I couldn’t help but think of this image when I read vs. 5-6.
This church is located in the Italian Alps near Turin in a region called the Waldensian Valleys. It is a Protestant Church, reformed and Presbyterian in governance. In those valleys the cathedrals are Protestant because the people for the most part are Protestant. I know, Protestant valleys in Italy, doesn’t quite make sense. There is a long history which is tied in with the Huguenots that created safe havens for those fleeing from the government authorities who wanted to persecute them for their religious beliefs in the 15th and 16th centuries and even later. The actual image above is a scene from just a few months ago of Pope Francis meeting with Waldensian representatives. This marked the first time that a Pope has ever met officially with representatives from the Waldensian Church. I remember when I was a pastor in the Waldensian Church and meeting and speaking with then Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict, who said he was basically waiting for us as Protestants to come back to the real church. Needless to say, he was not my favorite Pope. This guy is much, much better. He seems to get it.
But it is the building and the space that reminds us of what we are capable of in order to worship God. These structures for many are a sign of opulence and exaggeration. God doesn’t need temples, He doesn’t need gold inlay, He doesn’t need any of the costly materials or buildings that we say we need in order to do ministry. But the point that Jesus is making is not so much about the opulence of the temple as much as the transience of anything temporal. “As for all that you see, these things will be thrown down and not one stone will be left upon another.” The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when he will come back and claim us as his children.
The entire rest of the chapter sounds a lot more like Revelation than it does Luke. Jesus says: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” For us today it really means no compromise, which is the principle message from Revelation. If we endure and keep our faith in our Savior, then our souls will be saved. If we wander and stray away from the Lord and do not rely and trust in him, then we do need to be aware of the judgment that is coming. Boy, it all sounds very scary. As I heard today, if we know Jesus as Savior it doesn’t need to be scary at all. If we don’t know Jesus, I don’t want people to be disciples out of fear, but fear can be a motivating factor. I don’t want people to turn to Jesus because of their fear of hell, but I also don’t want to deny that hell exists.
When Jesus states in vs. 32 that this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place, I wonder to which generation he was referring. What he does tell us is the daily plan that we ought to have: “Be alert at all times…” That is the key, isn’t it? We don’t know when those times are going to come, but being alert means being constantly wedded to Christ and his purposes here on this earth. This is our mission and our calling.