by Father Mike Stubbs
In Rome, there is a major basilica, St. Paul Outside the Walls, which boasts something very unusual. All along one of the walls, there are displayed portraits of each pope, from St. Peter on.
Every time a new pope is elected, his picture goes up on the wall. There is a superstition that once the wall is filled up and there is no more room for another picture, the world will come to an end.
In 1823, a fire broke out that almost completely destroyed the church. Were people worried that that would mean the end of the world? After all, the portraits of the popes were gone.
A similar concern might lie behind Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 21:5-19. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem is linked with predictions of a much greater cataclysm: the end of the world. After all, the temple was built to last forever. If it were destroyed, would that point to the end of the world?
On the other hand, the temple had already been destroyed once before, by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. The temple that existed at the time of Jesus had been built by Herod.
However, by the time that the Gospel of St. Luke was most probably written, this temple, too, had been destroyed by the Roman army in A.D. 70, along with the entire city of Jerusalem. Would this mean that the world was coming to an end?
The early Christians who heard this Gospel of St. Luke were reminded of Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of the temple. Since that prediction had already been fulfilled, this gave credence to his other prediction about the end of the world. He was right about that one, so he would most probably be right about the other.
In the midst of the predictions about the temple’s destruction and the end of the world, Jesus makes still another prediction. This prediction involves the fate of his disciples. They will undergo persecution: “Before all this happens (the end of the world), however, they will seize and persecute you.”
Despite the sufferings that the disciples will endure, even to the point of death, Jesus guarantees their safety: “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” These words may be referring to an earlier saying of Jesus: “Even the hairs of your head have all been counted” (Lk 12:7). In both cases, Jesus is emphasizing God’s concern for the disciples, which will continue, even in the face of death.
To sum up, Jesus makes three predictions: one about the temple’s destruction, one about the disciples’ persecution and one about the end of the world.
The first has been fulfilled, the second is in the process of being fulfilled (Christians are currently undergoing persecution, especially in the Middle East) and the third has yet to be fulfilled. Three predictions, all reliable.