“So it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:30).
Today’s Lucan Gospel has echoes of the first destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E,, after a 30-month siege by the Babylonians. The terrible suffering is recorded in 2 Kings and Lamentations. But Luke is also referring to the more recent Jewish-Roman war and the second destruction of the city in 70 C.E., as he reads that terrible event back into the time and words of Jesus, who warned of the judgment to come for the failure to read the signs of the times.
We grow accustomed to the idea that because God is merciful there will never be a time of reckoning, but the Gospel clearly indicates that within history itself the failure to change unjust structures leads to self-destruction. Human violence erupts when privileged groups repress others and when cultures postpone or reject needed reforms. Failure to evolve leads to revolution; social upheaval becomes inevitable if inequality persists for the majority.
Of all the titles attributed to Jesus by the early church and the evangelists (Christ, Messiah, Lord), the one most likely used by Jesus himself was the “Son of Man,” a third-person designation that translates as “human being.” Jesus says, in effect, that he is identifying himself with all human beings. The measure of God’s visible presence in the world is revealed in people, who bear the image and likeness of God. The way we treat any human being is how we treat God. History shows that horrific acts of violence against human beings will expose us to judgment. We come face to face with God in acts of genocide, war, the neglect of the vast numbers of poor, who live in misery and die early deaths because of economic and social repression.
When Pope Francis invoked the dream of Pope John XXIII, who first spoke of the “church of the poor” back in 1959, he was renewing the core mission of Jesus. When the church positions itself on the side of the poor of the world, it will be preaching the Gospel in its purest and most powerful form: by revealing the Son of Man, humanity itself, as God’s very own child.