Luke 21:5-11 - When Beauty Calls to Us
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."
Then they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?" He answered, "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! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky."
Beauty catches the eye. The human experience of aesthetics is - basically always - entwined with the natural desire to possess that what is beautiful. In contrast to an animal, the human being ought not to follow this distinct indiscriminately, but shall seek his true good. Often, the true good does not entail the actual possession of that what attracts us. Nevertheless, the aesthetic experience as such can and shall absolutely help us to become the best version of ourselves. The question to ask from case to case is: What does this beauty mean for me?
Marveling at the Temple, people experienced its beauty. For some reason, Jesus felt compelled to intervene. Apparently, He saw that the people took the beauty and majesty of the sacred structure for something it should not be. Maybe there was a flair of idolatry or triumphalism. “All you see will end in crumbles,” He tells them. There was no harm in appreciating the Temple’s beauty; the problem was that the meaning of that beauty was misinterpreted. In the same way, beautiful things do not always mean that we have to possess them. They often are supposed to lead us to higher goods of which they are only pale, if beautiful, reflections.
Jesus helps His listeners to put beauty into the right perspective. What does this beauty mean if you consider it in the light of eternity? In the case of that beautiful building, it was important to understand that such material beauty will not last forever. Therefore, it can be enjoyed and praised for what it is: a wonderful piece of architecture or a powerful expression of the people’s devotion. But not as the guarantee of eternal salvation or something like that. The temple was to house the eternal, but it wasn’t itself eternal. In a similar way, we have to learn how to appreciate the beauty we encounter throughout life in the right light. It is astounding how enlightening it is to ask in a moment of discernment what this or that aesthetic experience means in the eyes of eternity. Often we will find that, one, the beauty in question is not for us to possess; but that, two, it points us to a beauty of even higher order for which our heart’s desire is ultimately meant. When beauty calls to us, it calls our hearts up high, it calls our hearts to God.
For our attraction to all things beautiful is part of our desire to contemplate the most beautiful sight of all, beauty itself: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God in three loving persons. We often wonder how heaven will be. The experience of beauty - never tiresome, always fascinating - is a foretaste for what expects us there. Let us praise God for His beauty which is reflected in His beautiful creation. May He send forth His Spirit so that “your creations” - your works - mirror that beauty too, a beauty which is the fruit of love and goodness. At the same time, may He help you not to confuse the beauty of His creatures - let alone the beauty of human works - with the ultimate Beauty which He prepared for your everlasting happiness.