Grace: Not to be deaf to the Word, but prompt and diligent to welcome him.
Text: Luke 20:19 – 21:4
Reflection: In these final few days before his death, Jesus comes to the Temple every day to teach the people, to communicate to them the Word of the Father. Out of love for us, he continues to labor, even as it has become obvious to everyone that his days are numbered.
The Lord spends much of his last week answering questions. But they are fake questions — which is to say, not really questions at all. The people who pose them have not come to Jesus in search of answers. They come to do combat with him, laying questions like traps. If Jesus answers in one way, they reason to themselves, he will alienate the people. If he answers in another way, it will be possible to convict him of a violation of the Law. Either way, these questions will be the gotcha moment they have been waiting for.
The trouble is, none of the questions succeed in baiting Jesus. The truth of the Word is impervious. The scribes and chief priests send spies to ask him about whether Jews ought to pay taxes to Caesar. If he says yes, he risks looking like the hated Roman puppet-king Herod. If he says no, his enemies will be able to denounce him to Pilate as a dangerous revolutionary. Jesus turns the question on its head: sure, give to Caesar the things that belong to him, but you must also give to God the even more important things that belong to him (genuine praise, reverence, and service). And how often have you paid those “taxes” ?
The Sadducees come along later with a riddle about the resurrection of souls from the dead (which they thought was a silly idea). Jesus not only shows them the logical inconsistencies of their own position, but even more importantly reveals them to be completely uninterested in the truth.
After all this, Jesus asks a question of his own. ”How can they say that the Christ is David’s son?” Now here is a real question. It goes right to the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation. How can the Messiah be both the descendent of David and also his Lord? How can God have become man? For all the fake questions that flood the Temple in the last week of Jesus’ life, here is a question that all those seeking the truth in every age will have to ask. And they must not turn inwards in the process. They must not simply ask themselves how this can be, relying on their own limited capacities to come to an answer. They must ask the Word himself. Only he can reveal the truth.
Even without our asking, the Lord gives us the answer at the end of this week. And the answer is love. The wonderful theologian Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar has written, “what God wishes to say to man is a deed on his behalf.” After all the talk has finished, God speaks to man in what he does for him. And the Word that he speaks to man is “the love…that descends ‘to the end’ of the night of death in Christ.” The Word he speaks, the Word he effects, is Love.
Notice at the end of our text for today how Jesus points to a radiance of this same love in the most unlikely of places: a poor little widow, completely overlooked by the important officials who have come to do combat with the Lord. She has not come to the Temple for any reason other than to seek the Lord and to show him her love. The two pennies that she gives to the Lord is “all the living that she had,” and thus an offering of her entire self.
Where do you find yourself at this point in the retreat as we have come up with the Lord to Jerusalem? What questions do you have for him? What questions does he have for you? Is there space in you to receive the Word and let it form you from within?
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.
— Luke 21:33
[The citations above come from Balthasar's book, Love Alone Is Credible.]