33rd Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Malachi 3:19-20a Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12 Gospel Reading: 21:5-19
“THE LORD COMES TO RULE THE EARTH WITH JUSTICE.”
The story is told of a woman who left instructions for her children that when she died they should place on her grave a parking meter that read: “Time expired.”
Today is 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time and we have come very close to the end of the Liturgical Year C. In fact, the Liturgical Cycle ends with the celebration of the feast of Christ the King next Sunday. Appropriately enough, as we rapidly approach the end of the Liturgical Year, “Time expired” is also our theme and at this time, the Church invites us to think about the final end of things and the importance of endurance, for, “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.”
The Scripture Readings of this second last Sunday are filled with apocalyptic visions and warnings. They also prepare us for the celebration of Christ as King of the universe next Sunday. The word 'apocalypse' simply means an uncovering, a stripping to essentials. It is not a prediction of the future, an excuse to judge others or to attempt to escape the needs of the world here and now. It is the consolation that God offers to us in our present needs/sufferings and we have to persevere by remaining faithful to God, for only God and His promises remain in the end.
“THERE WILL ARISE THE SUN OF JUSTICE WITH HEALING RAYS.”
In the First Reading of today from the Book of the prophet Malachi, the author addresses the perennial problem, namely, why do evil-doers prosper and the just suffer. What is the value of living just and pious life when the irreligious people look down on the observance of the law? The prophet is prophesying doom for evil-doers and is sounding them the alarm. He tells them that the end of the world and the day of judgment will be terrible for the evil-doers, but it will be a joy for the faithful. On that day the tree will be completely consumed by fire. Even the root will be reduced to ashes and will have no chance to survive. Those who do evil will not get away with it forever. Justice will surround them like a blazing oven. The evildoers will be wiped off the face of the earth. When they die, there will be no tombstone to mark their graves. Over time, their existence will fade away from the memories of the passing generations until such a time when no one will remember that they ever existed. But for those who live in 'fear of God's name,' the light of 'the Day of the Lord' will be welcome like the rising sun with its healing rays, i.e. while the evil-doers are 'burning,' the faithful will be warmed by 'the sun of justice.' What a wonderful image of protection! There is no need of fear whatsoever - the faithful are assured of that no matter what happens.
“TEACHER, WHEN WILL THIS HAPPEN?”
In today’s Gospel Reading from St. Luke we find Jesus walking through the Temple at Jerusalem built by Herod the Great, with his disciples marveling at the building and it’s awesome beauty and power. The Temple was one of the most impressive buildings in the world at that time. In fact, the huge structure was not yet quite completed when Jesus was there. To most Jews it was a place made to last forever. It was, so to speak, the 'soul' of the Jewish faith, the focal point for all Jews everywhere. It was the heart and pride of all Jewish life; the very symbol of God’s presence among them. But Jesus warns them that this great structure wouldn’t last forever. In fact the day would come when the whole splendid edifice will be destroyed, not a stone left upon a stone! This must had come as a great shock to them, if not actually blasphemous, and they ask him, “Teacher when will this happen?” But the Lord was clear about it, and that they shouldn’t be disturbed by it all. Their faith needed to be rooted in something greater than a building.
Now, the announcement of the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem is the last discourse of Jesus in Luke. It is quite near the end of his public life. And Jesus, of course, was absolutely right. As the result of a rebellion by the Jews against the Romans, Jerusalem was besieged and the city and Temple utterly destroyed. The unthinkable had happened. And, for many Jews, including Jews converted to Christianity, it must have seemed like the end of the world. Indeed the Gospel of today tells us about the fall of Jerusalem. While Jesus was speaking of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, those who were with were associating this event with the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth. Many of Jesus’ followers recognized him as the Messiah and they wanted to crown him as their King. So when Jesus spoke of destruction or anything that could be associated with war, his followers assumed that the day was near when Jesus would rule over them and the Roman domination would come to an end. They did not and could not comprehend the mission of Jesus and that the Kingdom of Jesus was not of this world. The Kingdom that he preached was a spiritual kingdom. Jesus while telling the disciples of the events to come tells them also that while waiting for these great moments to come, they must persevere in their living faith and in their fidelity to him.
Then, Jesus goes on to talk about the end of the world which would be preceded by all kinds of natural and man-made calamities like - wars, earthquakes, famines etc. The language that Jesus uses is the apocalyptic language of the time. Jesus warns his followers not to be deceived about the end of the world. But before all these would take place, Jesus cautions his disciples that false prophets would come forward identifying themselves to be the long-awaited Messiah to lead the faithful astray, "Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not follow them." But Jesus says such people are not to be trusted and must be ignored. Let us take a closer look at the false prophets against whom Jesus warned us about. How come such false prophets pop out now and then from nowhere? They claim that they can read the 'signs of the times' and thus 'infallibly' predict to the year, month, day and hour when the end will come. Even in our own times, we saw how many people got excited about the year 2000. Obviously, such leaders manipulate the fears of people, and their basis is their literal interpretation of the end of world scenarios found in the Bible, so that when such events take place, they see in them the fulfillment of Jesus' prediction.
Finally, Jesus says something more to his own followers that there are some special things in store for them and they must not be surprised at them. He speaks of the possible persecution and hatred which people will show towards them. When Jesus speaks of the persecutions awaiting his disciples, he consoles them saying that they should not be anxious about how they are to behave or what they are to say in such times. He even gives them the confidence and tells them that they are not even to prepare their defense, because amidst all these, Jesus himself will give them eloquence and a wisdom that none of their opponents will be able to resist or contradict.
Now, many of the early Christians thought that persecution was also a sign of the coming end of the world. Jesus, however, reminds us that it is an integral part of the Church’s ongoing life. Christianity and persecution will go hand in hand. And so it has been. What then is the proper Christian attitude in the midst of these realities? The message of Jesus is loud and clear. It should be that of hopeful endurance, knowing that God’s goodness will triumph over evil, and faith will overcome fear and suffering. He tells us strongly that we ought to remain close to him and be firm in our faith and the ultimate victory will be ours. This is not simply a utopian promise.
AWAITING THE FINAL RETURN OF CHRIST:
Now, St. Paul had won many converts in the city of Thessalonica by speaking of 'the end of the world.' He seriously believed that it was coming soon and pressed his listeners on this point. There was a strong reaction, but one with unexpected weaknesses. Many of the people figured that since the end was coming soon, they should spend their last days in prayer. Hence they quit their jobs and focused on meditation. Why build and plant if this world is about to be destroyed, they asked themselves. This won Christians a bad reputation.
In the Second Reading of today from his 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul commands and exhorts everyone in the community to do their work quietly and to earn their own living and not be a burden on anyone. Admonishing the disorderly, he tells them that if they are unwilling to work, they should not eat. He gives them his own example to show how he toiled day and night to earn his livelihood and never depended on them. He was a tent-maker by profession and earned enough from this work to pay for his own needs and those of his co-workers. Even though he did his ministry and worked for the people of God he lived by his own hard work. St. Paul, being concerned about the community and the misunderstanding of the teaching of the Lord, wanted simply to re-establish the order and overcome the dissipation that had set in. Also, his making tents shows us that our concern for the future should be grounded in the present. What we should be concerned with is how we actively live our present calling, while awaiting the final return of Christ that will proceed the resurrection of the bodies and the Judgment Day.
To conclude: Yes, there will be an end of time. To many people the end of the world is tragic. Christianity, however, thinks otherwise. It is not an end but rather a beginning - an event not to be afraid of. Our fear is natural because of the unknown but our fear could also mask a lack of firm belief in the resurrection. The Gospel tells us that we are to get ready for that day when God will call us to himself. Our faith tells us that there is no need to live in fear and anxiety regarding the future. Rather, we are to focus on the present time, on today, the here and now. Jesus promises his followers abundant sufferings and persecutions. If they bear the sufferings for Christ’s name they will earn the true life, the eternal life of heaven. For this reason the Church wants us to examine ourselves today regarding the response we have to such circumstances. We are invited to seek and find him in all things, in every person, in every place, in every experience. He will come surely in his glory and majesty to judge the whole human race, as we hear in today's Responsorial Psalm, “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.” So, we are called upon to prepare ourselves for the future by loving and serving others at every possible occasion. Today’s Gospel Reading is prophetic in nature and was applied to the days of Jesus. But it is also applicable to us in today’s situation. It invites us to be prepared to receive the Lord worthily without any fear. We are called to persevere in our living faith and look forward in hope.
Not knowing when our individual time will expire is not meant to frighten a person—unless they need to be frightened to live a good life - but it should motivate us to be prepared. It should give us hope in any type of trial; that our time and trial now is temporary, but eternity is forever. Embracing this way of living gives us hope and confidence, that no matter when we have our time expires, our lives are secure. The world and its false securities are passing realities. In the end, the love of God is all that remains. That love is reciprocal; God has loved his human creatures and awaits a loving response. He comes to assist us, making our response possible and helping us to persevere in that loving response until the end. And this is the Good News of today.