Homily, Nov 12-13, 2016: Cycle C, 33rd Sunday of Ord Time (Stone Upon Stone)
In our Gospel, today, we are given a picture of the Jewish temple before and after its destruction. In the process, we learn that even those things that symbolize stability can fall. Change is inevitable.
We may not like it – we may resist it, but the reality is, things change. “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill. While those are very wise words, they don’t offer much in the way of consolation when we are waist deep in the alligators of change.
Sometimes changes are welcome. But, there are days when change brings loss or the fear of loss. There are days when our life is forever changed, the world is different, and nothing is like it used to be.
You and I know those days. We could each tell stories about those days. They are stories about the death of a loved one, they are stories of the health diagnosis that pointed to the end, they are stories about the divorce, the business that failed, the job that was lost, the day Hurricane Matthew blew over the Island’s trees and not just the dead wood, but huge healthy trees as well.
In the language of our Gospel today, the things we look to for stability can be referred to as our temples. Sometimes our temples are people, places, values and beliefs, institutions.
In that sense, Temples are the things that we think give structure and order to our lives, give meaning and identity, provide security. At least we think they do, until they don’t, anymore.
For many people the Catholic Church is not the church we remember. It is not like it used to be when we were growing up.
Things have changed. As a country, the temple of our economic system has changed. We can no longer count on investments that will grow predictably every year.
Globally, we read of wars, plagues, famines. Nations have risen against nation. Security, peace, and diplomacy have given way to fear, violence, and terrorism. Temples are falling everywhere.
In today’s gospel, some were speaking about the Jewish temple, its beautiful stones, and gifts dedicated to God hanging on its inside walls. It was a massive structure, able to seat thousands. It is what structured their community. It gave identity and meaning. It was the center of Jewish life.
Yet, Jesus looks at it and says, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Construction had taken over 50 years, but it was destroyed in 70 AD after a Jewish rebellion against the Romans.
So, what do we do on the day our temple falls?
Change has a way of pushing us into the future. If we are not careful we will soon be living in a future we do not yet have. We will be living in a future created in our minds. That is not Jesus’ response. He is calling us to be faithful in the present.
Sometimes, after our temple falls, we look for a scapegoat, someone to blame or even demonize. We look for someone or a group who does not think, act, or believe like we do. That is not Jesus’ response.
Or, maybe we will simply give up and walk away in despair. We can see nothing left. Everything is lost and the situation is hopeless. That is not Jesus’ response.
Some will become angry, resentful, and fight back. Others will say this is God’s will or maybe even worse, this is God’s punishment. And, we are referring to a group that behaves in a way that offends us and we think, God as well.
Jesus’ response is just the opposite. Be still, He says; be quiet, He says; do not be led astray. Do not allow your life to be controlled or defined by fear. Do not listen to the many voices that would cause you to run and follow after them. Endure he says. Be faithful, steadfast, persevere here and now.
Jesus is calling us to be present and faithful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. If we cannot find God here, in our present circumstances, especially in the midst of our temple ruins, we will likely not find God, anywhere, because He tells us in Psalm 34 that He is closest to us when we are crushed in spirit.
The place of fallen temples is the place in which God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, declares: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” We have a God who creates.
Those promises are fulfilled through our perseverance. By perseverance we gain our lives – the last words of today’s Gospel.
Jesus is calling us to the virtue of stability. We are to remain fully present and faithful, no matter how uncomfortable life may be. In so doing we discover that God has always been with us – in the changes and chaos of life; in the pain, loss, and disappointment; in the destruction of our temples.
Endurance, perseverance, stability are the ways in which we offer God the fallen stones of our temples. Stone by stone He rebuilds our life.
Stone by stone God restores the original beauty of our life and world. Stone by stone a new temple arises from the rubble.
And, we become the temple of God. That is the story that needs to be told. That is our opportunity to testify to the Good News of God’s love for all of us, warts and all.
We can all tell the story of the day our temple was destroyed. Too often, however, we believe and live as if that is the end of the story. It is not. Oh, it will be, if we run away, scapegoat, respond with anger, or try to put it back together like it used to be.
But it does not have to be the end of the story. Indeed, the greater story is how we discovered God next to us in the temple ruins and how, stone by stone, He rebuilt what we could not.
It is the ongoing story of God recreating life out of loss and ruin, a story of God rejoicing and delighting in his people.
This story is the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘according to you’. It is not just Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. It is according to you. It is real, sacred, and true. Trust that story, tell it over and over, proclaim it to all who will listen, and live that story to the fullest.