Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Malachi 3:19-20; Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19
Choose Faith not Fear
I recently returned from two months in the Holy Land. It was amazing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus from the Galilee region to Jerusalem. I had numerous special encounters at sacred sites but my experience at the Western or Wailing Wall was particularly powerful. The only thing left of the temple destroyed in 70 CE is the western retaining wall. Thousands of people of faith pray at the Wall each day. I moved to the women’s side. Many were bent over in prayer, with their foreheads resting on the wall. I did the same.
One tradition is to place a list of prayer petitions in the crevices in the Wall—visibly revealing the hopes and wishes of millions of people around the globe. I brought my list, placed my hands on the Wall, and prayed fervently. I experienced a powerful energy that sealed me to the Wall—the presence of the Holy Spirit in and among the people was overwhelming.
In today’s gospel, Jesus describes the destruction of the temple and terrible events to come. Luke’s gospel was written around 15 years after its destruction. For Luke’s readers, it was a reflection on the destruction of the temple and current persecution and not a prediction.
One possible message for us and for Luke’s hearers is we are not to place our trust and hopes in physical buildings or human achievements. Also, bad things happen in every age—false prophets arise and natural and personal catastrophes strike.
In our time, fear is being stoked—of crime, the stranger, even our neighbors. Violence is on the rise, war is ever present, and our economy is uncertain. How are we as people of faith to respond when bad things happen? It is clear from today’s gospel that we should not be terrified (21:9) or that these are signs of God’s judgment (21:8). Instead, we are called to be firm in our trust in God (21:7-19).
Despite the language of unrest and destruction, this passage is ultimately about hope. It is a hope grounded in the truth that our God accompanies us and our world even when things feel like they are coming apart. The power of God’s spirit present at the Western Wall reminds me that our God wails with us as we cry out for the needs of our loved ones, for Creation, and for our world. Choose faith not fear!
Sr. Terry Rickard, OP