“Not One Stone Left on Another”
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 13, 2022
“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.”
The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem--stones that Jesus would have seen as well.
The story of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world are woven inextricably together in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Each year at this time the liturgy invites us to reflect on this great reality in the world and in our lives. Certainly no one living at the time of Christ could have imagined that these incredible stones and the beauty of the temple mount, at that time still under construction, could be so utterly destroyed less than 40 years later. In the ancient Roman world, Jerusalem was the only city that was completely destroyed and burned to the ground by the Romans, with over a million people killed! Jesus wasn’t kidding. This was truly one of the greatest tragedies in human history.
Anyone who has ever been to the temple mount in Jerusalem or seen the “wailing wall” where one can still see the great stonework of Herod the Great, marvels at these great stones and wonders. The only stones one finds today that are still in place from Herod’s time that Jesus would have seen are those around the great retaining wall, as seen in the picture above (which I took) on the right. As you can see, every stone above the level of the platform has been destroyed and replaced with lesser quality stones many centuries later. What became of Herod’s great stone work? These stones are scattered throughout Jerusalem, having been used and re-used over the last 2000 years.
Even today, the story of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD is considered to be the archetype of horrible and pitiless destruction, a terrible example of man’s inhumanity to man.
It was truly one of the worst disasters in history, a standard by which all subsequent tragedies have been measured.
What then can we learn from this? What lessons might we draw from our Lord’s observations? There will come a time when the things we have counted on and relied upon may not remain standing. Often there are signs in the world like this, such as the terrible devastation brought on in Florida this summer. And which of us will ever forget September 11 in New York City, the American version of an event that left not “one stone upon another”?
The Holy Spirit will give us the grace to handle each of these events as we need it but not usually in advance. Far from promising us an easy life, our Lord warns us that he may even require us to go through things in which everyone seems to be against us for the sake of Christ, or wars and every manner of difficulty. Yet, he also notes that our faith will save us! Everything that happens in this world is meant to help us grow and be ready for the coming age! God has everything ultimately under control. He will make it right in the end.
We have been enduring a version of this here as well, with the demolition of the old church that many of us loved in its own way and now finally being able to finish the parking lot, which is an optimistic thing to do when you think about it. When I first came to this parish (as a visitor) in 1992, I would never have believed we would see such an upheaval here but it all has a purpose! By keeping our eyes on the finish line (heaven), by having faith in the good things to come, we are happy to go through all of this. Building a new church and pulling the old one down 10 years later are all signs that we are not home. All things pass. It is much the same in all the predictable and surprising upheavals we must endure in life. Our faith will save us, because with it we know we are loved by God, and if we are loved, we can get through anything.