Preparing for Sunday anticipating this day.The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalms 98:5-6, 7-8, 9
Second Thessalonians 3:7-12
We are closing in on the ending of the Liturgical Year. Next Sunday, while being the final Sunday in Ordinary Time, will also be the feast of Christ the King. Today we hear readings about endings which are also beginnings.
In our First Reading we have a bad news-good news prophesy from Malachi. What we hear is set up by the verses which precede our reading. There have been voices raised against the idea of serving God, keeping God’s laws and humbling themselves, because the arrogant prosper by holding back their tithes. They have been cheating, speaking ill of God and those who believe.
There are those who have sought forgiveness and allowances have been made for them as a parent makes allowances for the children. They hold God in awe which is what is meant by “fearing” God. When all is said and done it will depend on what is heard and lived.
We have an image of a farmer burning off the stubble from the fields. The prophet announces, here near the end of his sayings, that those who have resisted God’s ways will be burned away.
That is the bad news first, but the good news is for those who have trusted God’s ways humbly will be blest as in the earth by the rays of sun. Justice is dealt by God upon the earth; those who desire God get their heart’s fulfilled. Those who do not want God in their lives have their desires fulfilled as well. Life without a relationship extended by God results in the fruitless field that must be burned away.
Jesus and His friends have been sitting near the temple. They have just watched a widow pay her tithes, little though they be. What we hear now is Jesus listening to others marvel at the beauty of this tremendous symbol of and testimony to God’s presence and power. Jesus takes this opportunity to widen their reflections.
It does sound like Jesus is throwing cold water on their admiring such beauty, but He has something more important to offer them. This temple will be destroyed. They ask Him when this will take place, of course. The Disciples also would like an advanced warning about the time of this disaster. Jesus’ answer is more than they wanted to hear.
Not only will there be signs around them such as earthquakes, wars, famines and plagues, but there will be more personal and faith-testing experiences. He tells them that the signs will involve their being maltreated, because of their relationship with Him. They will be hated, betrayed and handed over to be punished. This is the bad news.
The good news of the Gospel is that His followers need not prepare nor lose heart. “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Jesus is asking His disciples there if they can trust Him and His words to them, or whether they want to trust in the strength of the temple which He predicts will be destroyed. It is important to remember that they had all lived with the mighty temple as their security and national, as well as individual, identity. The bad news must have sounded terrible and unattractive to them as it does to us. The days were growing short for Jesus to convert the thinking patterns of His chosen few. His own “Liturgical Year” would soon be ending with His own being mistreated, handed over, imprisoned and put to death. He, as Temple, would also fall and He was preparing His followers for living their “followship.”
It is so tempting to equate the events here in the United States lately and around the world with the events predicted in our First Reading and Gospel. Phrases such as “blazing like an oven,” “Mighty signs will come from the sky,” and “they will seize and persecute you,” can fearfully be applied to the terrorists activities of our times. Parts of the Christian Community are being put to death for the name of Jesus and so we can too facilely say, “The time has come.” We, like the Disciples, would like advanced warning and we can easily take events and then go against what Jesus told His friends, “Do not follow them!”
We have been following Jesus from last Advent, through His birth, Baptism, His Passion and Death, His Resurrection and then a review of His public dealings. This liturgy reminds us that we are called, invited, encouraged by His Spirit to persevere as our temples fall around us. Those temples might be Twin Towers of brick and steel, or the deaths of our two parents made of bone and blood. We hold on to, point to, lean on, look towards, and pride ourselves upon what we deem secure and that is our way as it was with His first band of followers.
We end this Liturgical Year perhaps a little more graced by the events
of this past year as we experienced the fragilities of our temples.
We have also experienced the fragility of our faith in the God who loved
us into existence and Whose love sustains us through our creaturely crossings.
The words of Jesus, like the events of our own recent histories, can frighten
us, but we are comforted also with the words with which He ends His conversation.
“You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair of your head
will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
What we dearly need at the end of this Liturgical Year is simply the renewal
which is the grace of the next Liturgical Year. Fears and faith are
not opposites, they partner gracefully.
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