Today’s Gospel is a small section from the much larger discourse of Jesus on the ‘End of Time’.
Jesus and his disciples were passing by Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem, whose splendour drew the admiration of all who gazed upon it. Yet Jesus is not impressed at all. In fact he tells his disciples that within their own lifetime “not one stone will be left upon another” when the enemies of Jerusalem destroy the city.
Naturally, the disciples were most concerned about the destruction of the Temple, to them a symbol not just of their faith, but also of their whole nation.
The future will be a time of turbulence, says Jesus. Nations will go to war. There will be natural calamities too, like earthquakes and famines. False leaders will arise everywhere.
Christians must adjust to a long time of waiting and persecution. In doing so they imitate their Master who took up his cross, over a long and sorrowful way, in order to arrive at his glory.
What should be the attitude of the disciple as he faces persecution from the State, and hostility even from his own relatives ? This is the time when families will be split because some are loyal to Christ, and others to the Roman State. This is when the disciple will even be hated because he professes his faith in Jesus.
Persecution was not something new to Jesus. He reminds them, even in the midst of persecution they would have peace and joy, “a joy no one will ever take away from you.” Is this a paradox ? Yes, it is.
Jesus goes further: Do not be afraid of what to say when you are brought to court. Don’t worry about how you are going to argue your case. I, Jesus, will give you “power of utterance and a wisdom” which no opponent will ever refute. Some of you will be put to death. Be courageous and stand firm. Your death will bring true life for yourselves.
When we look at the history of discipleship, we find this literally true. Faith in Christ has made countless martyrs, ‘witnesses’ of men and women who were ordinary, uneducated, often frail and weak. But all of them knew those words of Jesus, cherished them, and lived them: “Courage! I have conquered the world.”