A sermon delivered on 13 November at the Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Cathedral in Bern of the Christ Catholic Church of Switzerland.

Luke 21:5-19

(5) When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, (6) “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (7) They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” (8) And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. (9) “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” (10) Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; (11) there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. (12) “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. (13) This will give you an opportunity to testify. (14) So, make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; (15) for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. (16) You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. (17) You will be hated by all because of my name. 21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish. (19) By your endurance you will gain your souls.

This story is meaningful to those who are living out and participating actively in the ministry and in making the kingdom of God come true.

Here in Europe and the world, there is the war in Ukraine but there has been also a never-ending war in Palestine and in many parts of the world including the revolution waged in the Philippines for more than five decades now. We have had the COVID-19 pandemic until now.  There have been typhoons, hurricanes, destruction of nature, etc.

Yes, there have been many wars, pandemics, and natural calamities in the past and many more are still ongoing. So, what would this Gospel tell us now? Liturgically, this passage is placed or positioned today or this Sunday which is the Sunday before the Christ Reign Sunday and so understandably it goes even without saying that we are now at the end of the year or a cycle in the ecclesiastical year which projects the end of the world or to be positively saying, the reign of Christ the King in His Kingdom which is supposed to be together with us.

There are two sub-themes here: Beware of not being ‘led astray’ and the warning of persecution.

In the first half of this reading today, Jesus tells us to beware of not being ‘led astray.

Wars, and calamities – man-made or natural, be it on health or environment are inevitable. Jesus, in today’s reading, not only prophesized but also proves it. But let us not be led astray. We should see God in and through those victims of all these.

Instead of fear, we should see and identify God in those oppressed and struggling Palestinians, those who flew from their countries because of wars and pestilence – the Ukrainians, Syrians, and many others. We should also be concerned about those Russians who are also troubled by the war in Ukraine.  Most of all, we should see the bloody hands and the role of the capitalist systems and the greed of the oligarchs and the few but ruling elite in our society. With all honesty and humility, we in the global north and economically advanced countries should at least acknowledge that our comfortable living here is at the expense of the economic impoverishment of the people in the global south and the third countries.

In the second half of this Gospel story, Jesus warns his disciples that they would face persecution because of Him.

Jesus was not the first to be persecuted among God’s people. There were many people who were persecuted before him. His own persecution, in fact, was a manifestation and evidence of that persecution of the poor, deprived and oppressed people in his and the society before him. After Him, was the persecution, as he predicted, of his disciples – the apostles and the followers of the way.

Jesus does not promise that life will be easy for us. What he does promise is that he will give us words and wisdom to hold fast to the Good News. As Christians, we ought to speak out and be the light to our fellow believers and to the world. Speaking out means helping people understand the will of God in every given situation that affects the lives of God’s people – the society where we are.

To be able to do this, we should be guided by two sources of knowledge and foundations of decision-making. The Word of God, who is Jesus himself, on the one hand, and our grasp of the situation of society on the other hand. We are advised and encouraged to do our discernment by reading the Bible to understand the mind of Christ based on his teachings and actions on the situation and context of his time and by reading the signs of our times.

Doing this will bring us to living out and participating actively in the ministry of Christ Jesus. A ministry that will not only give food, water, clothing, and shelter to the hungry, thirsty, homeless poor people but will also answer the question of why they are in this most pitiful situation and help the poor identify the culprits thereby empowering them to stand against the powers that be that perpetuates the unjust systems of societies that victimized and marginalized them.

The Philippines as a country in the so-called third world and situated in the Global South can be the best example of a society that is dominated by powers that be, of foreign domination in collaboration with the local/countries oligarchs, and is mostly affected economically by the growth of the advanced capitalist countries. We are an export-oriented and import-dependent economy. We do not have a steel industry, for example. We are exporting the raw materials and then importing the finished products. Not only that. We are also exporting our labor force to keep our economy going because there are no job opportunities at home – typical to a semi-colonial country in a neo-liberal globalized economy. To be a Christian in this kind of situation is to be critical and vocal as prophets did in the Bible and in the life of Jesus Christ. To be a church in this situation is to be a church of the poor. That is why many Christians especially the clergy are being persecuted and the churches are being attacked by the people in power and the government itself. Several of them are killed, arrested because of fabricated cases, maligned, and branded as terrorists and communists. This is aside from the 6,000 or 30,000 victims of the war on drugs.

I remember a popular saying quoted from Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” This means that to ask about and denounce injustice is an act of communism.

Today, we are challenged not only to be merciful but also to be just. To be anxious about the reign of Christ in the Parousia by not becoming led astray and to stand still amidst persecutions.

We are also challenged to be the neighbors to the people in the global south and the third countries who need our acts of mercy and together with them build a just society where there are no more wars of aggression in the guise of development and to be vigilant and adherent to the call for climate justice and to expose those people and countries responsible for the destruction of the environment, and the integrity of God’s creation. Amen. Amen. Amen.

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