33rd Sunday in Ordinary time

Ten days ago the Philippines were braced against a powerful storm approaching the islands. When the typhoon had passed over, the scale of destruction exceeded by far any predictions. Entire cities were reduced to rubble, many of their inhabitants perished, and those fortunate enough to survive are facing starvation and disease. It seems that even the government is paralysed by that unimaginable disaster on such an epic scale. For many people their lives will forever be divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’ the storm, with their lost loved ones, razed properties and destroyed ways of life. For many, the typhoon marked the end of the world as they know it.

Natural disasters of this kind raise the same questions as do any personal adversities. People try to find reasons, to understand what’s just happened. Among many questions there’s always that one about God and his role in our world. For some people it’s a proof that God doesn’t exist, and we have to rely on ourselves; for some others even if he does exist, he’s either totally oblivious to our fate or plays cruel games with us. Whatever the thinking, it springs up from a subconscious assumption that if God were interacting with us, no suffering would occur. Unfortunately this assumption, though desirable, is completely false and biblically groundless.

In today’s gospel some of Jesus’ companions admire the Temple in Jerusalem: its mighty appearance and its elaborate functions. For many Jewish people of that time it was the unconquerable and powerful centre of the world, offering them a sense of freedom and independence despite the Roman occupation. So they are shocked when Jesus announces its complete destruction in the future. That happened roughly 40 years later, in the year 70 AD, when the Romans forcibly put down a Jewish uprising. It has never been rebuilt. Subsequently the Jews were dispersed from the Holy Land, and have consequently been scattered all over the world. The temple wasn’t in the centre of their religion and lives anymore. That was the end of the world as they knew it.

Jesus’ announcement of the destruction of the temple is followed by his predictions of more unpleasant things to come. He speaks about wars, revolutions, dictators claiming special roles for themselves, and natural disasters; all those, topped with religiously motivated persecutions. This passage is almost overloaded with all possible adversities, with almost no spark of hope to lighten the gloom a bit. Jesus doesn’t proclaim some sort of earthly paradise, a suffering-free zone with everlasting happiness. What he does promise is his presence and support in our troubles; let’s listen to it again: ‘I myself shall give you eloquence and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict.’ This is not a promise of removing every obstacle and solving every problem on our behalf; this is a promise to support each one of us. There’s one important requirement on our side: ‘Your endurance will win you your lives.’