If you have found this morning’s gospel confusing and disorienting, you are not alone. Things that seem stable and immovable (like the great temple) will become a pile of rubble; wars and insurrections and mass civil unrest do not signal the end of time; earthquakes, plagues, and famines, for their part, add to the confusion by the seeming ambiguity of their significance. But, if all that is not disorienting enough, before any of these terribly disturbing things happen, Jesus foretells arrest for his disciples, betrayal even by members of one’s own family, and being hated by all because of his name. If there is any comfort to be taken from today’s gospel, perhaps it is that its tone reflects something of our contemporary world and society.
For, it is not an exaggeration to say that we live in times of great confusion and anxiety and in which several of the gospel’s themes are mirrored in the world around us. The stable and seemingly strong church to which we generally looked for inspiration and guidance is not unlike that temple with no stone left upon another—rocked as it is by scandal, division, and inner discord. Internationally, hopes for a respite from the violent and bloody twentieth century have been dashed by twenty-first century wars and insurrections that show no signs of abating or their underlying causes being resolved. The uncertainties around potentially imminent global climate change leave many anxious about possible catastrophic earthquakes, famines, and plagues.
In the face of all this confusion and uncertainty in which we are destined to live, Jesus offers a rather simplistic and yet difficult solution: Trust and persevere in your faith. However, this trust is not in the hope that the predicted catastrophes and traumatic events will be averted and that all will be well, but rather trust in Jesus’ promise that he will be with us, unfailingly, until the end of the world. This may seem a disappointing solution to life’s daunting challenges, and therefore this trust we are being called to only makes sense if it includes an eternal perspective that gazes beyond our brief sojourn here on earth to that eternal home where pain and sorrow will be no more. For as Saint Paul reminds us, if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.
The trust that Jesus is calling for (and that equips us with an eternal perspective) is well expressed by that beloved prayer of Thomas Merton which begins by echoing our own anxieties and confusion. My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. And the conclusion to this prayer is one that Jesus is surely calling us to make our own. For Merton goes on to pray: Therefore, I will trust you always though I seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. May that trust in us deepen and grow until it casts out all fear and anxiety and grounds us in hope, peace, and even joy amid the confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety of our contemporary world. For, we hear Jesus appealing to us: Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.And again, I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.