26 November 2009 Thursday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time
Daniel 6, 12-28; Daniel 3; Luke 21, 20-28
Jerusalem fell to the Roman armies in AD 70 after a desperate siege in which the inhabitants were actually reduced to cannibalism and in which the city had to be taken literally stone by stone. Josephus says that an incredible number of 1,100,000 people perished in the siege and 97,000 were carried away in captivity. The Jewish nation was obliterated and the Temple was fired and abandoned.
Josephus in Wars of the Jews writes about the beauty of the Temple: the pillars and columns are of white marble, each made of a single block of stone. Of the ornaments, the most famous was the great vine made of solid gold. “The outward face of the Temple in its front… was covered with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But the temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceedingly white.
It was from a comment about this Temple, that Jesus was moved to prophesy. Here we learn some things about Jesus. First, Jesus could read the signs of history. Second, Jesus truthfully said that those who would follow him would meet persecutions and difficulties. Third, Jesus assured them that those who would face persecution would never be alone: He is with them. Finally, Jesus gives a second assurance, “not one hair of your head will be harmed.” They might destroy the body, but never one’s soul.
If we reflect on our lives, much of what we learn about Jesus is indeed true to us. Some of us have graciously loaned a lot of money to someone and that person has exploited our generosity. Some of us have been victims of false accusations and gossip, abandoned by friends and families even by members of the church, because they believed in the false statements made against us. Some of us have labored willingly behind the scenes, doing most of the work— whether in a school or a work project — and another got the credit. Some of us have tried to make things better, but we meet a lot of difficulties from people who resist change.
Here is the message that is often difficult to accept: that it is in this kind of pain that God gives His best message. CS Lewis calls pain, “God’s megaphone”. In his book, The Problem of Pain, he writes: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” Thus, when everything falls, like the Temple of Jerusalem, when we are destroyed by people, we are asked to put our complete hope and trust in God. When we do that, the simplest message from God calms our spirit.
Remember Angelito Nayan? On October 28, 2004, this Philippine diplomat spent three weeks in captivity in the hands of gunmen in Afghanistan. Every day their captors would threaten to kill him and his fellow captives. Nayan said that words from the Bible sustained him in dark times and how they would repeatedly utter a quote from the book of Jeremiah which says, “For I know my plans that are laid for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you.”
An image comes to mind in the movie 2012. It captivates the attitude when all else fails. Harry Helmsley (Blu Mancuma), father of Adrian (Chiwetel Ejiofor) went out of the ship and faced the tidal wave courageously knowing that he has his son’s love. In the first reading, the prophet Daniel faced the consequence of his faithfulness to the Lord, despite the decree from King Darius. He went to the burning flames. But it is in this final step of giving one’s life for the truth that the God of Israel was recognized by King Darius. It is therefore the lives of the martyrs of the faith, or what we call the “cloud of witnesses” that becomes proof of faith’s authenticity. It is the same with heroes: their lives is the proof of the validity of the virtue of nationalism and love of country.
And so, take heart. Never lose hope. Trust in the Lord. In our desperate times, when all else fails, when all else falls like the splendor of Jerusalem, God never abandons us.