Courage, Lift Up Your Head!

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau


The earth is finite – the sun, the solar system, the universe are all finite. There will be an end to all these, but not when you and I are living. However, when political upheaval, war, famine and pestilence push us into a sense of misery and despondence, as with the invasion of Ukraine by the Russians, or the impending sense of peril with the news of strained relationships among other countries bring us the same despondence, rumors spread quickly about the end of the world.

Fundamentalist sects refer to some biblical texts validating this despair and impending peril. The most cited is this: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (2 Tim 3:1-4).

We encounter these uncomfortable situations in every age, so those who want to make predictions about the end of the world do not have difficulty establishing the dates. And this is what some sects do. They unknowingly make use of our psychological vulnerability to fear and anxiety to bring about a version of faith that feeds off a cruel and violent God. Let us listen to the Lord a little more carefully to see what he actually intends by using apocalyptic language.

Luke wrote his Gospel around the year 85 A.D. In the 50 years that passed since the death and resurrection of Jesus, tremendous events occurred. There were wars, political revolutions, catastrophes and the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. Christians became victims of injustices and persecutions. How were all these dramatic events to be explained?

Someone appeals to the words of the Master: “There will be great earthquakes, famines, and plagues; terrifying signs from heaven will be seen…” Here is the explanation — Jesus had foreseen everything. The misfortunes (especially the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem) are signs of the end of the world that is coming and that the Lord is returning on the clouds of heaven. Today’s Gospel tries to answer these false expectations and corrects the wrong interpretation that some gave to the words of the Master.

The teaching comes about when some people approach Jesus, who is in the Temple, and invite him to admire its beauty. The rabbis used to say, “Whoever has not seen the Temple of Jerusalem, has not contemplated the most beautiful among the marvels of the world.” The answer by Jesus is amazing, “There shall not be left one stone upon another of all that you now admire.” Amazed, they ask him, “When will this be and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” Jesus cannot specify the date; he does not know it, as he does not know the day and hour of the world’s end (Mt 24:36). He is not a magician, or a soothsayer, so he does not answer.

Why does Luke introduce this episode? There were false prophets in his communities who have always presented a serious danger to the Christian communities. Luke records that Jesus warns his disciples against those who foretell that the end of the world is near. He strongly recommends, “Do not follow them.”

What will happen in the time between the Lord’s coming and the end of the world? Jesus answers this by using an apocalyptic language familiar to the people of his time. He talks about the uprisings of people against people, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, terrifying events and great signs in heaven, etc. Jesus uses it to say to the disciples that the passage between two eras of history is imminent. The new era is inaugurated with a proclamation of joy and hope. Anyone in pain and waiting for the kingdom of God should know that the dawn of a new wonderful day is about to appear. That is the reason that he urges the disciples not to be afraid, not to be frightened (v. 9).

After having invited them to consider the time of waiting for his return as a gestation that prepares for the delivery, Jesus announces the difficulties that his disciples will have to confront: prison, slanders, and betrayal by family members and best friends. There were those who doubted, “Why endure so much suffering and make many sacrifices? It’s all to no avail: the wicked will always continue to prosper, to commit violence, to get the better of the righteous.”

Jesus says that it will not happen. God guides people’s lives and directs the plans of the wicked for the good of his children and the establishment of the kingdom. In this world, the value of their sacrifice will not be recognized. They will be forgotten, perhaps even cursed, but God—and it is His judgment that matters—will give them the reward in the resurrection of the righteous.

(Indebted to Fr. Fernando Armellini SCJ for the textual analysis)