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.’
How we look and how people perceive our lifestyles is important to many people. From the moment we begin to interact with other people we like to be seen as ‘fashionable’, as not standing out in the crowd for our lack of ‘trendiness’. As we get older most people grow away from this ‘herd mentality’ and begin to pride themselves on their individuality. But, no matter how ‘individual’ we like to see ourselves as being, we still find ourselves moving with the general sweep of the crowd.
Whilst our need to ‘blend in’ may not be harmful in many respects, it does also have the potential to damage both our earthly and our eternal lives. It is the desperate need to be like everyone else that leads people into a way of living that damages others as much as themselves. Jesus’ words in today’s reading offer us sound advice in this matter: Beware that you are not led astray, and Do not go after them.
In every setting in which we come into close contact with others, there will be those who dominate. Whether their ‘power’ lies in charisma alone, or whether it is rooted in something more sinister, leaders always rise to the top of the pile. These are the people Jesus is warning us to be cautious about; these are the people who would have us follow them as they lead us further and further away from the path laid for us by God.
Human beings do terrible things to each other. People are abused and exploited. Acts of terror are perpetrated on the innocent. Wars are promulgated on the basis that they are the only course of action that will ensure freedom. No matter how ‘individual’ and ‘independent’ we may consider ourselves to be, the truth is that the eloquence of those who hold power leads us into these evil ways, and then it quickly becomes impossible for us to extricate ourselves.
Today we are urged to pray for strength. So, let us pray for that strength which will keep us firm in our resolve to follow Jesus Christ alone. Let us pray that we might set aside our need to be ‘honoured’ and ‘respected’ by others, and that we might find the courage to live the life of faithful discipleship. And … let us pray that we might never become one of those who lead others astray!