Audio homily here:
Pope Benedict said before his retirement that the gospels about the end of time, which we’re reading these Sundays at Mass, are the hardest gospels to preach about. I think he’s right. What can we say about a time when everything in our world is turned upside down? The sun is darkened, the moon doesn’t give light, stars fall from the sky. A frightening time, a time of tribulation, the gospel says, hard to imagine, harder to explain.
We want a solid, predictable life and we like a solid predictable life, where the sun shines, there’s day and night, and the ground is solid under our feet.
That’s the world Jesus and his disciples were experiencing in today’s gospel. They’re on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, with its superb view of the great city and its evirons. It’s shortly before he’s arrested and put to death. They have just come from the temple which was then almost completely rebuilt by King Herod, one of the master builders of the time.
His disciples were delighted with the beauty of the place. “Look, teacher, how wonderful those buildings are.” Not only were they admiring the temple and the city before them, but in a way this was now their city. Crowds had welcomed them and brought Jesus into the city in triumph when they had come up from Galilee. The city’s leaders, even though they saw Jesus as a threat, feared to act against him. In a way Jesus and his disciples owned this place.
“Do you see those great buildings?” Jesus said to them, “There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.” His words came true some time later, in 70 AD, when Roman armies completely destroyed the city of Jerusalem and its temple, not leaving one stone upon another.
That tragedy was some years off, when Jesus spoke, but very shortly they faced a tragedy of another kind. That was the death of Jesus himself, who had become so much a part of their life. He would be arrested and abused and killed on a cross, and they did not expect it all. Instead of the promise of a solid, successful life, which he seemed to bring them, their world came crashing down.
This gospel certainly reminds us that however solid and permanent our world may seem the time will come when the Lord will judge the living and the dead. We don’t know the day or the hour.
But let’s remember too that this gospel is also about our time, when our own worlds may seem to end. Tragedies of every kind can do that to us: sickness, failure, disappointments, death. Things we did not expect at all. These are times when the sun goes dark, the moon gives no light, and the stars fall from he skies.
God can seem far off at these times, maybe not there at all. Our lives may seem ready to end. There’s no hope we can see. But listen again to the words of our Lord. Times like these are not the end. God’s still with us; God’s love never ends.
“And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’
with great power and glory,
and then he will send out the angels
and gather his elect from the four winds,
from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”
Jesus is our Savior. What he said to his disciples he says to us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”