Then another side of me is aware that these kinds of predictions come around every now and then, and we (and the earth) are still here. A quick check on the World Wide Web reveals that similar predictions were made dozens of times since antiquity. Many such predictions were made regarding the year 2000, and then again at the beginning of the new millennium (since there was not a year 0, the new millennium actually started on January 1, 2001). Next year, 2011, brings some apocalyptic possibilities as well. Right now we are on the brink of disaster according to some. (An interesting article, written during a similar time in the 1980s when many doomsday predictions were running rampant, can be viewed free online on The Atlantic site.)
So what are we to make of all of this? Can any prophet be trusted? Even Jonah?
In today’s first reading, Jonah warns the Ninevites of the upcoming destruction of their city. The king hears Jonah, discards his robe for sackcloth, and orders all of the citizens of the city (including the animals) to do the same. In their repentance, the Lord stays His hand and does not destroy them. We of faith in God are taught to interpret this scripture as a testimony of the Lord’s mercy to those who hear His word and repent. To an outsider, however, it would appear that Jonah is a false prophet, because he prophesied disaster and it didn’t happen. We believe he is a true prophet, but do we have proof?
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus also speaks of seeing signs, and repenting. I think the key is in Jesus’ last line of the passage, “. . . there is something greater than Jonah here.”
Indeed, there is also something greater than a Mayan calendar here. Like the Ninevite king, perhaps we are being called to review our values. What is important to us? What is worth fighting for? What is worth holding on to during our “last days”? Is there a transgression we’ve done or a bad habit we perpetuate, for which we can repent?
We certainly don’t want to do anything rash. And no one is asking us to. This is not a time to sell all of our possessions and stand on a mountain, waiting for the Second Coming. Those who believe that this is what we are being asked to do are truly missing the point.
The point is we do not know when Jesus will come again. And as He constantly prods us in the Gospels to always be ready, perhaps the constant end of the world predictions are doing the same thing.
If we allow these predictions to help us keep what is important at the front of our minds, and to keep ourselves ready for the coming of the Kingdom of God, how could that be wrong?
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