11/13/13, By Patient Endurance You Will Find Your Soul

Malachi 4:1-2,  2 Thessalonians 3:7-12, Luke 21:5-19

Over the past 7 weeks we have been paying attention to the ways in which Jesus answered the disciples’ request: “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5) Jesus proposes that just a small investment in active faith results in faith that grows incrementally.  Gratitude, perseverance, humility, repentance, and keeping a view of the eternal are actions that we can choose to take as we both practice faith and seek its increase.  In the gospel for this 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus says, “by patient endurance you will gain your soul.”

Today we are offered a set of readings that make it hard to affirm that we have just heard “good news.”  Malachi the Prophet says to the 5th century BC Jewish community. “The Day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; The Day that comes will burn them up, says YHWH Omnipotent, and it will leave them neither root nor branch.”  In the first century AD Jesus one-ups that picture of terror with his prediction: "Nation will rise against nation, and empire against empire. There will be great earthquakes, plagues and famines in various places, and in the sky there will be frightening omens and great signs. But before any of this, they will arrest you and persecute you, bringing you to trial before synagogues and sending you to prison, bringing you to trial before rulers and governors.”   Gospel means “good news.” This is good news???

Scholars tell us that the very events to which Jesus seems to refer prophetically in this passage were things that had already happened.  Jesus was crucified about 50 years before the writing of this Gospel. All the apostles had also been martyred.  The gospel writer Luke (80-90 AD) puts these words of description into the mouth of Jesus as if he was foretelling them, but actually, this gospel described what had already happened to the remnant of the Jews and the newly forming Christian community.   The temple was destroyed in 70 AD, as the Romans crushed out the life of the Jewish community in Jerusalem.   

Why would Luke have written his story in such a way?  If these are not historically accurate prophecies of Jesus, how should we receive them as people who still claim the Christian faith in the 21st century?

The followers of Jesus who first heard the Gospel of Luke had lived through terrible events. Their world had fallen apart. They were forced to spread out over the Mid-eastern world of that day, encountering different religions and cultures and dealing with new political and economic pressures.  2000 years later, we might feel as if we’re living with similarly terrifying events.  There are wars and rumors of wars, climate change and super viruses floating around, nuclear bombs and chemical warfare. There’s an atmosphere of religious hostility. Christians and Jews of all times have experienced such insecurity. The words put in the mouth of Jesus were words meant to encourage his followers to carry on in their day. They are words meant to strengthen faith in a Divine Presence that holds us in this century just as it has held people of all times.  In this passage Luke calls us again to that small seed of faith that Jesus told his disciples could grow if they cultivated it.  Today the lesson is to practice endurance.  Jesus promised his followers, “By patient endurance you will gain your souls.”  

A motivational website offers an image of endurance:  “Endurance is the ability to call from ourselves renewed commitment and effort when we are confronted with challenges or hardship. Endurance often requires tolerating discomfort, reaching for resources and stamina we are not certain we possess. Endurance means that we remain steadfast even through criticism, monotony, and discouraging odds.   Endurance requires planning ahead and maintaining balance, not just strength of will. Health and pacing often determine our ability to sustain. This means that we need to take care of ourselves if we care about the long term.”

This description applies to the work that Lumen Christi has taken on.  We are a community of Catholic Christians who hope to see our faith emerge from these times of turmoil with new life and hope for future generations.  In this time of change, we need to plan ahead and maintain balance. We may have to endure criticism, loss of relationships that have been precious to us, even excommunication from the institution that offered us the foundational graces of baptism and Eucharist. Can we remain faithful to this purpose over the long haul? Will we endure?

A reflection also found on the internet: “During turbulent storm, I gazed out the window and witnessed a tree being abused by the fierce winds. With every gust the branches swayed back and forth. Thanks to their flexibility they bent, snapped, and curved against the force to avoid breaking. The leaves, thrashed by that same wind and the continual movement of the limbs, desperately clung to the branch because their life depended on it. The sturdy and powerful trunk, that held the tree upright, bent backwards from the force in a battle to maintain its position.  The solid trunk looked like rubber.

After the storm had passed the tree gracefully returned back to its original position standing tall amongst the chaos. It had been through the storm but managed to survive. It didn’t look the same as leaves had shed from it branches, the barked was chipped from the force of the wind, and some of the sediment that surrounded its base had loosened. But the tree survived the fight for its life.

What was so inspirational about watching a tree be attacked by the wind and almost consumed? It wasn’t just about the tree. It was about the roots. The roots, although unseen, dig deep into the soil providing stability, and nourishment.  The roots allow for the tree to be able to take a beating because they are there to support them. The roots are a web of thousands of intertwined tentacles spread underground possibly bigger than the tree itself.

I asked myself, what are the roots in my life and how deep are they?

Life challenges you to bend without breaking. The next time the storms of life are raging, go back to your roots. The storms of life will make you sway, make you bend, make you lose some leaves but the deeper your roots the stronger you stand.”    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnWkngTjFHM 

Your strength lies in your roots of faith. How deep are they planted?  Will you endure?  By patient endurance, you will gain your soul.

By Sandi DeMaster