Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
Every so often I sit back and dream of, or imagine, the future.
I think I would like to know the future, but then I realize that if I could
know the future with any certainty I could only know a small part of it
and I might lose hope. God’s wisdom is to provide hope for the future
– confidence as to the outcome, but not certainty as to the time and event.
As the ecclesial year of Mark comes to completion next Sunday, the liturgy
challenges us to contemplate the future – the ultimate future – with hope.
With its rapid expansion and movement is the universe going somewhere or
only going around in circles? Or, focusing a bit closer to home, where
are the current choices and changes in our nation taking us as a people?
Honing in more closely, we are invited to reflect on the direction of our
own life choices. This theological focus (often called “goal orientation”
in business literature) establishes essential context for every decision
we make now.
The month of November, coinciding in the calendar with the culmination
of the Church year, the end of the harvest cycle in the Northern hemisphere
(with its attendant onset of cold weather and the flu) is set aside by the
Church to remind us of our death as the most evident natural “telos.”
If death is the inevitable human “goal” what is its meaning? Is there
reality beyond death that can be entered only by death? If so how
do we prepare for it by our choices now?
Today’s feast of St. Columban, while not liturgically celebrated on the
universal calendar but only by certain religious communities and particular
Churches, nevertheless enhances this end-of–the-year meditation on the future.
An Irish Monk-missionary, Columban lived in the late 6th Century at a time
when, with the collapse of the Roman Empire, most of Europe thought that the
end of time was rapidly approaching. Columban reminded the believers
on the Continent where he preached the Good News of Jesus’ mission, that the
end beyond death is life truly with and in the Trinitarian God – whenever
it comes in time, to each one singly or to the whole creation.
Today’s readings bring the present and future of God’s reign more sharply
into focus as we ponder both the dream account of King Nebuchadnezzar and
Luke’s account of Jesus’ instruction on how to read the signs of the times.
Daniel, a great wisdom figure of the Hebrew Scriptures, is inspired to be
able to discern both the content and the meaning of the King’s dream. The
dream is of the future, a political dream that points to the rise and fall
of several (oppressive) temporal kingdoms, including Babylon, which have
“clay feet,” that is, they will collapse before the Reign of God, an eternal
kingdom of justice and mercy. The author of the book of Daniel, writing
for Jews suffering terrible persecution at the hands of the Greek Empire,
challenges his compatriots not to abandon their faith in the righteousness
and mercy of God. For Christians, the text is clear; our daily prayer
that the Reign of God will come on earth as it is in heaven will be answered
in the affirmative. When that happens will we rejoice with the liberated
or be destroyed with the oppressors?
Jesus warns us that we must not misread the signs. We can not be
certain that we know their content, or worse, try to direct that content
with our money and human political will. We must not be misled by
leaders who proclaim themselves to be chosen by God for the purpose of overcoming
enemies. Rather we must remain faithful to the Gospel of liberation
and mercy – the Gospel that asserts that only God will finally bring God’s
reign in God’s time. We are at best poor and impoverished instruments
whose acts of mercy and justice reflect the Reign of God already begun in
our hearts, not one that we will effect or cause. As Oscar Romero pointed
out we are witnesses and ministers of the task given and sustained by God,
we are not messiahs.