The movie Titanic came out when I was 13 years old – during that stage of my life when I thought I was a lot smarter than I was – and was anxious to prove it. I can recall attempting to impress my parents’ friends by noting that I didn’t understand why everyone wanted to see Titanic, because, of course, we all knew how the movie would end: the boat would sink. The adults would roll their eyes at me and smile: on the outside perhaps agreeing that yes, in fact, they did know how it would end. But, at the same time, the greatness of the movie was based not in a surprise ending, but rather in the way the movie got to the ending – it was the journey that mattered. The power of the story itself was rooted in the knowledge of the audience knowing exactly how the story would end.
Something similar is happening in today’s Gospel. The early listeners to Luke’s Gospel would have known how the story Jesus is telling ended. When hearing this account of Jesus’ time in the Temple –between Palm Sunday and Good Friday – they would know the rest of the story: they would know that Jesus was on his way to being killed; they would know that the great Temple would be destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD; they would know that the Christian community itself had come (and still was) under persecution from those who didn’t understand its way of life.
They would also know that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Or, would they? The toughest part of faith for the ancient Christians may still be our toughest task: we have heard it before, we have said it ourselves, that Jesus was raised from the dead, but there are so many ways in which we look around and think: resurrection, where? Jesus, who? Salvation, when? Even though we know the end of the story: the question remains -- where do we know it? In our heads? Or in our hearts? Or in the action of our hands? God calls us to let the knowledge of the way our story ends to become real in all three places: head, heart and hands.
We are called to be people whose lives give witness to where we were – and where we are going. As the days have grown shorter, some of us may have had the experience of leaving the house before it becomes light and arriving home from work after it gets dark. Others of us have looked at our calendars and realized that the sprint from Thanksgiving to Christmas – with all of the year-end deadlines – is nearly here. Still others who live lives based on the school calendar – parents and students alike – know that papers, exams, quizzes and report cards and the pressures they bring along are drawing closer.
In the shortening of days and the increase of stress, however, we’d be well-served to think back to this Gospel and the way Christians would have heard it many years ago – Jesus reminds us today that the “wars and insurrections” which fill our TV screens, as well as those personal slights we feel on a regular basis do not have the final word in our lives.
The final words, instead, always belong to us – belong to us when we love, when we testify to our love of God through our love of neighbor. We are called to make our knowledge of how the story ends a reality for others not through correction or condemnation, but through the power of our lives that look a lot like Jesus’: beaten up and bent over, but bursting with hope because we know that God has come to set us free once and for all.
Putting today’s Gospel into this perspective, I think, opens up its meaning. We hear in today’s Gospel that Jesus’ one of last times speaking publically and he spends it in the Temple – the heart of Judaism – pulling apart all of the preconceived notions people have about their lives and the faiths. Just like Jesus, we come here, to this Temple of God; yet, we don’t come here to speak, but rather to be fed and strengthened with a message of hope.
Our presence here reminds us that we are participants in the love of Jesus that is through Him, with Him and in Him. It is up to us to live lives of love and compassion. But how? Against all the many troubles we face, how can we do this? We are able exactly because we know where we are going.
This Gospel ends with a statement from Jesus that we can hang our lives – our very souls, our very future on: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” The reason we are called to perseverance amidst the trials of live is because the job of the Christian – our universal calling, regardless of our age, experience or employment – we know the way the story ends: not with a boat sinking, but with bodies rising.
I know I’ve often mentioned my deceased grandmother from up here: pointing to her as an example of Christian life for me. In reflecting upon her life, I realize that the thing about her that made such a great impression on me was how alive she was until the very end of her life: and I can only imagine that she was so incredibly alive because she always persevered, always returned to love, regardless of the consequences. We have the power to be this presence for others; we have the power to witness to the living God in our lives, if we dare. This week, let us recall that no matter where our story has taken us and no matter where it will take us in the future, it always ends in the same place: with Jesus the Lord, who is God, forever and ever, Amen!