The pope said recently that the gospels and readings for these days in our liturgy are the hardest gospels of the year to preach about. The last days are also, of course, hard to understand.
To speak about the last days, the prophets and the New Testament writers sometimes use images of natural disasters that turn everything upside down, like floods, earthquakes, plagues and famines, when “awesome sights and signs will come from the sky.” (Luke 21,11)
But sometimes, as in the case of today’s gospel from Luke, (Luke 21,12-19), the last days are put in terms of days that some of Jesus’ listeners had actually experienced themselves. Luke has Jesus speak to those who actually experienced the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. They knew how their fellow Jews reacted to them afterwards for following him. They were thrown out of their synagogues, shunned and persecuted even by members of their own families, driven from the towns where they lived, put into prison, some even put to death.
That actually happened to the Christian communities in Jerusalem and Galilee after Jesus had risen from the dead, so Luke has Jesus speaking to them from Jerusalem before his own passion and death.
We know Jesus’ first followers expected him to return quickly after his resurrection to usher in his glorious kingdom, and they didn’t expect a delay. They were hoping he’d be accepted by all, but instead there was a powerful Jewish reaction against him and them. They were looking for the “day of the Lord:” instead they got what looked like days of failure.
Jesus’ words to them in Luke’s gospel are interesting. This is going to lead you to give testimony, he tells them. Don’t worry about what words you are going to say “I myself shall give you a wisdom that all your adversaries will not be able to refute.” Don’t worry, “not a hair of your head will be destroyed.”
As we hear Jesus talking to them, can we hear him talking to us when we’re troubled and disappointed by expectations not met? I heard someone say recently he thought the world ended when his marriage broke up. It took him years to get over it. Others have experiences like that, last day experiences.
Jesus offers us the same advice in our “last day” experiences. Here’s where your faith will give witness. Here’s where you will discover God’s wisdom, which is usually the wisdom of the cross. Don’t worry, “not a hair of your head will be destroyed.”