of time.
The Gospel opens with Jesus and his disciples visiting the temple of Jerusalem. Jesus is portrayed as a prophet who prophesies what will happen before the city of Jerusalem and its temple fall, the fall of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man. That the temple will be torn down is a surprise to the disciples.
Jesus says that before the fall of the city the disciples will be hated by all because of his name. They will be arrested and led before kings and governors. Jesus says that “I will give you a wisdom in speaking that all of your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute (Luke 21:15).”
Jesus promises to give each of us wisdom in speaking. The Scripture scholar David Knight says that in the midst of the worse catastrophes in our lives our focus should not be on what is happening but instead on how we will respond. In good times and in bad we are to bear witness to Jesus Christ in action and in word. We are not only given the words and wisdom that we need in times of trouble but also the spiritual gifts. May we have confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we go through difficulty.
Jesus then goes on to write, “You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls (Luke 21:17-19).” Death and suffering will not destroy the disciples of Jesus. As faithful Christians we know that the fullness of God’s kingdom will come in God’s time. By their patience and perseverance, they will secure their lives and be saved. We are to live one day at a time, seizing each day and living it to the fullest. As Catholics we don’t live in fear of the future. Instead we experience salvation (kairos) each and every day as we journey to and persevere in our journey to eternal life.
Luke begins to see that the world will not come immediately. In the earliest New Testament writings of Mark and Paul, it was believed that the end of the world would come within the lifetime of the readers. In the Gospel of Luke, the disciples are challenged to take up their crosses daily believing that Christ would come well into the future.
The text goes on to discuss the times of the Son of Man (Luke 21:20-24). The coming of the Son of Man colors the way the entire reading is understood. The coming of the Son of Man shows that the final victory belongs to God. This Gospel is meant to inspire hope in all readers including ourselves. Since the victory belongs to God, we are to live with a sense of hope. There will be challenges in life, but the victory has been won. May we live in this hope.