Reading: Luke 21.5-11
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus 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.’
The disciples 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.’
Following on from yesterday’s account of the widow’s offering, Jesus turns his attention to the Temple in Jerusalem and the danger of being led away from God. Everyone who belongs to a church grows to love that church. As they become used to its ‘feel’ they fall in love with the comfort and reassurance it provides for them. On a much greater scale, that is what Jesus witnessed in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple, the holiest place of worship in the Jewish world, had much love and appreciation lavished upon it. As with many of our local churches, people cared for it and people endowed it with money. The glorification of the Temple became an end in its own right, just as is the case for some people in respect of their own local churches. It is in this context that Jesus speaks today.
As Jesus hears the proud statements of those who are admiring the Temple, he utters those words which would strike fear into the hearts of all who worshipped the magnificence of the building rather than the magnificence of God: not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down. Jesus then goes on to warn of the dangers of following those who worship the preservation of the building over the preservation of our relationship with God. He knows that those who promise ‘continuity’ rather than change will tempt people away from the unpredictable path that God has laid for us.
Over the years I have heard many people talk of the ‘threats’ that confront the church. When those comments are carefully considered, they often boil down to a threat to someone’s personal view of the church building. Our church buildings are important, but they are not the Church! They are buildings where Christians can gather in prayer and worship, buildings where they can recharge their spiritual batteries, buildings where they can be fed with the holy food that will sustain them as they journey in the outside world. But, a beautiful building is not essential for any of that.
When Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple he was not only speaking of the demolition of an impressive building, he was also talking about the fate that he was to face in just a few days. Jesus knew that humanity would not be able to face up to the challenge, or ‘threat’, that he posed to their preferred way of going on. Jesus knew that the voices of others, those who wielded the linguistic flexibility of politicians, would lead the crowds to cry out for his destruction. But, Jesus also remained certain of the path that humanity should be taking. We are called to follow the teachings of Jesus as the true word of God. We are not called to follow the person whose slick words appeal to our selfish ways. We are called to value that which is of true worth, rather than that which is the largest and most impressive. We are called to understand that the Church (the real Church) is a community of believers who find consolation in each other’s company and who are then prepared to risk their worldly power and wealth to spread the word and the love of God. I wonder where we fit in all this?