“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’ ” (Luke 21:5-6)
“As for what you see here…” Was Jesus making an astute political observation or a spiritual point?
This passage follows the mention of a widow making an offering at the Temple Treasury. The disciples are looking about -gawking perhaps, like tourists in from the country on a day trip to the Big City- and are clearly impressed with the sheer size and luxury of the place.
And Jesus speaks dismissively, as if he’s saying: “All this has to go. It is all slated for demolition.”
On the one hand, anyone with a little political nous could see which way the wind was blowing. One could draw the conclusion that sooner or later push would come to shove, and the might of the Roman machine would just roll over this troublesome corner of the Empire and clear it for redevelopment. In Britannia, for example, they took the decision to wipe out the Druids, as counter to the spirit of Rome. Carthage was annihilated since it couldn’t be tolerated as a trading rival. These decisions were not emotional. Just business.
So anyone knowing something of the tricky condition of Jewish-Roman relations might figure that Roman patience would not last much longer.
But, like a true prophet, Jesus looked beneath the flow of historical and political events to what God was doing in them.He asked “What is going on in what is going on?” There’s an intriguing mention in 1 Chronicles 12:32 among David’s advisors, of the “Men of Isaachar” who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” This was political savvy, sure, but spiritual insight too. What should the People of God do when faced with such-and-such a situation?
For this is how the present conversation develops. Jesus takes the opportunity to speak about the imminent crisis in Jerusalem. And through the offering of realpolitik and hard advice, he looks further and deeper, into God’s intention for his People, and ultimately, for his world.
But before we get to that, it’s worth just pondering this first point. Which is to say: Are you not sometimes over-impressed with mere quantity, size and apparent power? “As for what you see here…” It’s not nearly as durable as it seems.
And if the buildings around you may soon face the wrecking-ball, what about the people that you hold in such esteem? “As for what you see here…” Perhaps you are over-impressed with celebrity, public status or reputation.
Or intellect. As Chuck Palahniuk put it:
“But if you tell folks you’re a college student, folks are so impressed. You can be a student in anything and not have to know anything. Just say toxicology or marine biokinesis, and the person you’re talking to will change the subject to himself. If this doesn’t work, mention the neural synapses of embryonic pigeons.”
Fake reputations are also slated for demoltion, come the day.
And what the disciples were impressed with was a mixture of all of this: for the grandeur and solidity of the Temple building was but a metaphor of the celebrity and religious reputation of Israel itself. And despite all that Jesus had just said about the false tenants (Luke 20:9-19) being removed for misconduct, they still couldn’t quite believe it. “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down…” Both physical and institutional structures were to be destroyed.
In fact, come 70 AD, only two representative types of Judaism would survive: the Pharisees, who focused on scripture and synagogue (and not Temple, sacrifice or power-politics), and the Christians.
Second cousins, once removed.
But of course, what really impresses us are the negative forces of fear and anxiety that threaten to overwhelm us at every turn. And they too are part of the ensuing conversation. Their shadows loom as large as the buildings through which the disciples walked: wars, conflicts, persecution, violence, crime, natural disasters, terrorism, economic uncertainty, unemployment, divisions, disease, death. We fear for our children’s future, we fear for our families, we fear for our financial future, we fear for our safety. The list goes on…
But simply put, it’s fear. And it forms a thick shadow of darkness, that threatens to control our every move and decision.
And Jesus said “As for what you see here….” that too will be cast down.
And the intention behind Jesus’ discourse about the future, as the chapter unfolds, was to allay fear in the present. For Jesus’ words are “life” words, soothing to our soul, calming to our spirits, giving power to our days.
It’s not always easy, and it often comes down to a choice:
- Choosing not to allow fear and anxiety to control your life.
- Choosing to guard your heart.
- Choosing to focus your mind on what is truth in the midst of uncertain times.
We might still feel afraid, but we can believe that God is with us. We may not be in control, but we can trust the One who is. We may not know the future, but we can know the God who does.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
And as for what you see here, Jesus has it in hand. No problem.