In my life, today’s Gospel has been many things—terrifying, just a history, empowering, and a warning. When young, it quite naturally terrified me: wars, earthquakes, persecutions, turned over to the authorities even by parents. Is that what it means to be a Christian? I wondered. Ever the realist, my mother assured me that it was certainly possible, but that the readings were probably referring to life in the early Church. History always seemed so long ago that my mom’s words calmed me down. By then, I had learned of the early martyrs and even about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Knowing the Bible as history was safe; it need not have any effect on my life. And it didn’t.
Until one year when I heard a stirring sermon that these readings were not just history—they were meant to change our minds and hearts and how we live our lives in the here and now. I felt myself in danger of slipping back into terrifying. But by then, I was beginning to know Jesus. I had moved past the simple Bible stories of grade school and saw his love in action and heard his life-giving words. Most especially, I was growing in love for him in the Eucharist. The amazing God sent us his Son to win our salvation and restore our relationship with our Father. And then Jesus gave himself as food for our journey. I knew I had nothing to fear from so great a love. If he called me to martyrdom, then I would pray for the grace to love him to the end. I was inspired.
And then I started to focus on verse 8: See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! Following someone other than Jesus, especially if he was calling himself Jesus, was the most terrifying thought I could have had. How will I know? What are the signs? And then I remembered—I was one of his sheep, and his sheep know his voice! As a Catholic, I realized that there were other ways to know. We have the Magisterium, which carries the same weight as the Bible in our lives; prayer and study make a good combination when feeling unsettled about things pertaining to faith. And then a good friend told me to follow the peace of Christ: And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7). I knew about God’s peace—that was how I felt when I heard his voice. I need not fear any longer; I was his. He would keep me safe.
Now when I hear this Gospel proclaimed, I smile. I remember my journey in trying to understand the words. I take the warnings seriously and pray to stand firm with the Lord until the end. I cannot take it for granted that I will automatically win the race, lest I become like the rabbit in the story of the tortoise and the hare. But there is every reason to be encouraged and to remember the Lord’s promise: And by your endurance, you will be saved (Lk 21:19).