It is very difficult to whistle or sing one melody while listening to another at the same time. Singing harmony, that is the same song with different but harmonious notes, is also difficult, but pleasant to the ear.
There are many songs and melodies running through our minds as we walk our daily paths. One of them is the song of Grace to which we are attracted. It is subtle, gentle and quiet. Others are louder, seductive and also attractive. Jesus is always singing His song in the pages of the Gospels, and yet He had to listen to various compositions Himself, but was never seduced by them.
We prepare to join the Church’s great hymn of Thanksgiving in the Eucharist, by tuning into the Song of Grace within our souls, but that will take some careful listening to songs which sound like Grace, but are dis-graces, or dis-harmonious eventually. It is good for us to listen to the discords of our ways and how they play against the song of Grace when we sing in harmony with its gentle melodies. We can listen these days to all the songs of life, this world, our cultures, and try to hear that Song of Grace which leads us to the Eucharist and its mission.
We hear in our First Reading from the prophet Malachi as he ends his speaking of God’s call to Israel. The chapter, from which our reading is taken, opens with a promise from God to send a messenger and then the God they are seeking will enter the “temple”. At this coming, there will be a refining judgment against “evildoers” such as sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers and those who oppress the widows and orphans. For those who keep the laws of Moses, there will be no need of fear. Blessings upon the vines and fields will be bestowed on those who do what is right and all nations will call them blessed.
What we hear in this liturgy is the conclusion of the Book of Malachi. The day is coming when those who do not listen and live the Song of Grace will be burned up and trampled upon. Those who listen and dance to God’s melody will leap like calves going to the pasture. The coming of God upon the earth will be like the sun shining upon those who are righteous upon on the same earth. The “sun of justice” will make light of the proud and arrogant and bring healing to those who thought themselves to be losers.
Our problem in hearing this passage is that we do not know to which group we belong. We hope for the best and fear the worst. We wonder whether we will be burned up or purified and given more life and fertility of grace. We come to the Eucharist and to the person of Jesus to be reminded who we are in God’s eyes and how this works against whom we are in our own eyes. These “healing rays” flowing from the “sun of justice” rest upon those who “fear” God’s name. This term, “fear of the Lord” means reverence of heart and sense of God’s everythingness. It does not mean “terror” or expectations of punishment.
The apostles become fearful at the saying of Jesus in the first verses from the Gospel. The “temple”, so well adorned and sturdy, is going to be thrown down. This is so unimaginable in the minds of His hearers that they ask for the “when” and some evidence that this could happen. If they were fearful at His first words about the destruction of the Temple, imagine how they felt after hearing about wars, earthquakes, and other signs from the sky.
Jesus’ words get even more personal. They - the apostles - are going to be handed over, betrayed, and persecuted. Because of the Name of Jesus, they will experience personal imprisonment and they will have to testify to their relationship with, and belief in, their relationship with the person and mission of Jesus. So more than the earth is quaking while Jesus lays it all out and on them. Some will die, but all will be hated. Jesus ends this invitational discourse by saying that they will be saved by their being persevering. I wonder if these words unquaked His listeners?
Next Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King and that Gospel will be a picture of regal perseverance . In today’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking as much about His future as that of His Early church. The Roman dominating powers will tumble the Temple which will quake the nation of Israel. The Temple is the timeless and permanent outwardness of God’s presence. Jesus is predicting His collapse before the same power as well as His being handed over by friends. Those who take up His Name will take up His message and they will be met with similar resistance and rejection.
These readings from this week and next provide us with a summary of our walking through this “liturgical year” which ends with next week’s celebration. What have we learned, not merely factually, of the Person of Jesus that would be available to us in our following Him all the way - even to our deaths. We will have accompanied Him and His followers from birth to death. We will have heard His call and His expectations. In a sense, Jesus answers the predictable question of all students, “What’s going to be on the final exam?” The final verses of both the Reading from Malichi and Luke are of some comfort. If we finish the course and finish the exam, the results will delight us. As followers, we do not have to be perfect in answering all life’s challenging questions perfectly. The “healing rays from the sun of Justice” are for our comfort. By staying faithful to our attempts and relying on His persevering love, our salvation will be secured. The quaking apostles did not flunk; they just missed some big questions at the end. We keep trying to finish before the bell rings.
“It is good for me to be with the Lord and to put my trust in Him.” Ps. 73, 28
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