33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s first and third readings will not send smiles to our faces. The prophet Malachi promises us that, when the Day of Judgment comes, sinners will burn like stumps left in the field after reaping. And saint Luke predicts a desolation that is frightening. At first sight, the Scripture selection today seems pretty grim. But if we listen attentively, we will appreciate rays of hope and consolation shining through the apparent gloom and destruction.
Malachi says that, on the Day of the Lord, the same sun that will scorch and destroy the proud and evildoers will be a source of healing for all who honor the Lord. And Jesus, too, is sending a message of deliverance for the faithful Christians from all the trials he predicts. Jesus promises to inspire them with wisdom to contradict and confuse their accusers, and to keep them from all real harm, even if they are forced to give up their lives for his sake.
Why do we have such specific readings at this time in the year? The liturgy represents the whole Church celebrating the story of salvation, reliving it, making it a reality in our lives. We began with Advent, when we relived the whole world’s expectation of its Savior. Then, along the liturgical year, we celebrated the different aspects of Jesus’ life. Next Week, the curtain of this liturgical drama will fall: we will crown Christ as the king f the universe! Today we celebrate an anticipation of what will precede the Second Coming of the Lord: the end of this world as we know it.
Many fundamentalist preachers, on and off TV, keep telling us that the end of the world is imminent. And the number of voices predicting it will probably greatly increase the closer we advance in years. An absolute hysteria swept over Catholic Europe as the year 1000 approached; people were convinced that, as the second millenium began, Jesus would again return preceded by all kinds of disasters. The Bible does not pinpoint the date of the end of things. Jesus himself says: But of the day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but the Father only (Mt 24:36). And today’s Gospel warns us: Take care not to be deceived by those claiming the end is near due to natural and social catastrophes. Refuse to join Them!
The audiences of Jesus that heard his statement about the destruction of the temple responded with two questions. They wanted to know when the temple would be destroyed and what signs would immediately precede that event. Jesus did not answer their questions directly. His reply has two parts. First, Jesus warns his listeners not to be deceived by those who will make false claims in his name. Second, Jesus states that his followers should not be afraid because these events of history and nature -wars and disasters- do not mean that the end is near. Jesus’ teaching makes social and even cosmic upheavals secondary. More important is the persecution of the disciples and the opportunity it affords to give witness to the good news of the Gospel. The disciples can face arrest and trial confidently, because Jesus will be with them. The life of his followers is a life of constant faithfulness, not merely a series of superficial conversions due to each natural or historical disaster.
While waiting for Jesus to come again, how should we act, how should we live? Very simply: Live as if the Lord were coming tomorrow! Perhaps he is... We are not suppose to begin to live like Christians when the end is in sight. This is not the Christian ideal. That’s like being good only when you are afraid. Our task is to live as if the Lord were already here. Because he is!