Daily Reflection
November 29th, 2001
Dennis Hamm, S.J.
Theology Department
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Daniel 6:12-28
Daniel 3:68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74
Luke 21:20-28


It is clear on the face of it that those words from today’s reading from Luke are meant to be understood as a prophecy of Jesus about the destruction of Jerusalem (and its Temple).  And, forty years later, it did indeed happen, by the hands of the Roman legion in A.D. 70.  Jesus’ advice is very practical: get on with the mission of witnessing and trust that “I will give you a mouth and a wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”  And when you see the armies coming, get out of town as fast as you can.

The second part of today’s Gospel reading, verses 25-28, about the cosmic disturbances and the “coming of the Son of Man,” are commonly read as a description of the Second Coming of Christ.  But readers who recognize that Jesus is drawing from the imagery of his Jewish prophetic tradition throughout this whole speech, will hear in these verses a clear echo of Daniel 7.  That famous chapter in Daniel portrays Israel’s imperial enemies (Babylon, Medes, Persians, Greeks) as four strange and powerful animals, and then presents the faithful of Israel symbolized as “one like a son of man” approaching the King of the universe, God, and receiving vindication and dominion.  In Jesus’ application of that 200-year-old tradition, he is referring to the divine vindication of himself and his followers as the faithful of Israel.  After the catastrophe of A.D. 70, the time when Luke is writing, this prophecy enables the Christian community to cope with the Roman destruction of the Holy City and the deconstruction of Zion’s Temple.  As other New Testament authors—especially John and Paul--will spell out, the community of faith is a new temple and the risen Jesus, its foundation.

It might seem like a stretch, but you could say that the World Trade Center was very much a secular temple of our culture.  Those twin towers were a proud expression of the power of our technological know-how, and, much like Herod’s temple, they were a center and symbol of finance and communication, for us an engine of the process of economic globalization that drives much of how the world does its business.  In the aftermath of 9/11, we are experiencing something like the shock that Jews and Jewish Christians must have felt after the Jerusalem catastrophe of A.D. 70.

Like the survivors of A.D. 70, we are moving from shock to anger to reflection and to action.  We are learning a lot—that not every enemy represents a nation, that ordinary public servants are capable of heroism, that even a religion can be hijacked, that a common threat motivates new kinds of unity and cooperation.  Perhaps, if there is any analogy between the destruction of the temples of Jerusalem and New York, we might be drawn to reflect on the questions the destruction of the New York temple raises.  As we rebuild what seemed so permanent and what was so quickly and heartlessly destroyed, we can ask: How can we rebuild better?  How can we participate in the global marketplace in a way that will ensure the flourishing of the developing nations, and in a way that will implement the Jewish prophetic vision that Jesus shared, that the goods of creation are meant to meet the needs of all and not to satisfy the desires of those who happen to control the most power?  How can we better use the engines of commerce and communication in ways that foster sustainable patterns of living on this planet and acknowledge the dignity of all persons as created in the image of God?

The history of Israel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus show us that there is life after destruction, if we let ourselves be converted by the grace of God.

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