When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’
They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.
‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by 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 of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. (NRSV).
There is something grand, timeless, and unshakable about a magnificent building. Perhaps being so small we are easily awed by size and scale. We wonder at the process of production and try to get our minds around the immensity of the required commitment and cost.
Jesus’ disciples were not so different. Upon arriving in Jerusalem they immediately go to the biggest building in town.
The temple was a busy place attracting both Jew and gentile. Perhaps this ancient building provided a needed sense of security and endurance for occupied Israel. In our passage its beauty and riches draw affirmative comment.
But Jesus’ words are poised to shred any shallow nostalgia: ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’
I imagine silence between Jesus’ remark and the crowd’s courage to question. It must have taken some time for these hearers to realise that Jesus was being serious.
But however long it took, Jesus’ hearers do realise that he is not joking. Those admiring the stones soon inquire about a time frame and what might indicate that such an unimaginable event was about to take place. Their humble question shows they believe. Even so, these walls seem so…immovable.
Jesus replies with a warning but no date. Many will come who are willing to declare ‘I am he!’ and ‘The time is near!’. Following such lesser messiahs is not wise.
Jesus’ answer regarding signs is much fuller. He points to great social upheaval: war, earthquake, famine, plagues. Prior to this those who follow Jesus will face some of the most powerful people on earth. It will look very like persecution, imprisonment, and death. It is enough to instill dread in the one aligning with Christ.
But, Jesus is not trying to instill fear. His ‘do not be terrified’, his assurance that ‘not a hair on your head will perish’, and his call to an ‘endurance’ that will ‘gain your souls’ remind us that this is not a vision intended to paralyse.
Rather, Jesus sees in all this uncertainty possibility and hope. These apparently powerless peasants will ‘testify’ to the world in a display of Spirit inspired ‘wisdom’ to which there will be no comeback. It is a fitting lead passage as we move towards next week’s celebration – ‘Christ the King’.
After all, we are here reminded that prior to God making all things new comes our Spirit empowered and faith-filled witness.