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November 17, 2013

One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway, it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey. So he invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing.He would shake it off and take a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal,he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off!

The Gospel of this weekend tells us some kind of “dirt” would fall on the people at Jesus’ time and at the end of the world. The Jews of Jesus' time were proud of the great Temple of Jerusalem which king Herod had rebuilt some 25 years before the first Christmas. 10,000 people had worked on the project and it had taken 10 years to complete it, although the work of decoration carried on for many years afterward. No wonder as the Gospel tells us "some were talking about the Temple, remarking on its magnificence." It was inconceivable that anything should happen to it. The temple of Jerusalem was a symbol of God's presence among his people. The destruction of the temple would be the sign of the end of the world.

And yet, Jesus prophesied its destruction. We know this happened in 70 A.D. So that today only the so-called "wailing wall" survives.

It has been traditional to reflect on an end-of-the-world gospel passage as we approach the end of the liturgical year (Dec. 1stis the First Sunday of Advent, the 2014 Liturgical Year begins). The yearly liturgical circle reflects the circle of life. It is important to note this because, from a biblical perspective, the end of one world is not such a tragic event since it also announces the beginning of a new one. A sorrowful “goodbye” must sometimes be accepted before there can be a joyous “hello!”

We should note that in today's gospel the end of the world is presented on various levels. The immediate end is the chaotic and painful experience that came when the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple. For Christians at least, this represented the end of the Old Testament era. Secondly, there are hints also of the final, cosmic end of our world with falling stars and dimming of the sun and moon. Finally, in both of these endings we see the elements of the end of our own earthly life in the event we call death.

The phenomena that accompany the final, cosmic end are surprisingly similar to the experiences that often come with our own last days. The failure of the sun and moon and the erratic behavior of the stars are replicated among us when we lose the security represented by these usually reliable heavenly bodies. For instance, when we grow old we sometimes find it hard to remember what time of the day it is. But this is only the end of a world that was never meant to last. We hate to see it go, but God knows what is best for us.

While reflecting on what happened in the past and present, some questions come to our mind, "Can we trust in earthly things? How would we stand up in the presence of such a catastrophe?" The devastation caused by the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was nothing in comparison to what nuclear warfare could do today. The attacks in New York a decade ago, the war and riot in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Sudan, in Palestine, in Egypt; the typhoon Haiyanin the Philippines, in Vietnam, in China, the hurricane in North America, the 2013 Flood in High River, etc. are they signs of the end of the world? How about persecution? There were more Christian Martyrs in the 20thcentury than all other centuries combined! Persecution today also comes in different forms, from ridicule to total indifference. Convictions can stand in the way of promotion. Strong belief can be termed quaint or outmoded. Families are still divided over religious belief. And yes, the Gospel reminds us, “Not a hair of your head will perish.”

Sometimes life is going to shovel dirt on us, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a stepping stone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up!

Please be generous to help the victims of typhoon in the Philippines. Thanks!