The art — or craft — of headline writer is highly specialized, absolutely critical, and frequently overlooked. A headline must be brief, but factual. Enticing, but informative. This is no easy task. Consider this memorable headline from a few years ago: “Smoking more dangerous than thought.”

With that in mind, I wonder what headline might be written for today’s gospel from Luke? [1] The message, or messages, seem elusive, as the narrative moves from the jewel-encrusted temple to warnings of wars and tumults and danger and destruction. There’s a prediction of devastating times to come—a prediction that is an uncannily accurate description of the time we live in. There is a warning, of trials and troubles—all of which have an uneasy, even horrifying, resonance to the trials and troubles with which we are so sadly familiar.

At the same time, there is reassurance. And yet…

I would be less than truthful if I said I knew precisely what to make of the Gospel lesson before us now.

If you have no personal experience or memory of a temple that has fallen, not stone left upon stone, let me offer an example from our common history — I mean, the history of this parish.

I refer to 35 Bowdoin Street, for many years home to the Church of the Advent, then to the Parish of St. John the Evangelist. It is now a different kind of temple, where the price of admission is not belief or baptism, but — to be blunt — money.[2] The property — 27,000 square feet — can be yours for $11 million.

Another example: Immaculate Conception Church on Harrison Avenue. What is the connection? This is the place where in 1879, Amanda Tarbell Croswell, widow of William Croswell, first rector of the Church of the Advent, was baptized “sub cond” [3] by a Jesuit priest. [4] Her husband had died 28 years previously; she was 79 years old. Now, 140 years later, that building, too, is in the process of being converted — converted into luxury condominiums. [5]

Of course, this is not only about the closing of churches and creation of condominiums. There is an ache in the soul when what we see and treasure, what we thought would always be there, is no longer. The older one gets, the surer one becomes of this: That the things that last — tangible, intangible; visible, invisible — are not always the things you think, you hope, will last. Not even the big, impressive, amazingly beautiful ones. Not even the ones that have been central to your formation and identity.

As to the persecution that Jesus describes, I suspect that many of us could speak from direct personal experience to some form of it; while we may not have been summoned to face kings and governors, there are many who have encountered, and been harmed by, the rigid rules of those in authority who wield their power not for the common good but for the preservation of their own position.

Do you doubt this?

Anyone who is considered “the other” — women, people of color, people who don’t fit into an unyielding binary structure — all face myriad forms of diminishment, degradation, or persecution.

Many have experienced betrayal at the hand of trusted loved ones. Nation does rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom: Syria, Iraq, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Lebanon…the list goes on. The words we hear from Luke’s gospel have a resonance that is personal, political, timeless.

For those who hear this reading as meant for them, the concluding words are surely, perhaps counter-intuitively (based on what has come before), meant to be words of promise and hope spoken directly to each one of us: “Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

The words to cling to are those where Jesus offers reassurance that all you have to do — all we have to do — is hang on, endure.

But spiritual fatigue, gripping discouragement, often lead to a place of hopelessness. Sometimes, for me, perhaps for you, too, even Jesus’ words of reassurance do not ring true. But what does ring true is that they are his words, and he is with me. And with you. And with those in the temple, admiring its jewels and finely carved stones; with those standing accused before kings and governors; with those struggling amidst a famine of the soul or pestilence of the body; with those suffering at the hands of ones they loved and trusted.

That’s not the headline; that’s the whole story. Amen.

[1] Lk 21:5-19


[3] sub cond. sub conditione (i.e., “conditionally”), used when a person may have been baptized before (perhaps by a Protestant cleric, for example) or there may be some question about the validity of the earlier baptism.

[4] She died a year later, leaving $300 to Immaculate Conception for “Masses for the repose of my soul.”


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