The Sign that Never Fails

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    Gospel according to Luke (21:5-19)

    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 sign 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.”

    ***
    My parents knew very well that I was scared. It was my first time to travel outside the province alone, and by plane. So my mother tried to sound confident as she tried to tame my overwhelming fear: “Don’t be afraid. Do you see those signs over there? You won’t get lost. Just follow them and you’ll get there, OK?” I trusted her counsel. To this day her advice helps me get back on track wherever I go—figuratively and literally.

    The history of the people of Israel is very much characterized by their following of God’s signs. Yet no matter how intuitive and clear the instructions that accompanied the signs, the Chosen People seldom got it right; worse, they substituted (if not altogether altered) them with their own signs, to accommodate their personal agenda. But God never gave up on them. He continued to offer them signs, hoping that they would take them to heart and eventually enjoy the life God wished them to have. The Mass readings this Sunday summarize how essential God’s signs are (and thus should be followed faithfully) and how fatal they become if understood differently.

    Signs give both destination and direction. Old Testament literature is rich with signs. God communicates with his people mainly through signs and wonders — without excluding, of course, prophetic and scriptural means. These signs are covenantal. God gives the direction, and if the people of Israel follow, he fulfills his covenant. Otherwise, God leaves them in their stubbornness and hardness of hearts whereby they lose everything: the promise, the vision of the destination, and God himself.

    In the First Reading, the prophet Malachi gives a reassuring sign of God’s presence—the fear of the Lord, which introduces us to wisdom. Fear in this sense is not meant fear of punishment and castigation. Rather, to fear the Lord is to fear losing him altogether, by turning our backs on him, who is our eternal destiny. The absence of God in one’s life means incompleteness, deprivation, and overwhelming nothingness. “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

    In the New Testament, God still introduces himself through a sign; but this time, this sign is a human being in the person of Jesus. He is not only the sign that points to the direction (heaven) and the destination (God), he is also both the direction (as the kingdom. i.e., the reign of God) and the destination (as a member of the Holy Trinity). God can be only known intimately except through this Son. In the Gospel, we can discern three impending signs by which Jesus alerts us: first, the temple, whose glory will turn into ashes; second, false prophets, sources of deception and lies; third, natural catastrophic signs. All these occurrences signify a horrible and hopeless ending.

    And so God offers Jesus, the last and final sign. If all signs in the Old Testament failed to sway God’s people toward him, God proposes-Jesus so that all might see God face to face and that he might, not be mistaken for something else anymore. Nonetheless, not everyone gets it right. In fact, by his name, many have been, currently are, and in both the near and distant future will continue to be seized, persecuted, imprisoned, and/or executed.

    Centuries have passed. Many have tried to obliterate this divine sign, yet he continues to fulfill his promises to those who believe in God through him… and those who persevere in following him will journey straight into his arms, to where all of us are called to be.

    – Fr. Dindo Purto, SSP

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