In setting the scene for today’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem for the final Passover — his passion and death. They are in the Temple, and a few verses before, Jesus has commented on the offering of the widow: small to the world, but worthy to God. Her poverty is in stark contrast to the splendor of the Temple, which people are remarking on as the reading begins.
Jesus overhears their admiration and says something striking and unsettling: “All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
What did one see when one saw the Temple? The historian Josephus writes that the outside of the Temple “was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But the Temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white.”
This dazzling building, destined to be destroyed, was only a symbol — an important and sacred symbol — but ultimately only a placeholder for the Living Temple, the Body of Christ.
“When will this happen?” His followers ask, and then things go from bad to worse. Jesus not only foretells of wars, earthquakes, famines and plagues, but of the suffering, persecution and martyrdom of these same friends because of his name.
But they won’t be alone. “Remember,” Jesus says, “you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you wisdom in speaking that all of your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refuse.” In other words, “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:34).
It would have been natural for the disciples to be paralyzed by fear over the days ahead. But God himself would give them the grace exactly when they would have need of it: right in the moment, not a minute before. And in the meantime, life would go on, salvation would play itself out in eternity and in their own lives, and they were to live each moment in trust and faith as it revealed itself in its slow unfolding. Mary did so; so can we.
St. Paul speaks to this in the second reading when he corrects those Christians who are not busy because they think Christ will be coming soon and are living with a why-bother attitude.
Because it is the present moment we are to concern ourselves with, in its duties and obligations. However small they seem in the light of eternity, they have enormous weight when united to Christ — they are the stones on which we build our inner temples, the sacred minutes we chisel with each small, and maybe unseen, surrender to “working quietly” and waiting for that longed-for day from the first reading when will arise the “sun of justice with its healing rays.”