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Friday, November 15, 2019

“A wisdom in speaking” - 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 21:5-19
While some people were speaking about
how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,
Jesus said, "All that you see here--
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."
Then they asked him,
"Teacher, when will this happen?
And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?"
He answered,
"See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
'I am he,' and 'The time has come.'
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end."
Then he said to them,
"Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
"Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives."


The liturgical year is ending. In two Sundays we’ll begin Advent, the start of a new Church year. Next week, for the final Sunday of “Ordinary Time,” we’ll mark the feast of Christ the King. Obviously, next week’s Gospel reading will draw our attention to the way Jesus is king of the universe. But this week’s Gospel also tells us something about Christ’s kingship. Jesus’ somewhat cryptic words this week about the end of the world and the way Christians should respond to persecution tell us not so much about the king himself, though, but about his kingdom. How so?

One thing we should notice about Jesus’ description of the world’s dysfunction is how often it utilizes “kingdoms” and “nations” and the clashes between them: “Nation will rise against nation,” Jesus says, “and kingdom against kingdom.” Or again: “they will have you led before kings and governors.” Or again: “when you hear of wars and insurrections….” Jesus depicts the kingdoms of the world as fundamentally chaotic. 

Let’s now juxtapose these kingdoms with the kingdom Jesus has been introducing to his disciples. Indeed, we should not forget what Jesus has been doing with his ministry up until now: he’s been describing to his disciples a certain way of life, and he always describes it as a kingdom. “The kingdom of God has come near to you,” Jesus says, summarizing for the disciples the message they should spread (Lk 10:9). Notice, too, how Jesus begins many of his parables: “the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed,” or it’s like “leaven,” or it’s like “a mustard seed” (Mt 13:24, 33, 31). The parables are an attempt to illustrate what life in this mysterious kingdom is like. 

So what, then, is life in this kingdom like? “Blessed are you poor,” Jesus says “for yours is the kingdom of God (Lk 6:20). The kingdom Jesus describes belongs not to the smartest, healthiest, or most well-off but to those who have been beaten by this world. It belongs to those “who hunger,” those “who weep,” and those “who are hated, excluded, and reviled” (Lk 6:21-23). He says that banquets in his kingdom are not held for “your wealthy neighbors,” but for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Lk 14:12-13). On five different occasions Jesus insisted that, in his kingdom, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Those who our world deems least significant, Jesus privileges with an elite status. 

It is a strange kingdom with strange laws. Indeed, it is illegal in Jesus’ kingdom not to be merciful. How different from the logic we’re accustomed to: You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say … if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt 5:38-39).

Other kingdoms do not think this way. This is why they rise against each other, and even against Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus insists this week that the kingdom of God should not engage the kingdoms of this world by giving in to their logic. When you are confronted, he says, “do not prepare a defense!” There’s no need. Being a citizen of his kingdom will make you fluent in a certain language. It will give you “a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist.” This is the language of his kingdom, and its citizens know it well. It is the language of the beatitudes, the language of “meekness” and of “peacemaking.” It is the language of “purity in heart” and of “thirsting after righteousness” (Mt 5:3-11).

It is a strange kingdom that God has given us, with strange laws, and strange ways, and a strange language. It is certainly strange when compared to the kingdoms around us. But it is with this strange language that the kingdom of God gives testimony to the dysfunctional kingdoms of the world. It is the testimony that God’s kingdom is for the “poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind,” that mercy is the law of the land, and that righteousness is worth thirsting for. We are, indeed, a strange people. But this is the testimony the Spirit gives us when we are confronted by the world’s kingdoms. And this is the testimony that assures us, even should we be killed, that “not a hair on [our] heads will be destroyed.”

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