Transitions are always difficult. We’ve seen some evidence of that in the events of the past week surrounding the election; but we also see it in the apocalyptic language of this Luke 21:5-19, the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday Morning. But at some point you have to ask yourself a question about this imagery of violence in the gospel: is it a solemn warning of the zombie apocalypse to come, or is it encouragement? Was it the intention of our Lord to scare his disciples or to strengthen them? Or maybe both?
The first reading of that Gospel passage would suggest the theme of fear in the midst of the uncertainty of life. Look at the temple, the sign of God’s abiding presence in the midst of Israel, the symbol of God’s protective providence. “Don’t take it for granted that it will always be there. Someday you will look and it will be gone.”
What is suggested in Jesus’ comment is not too popular with the hearers. Because what seems to come across in the wider context of his comment is this: take your faith for granted and you will be complicit in its destruction. That’s not a real feel-good statement.
But the rest of the statements of our Lord contain an element of comfort:
-you don’t need to go chasing after every new thing that comes down the pike, (what’s implicit) is that you already know all that you need to know
-take care that you are not led astray and sidetracked (what’s implicit is) stay focused
-you’re going to endure hardships (but what’s implicit is) you will be given the grace of God to face all those things that you fear, even those things that you fear the most. Even including: arrest, being imprisoned, having charges brought against you, betrayal by your family members. But what is implicit is you will not face these things alone because the grace of God will be there.
While we may not be focused on these positive aspects of today’s Gospel, they all seem to distill down to one particular focus: “By your endurance, you will save your souls.”
While we might appreciate endurance when it is demonstrated by professional athletes, we do not necessarily appreciate endurance in other areas of life. For while we don’t live in the first century, we share with that century that familiar trait of all human beings: we still have the tendency towards self-indulgence, not self-discipline, opting for the easy way out, not the path of courage. We want our faith to be there to bail us out of the difficult moments, we may want to be spiritual so long as we’re not talking about “spiritual discipline.”
And yet Jesus reminds us that it is by our endurance that we will gain our souls. Endurance essentially means being faithful and being disciplined in our practice of faith. When you think about it the athlete who has not faithfully practiced and disciplined himself (or herself) in training has no gas in the tank when it comes to that endurance moment for the extra effort, the extra burst of speed, the ability to go the extra mile.
By your endurance you will gain your souls.