February 20, 2017, 4:33 pm
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Hope in our hearts

WHILE some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

Then they asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”

He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them!

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.

“Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.

“It will lead to your giving testimony. 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.

“You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

***

Jesus struck fear in the hearts of many Jews when he predicted that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. The Temple, an imposing and colossal structure, was said to contain the holy presence of God. So long as it stood in its magnificence, the people are assured of God’s presence and his saving help. The Temple when razed to the ground will not only be catastrophic to the Jews, but it is believed to presage the end of the world. No wonder the people anxiously asked Jesus: “Teacher, when will this happen?”

The Teacher calms their fear by telling them that the end is not imminent. He warns them against impostors who will try to deceive them and use scare tactics pointing to Armageddon. Instead, Jesus unravels before the people catastrophic events, portents in the sky, and wars and in-corrections that would occur before Judgment day. These however, according to Jesus, will not immediately be the end. “Do not be terrified.” He counsels them not to be hoodwinked by doomsayers and calls them to entrust their life in his powerful and saving hands.

The people who lived in Jesus’ time were about to face persecutions simply because they were followers of Jesus Christ. Christians went against the Roman cult of worshipping Caesar as god. They prayed for Caesar but they did not pray to him.

Christians were hated by pagans because of their different lifestyle. They believed in one God, held secret meetings in catacombs, did not enlist for military service, did not involve themselves in usury, and were told to be faithful in marriage.

The Christian community of Thessalonica believed in the imminent Second Coming. Some of them abandoned their work and turned idle and became dependent on the charity of other people. Worse, some of them turned into ‘busybodies’, poking their noses into other people’s business. Saint Paul, in writing to members of this community, points out that the best way to prepare for Judgment day is to be conscientious of one’s duties in life. He himself as a tentmaker worked with his own hands because he did not want to be dependent on anyone. 

Saint Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians community dovetails with the prophecy of Malachi in the Old Testament. His name means “messenger” and he prophesied in the fifth century at a time when the Temple in Jerusalem had just been rebuilt.

He calls both the priests and the people to return to the spirit of the Covenant by giving the rightful offerings to God, and by living according to God’s teaching.

In his own turn, as Jesus faces the conclusion of his public ministry and imminent persecution he would dare the people to destroy the Temple which was the subject of Israel’s national pride. The Temple that took 46 years to build, Jesus claims, he will rebuild in three days.

Much later, people will realize that Jesus is in fact claiming that the presence and holiness of God is found in his very person. He will be in the bowels of the earth and rise after three days to everlasting glory. Henceforth, all believers shall look upon him as the embodiment of everything that is holy, and should listen to his words to be our guide and our salvation as we look forward to the end with hope in our hearts. 

***

– Fr. Paul J. Marquez, SSP

– (Nov. 13, 2016)
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