In this northern half of the earth there are signs of endings. The harvests are completed and the outdoor fun-things are stored away for the winter. The trees have lost their clothes and seem to shiver in the divesting winds.
We are beginning the end of the Liturgical Year; next Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King and then First Advent Sunday. Those in the southern half of the earth are experiencing the beginnings, the re-dressings of trees and fields. Hope and trust do lead to fullness, but it takes time. We are preparing for the rest of our lives each time we gather around the “Table of Plenty”. There is a death remembered and accomplished. There is resurrection and fruitfulness. There are always endings and beginnings. The Liturgy ends, but the fruitfulness of that Holy Sacrifice is contained in our living our “Amens”. We prepare, not only to enter the community of believers, but to be sent with them to the plenty of God’s blessing this world through us. The week-“end” for us who gather is really the week-“up”, or “next”. We are always beginning the never-ending love of God shared with us in the Eucharist.
To understand fully these verses you might wish to read the previous chapter. It is a war story of kings battling against each other. Power and domination drive for supremacy. It is distressing and relentless.
Our First Reading are the three short verses which begin this, the next chapter. They are full of hope, redemption and resurrection. The prophet speaks of hope to those who belong to God. There is the exact and explicit promise of a recovery of life for those who lie in the dust. There is a forever to that life given to those whose names are in the “Book”.
The Gospel is known as the Good News. Today’s Good News sounds very much like the bad news we hear and see in the media. The whole chapter from which these verses are taken reads like a futuristic science-fiction novel. Where’s the grace? Where’s the hope? Where’s the invitation to God’s being faithful?
Earlier in the thirteenth verse of this same chapter we hear Jesus say that the one who stays firm to the end will be saved. This is right in the midst of doomier and gloomiest warnings. This begins the better news, but there is more. As in the First Reading, Jesus is Lord of the earth and sky. While we desire to know the date and place of the final ending or “second coming”, Jesus encourages us to keep living towards our eternal existence. The “when” is “now”.
We know there is going to be an end to our individual lives. Jesus is saying that we should live today as if we knew that later today is the beginning of our final ending. We would love to be able to read the signs of the time and get ready and be prepared and looking good when the Lord comes collecting. We are encouraged rather to read the signs of our minds and hearts. How sacred it all is and how wonderfully mysterious it all is. There are new leaves and growth in bush and tree and field. The fall of the leaves is not the beginning of the end, but the beginning of the beginning. We are encouraged to watch, but live the sacredness of our lives every day.
It is a strange thing, this on-coming of God. In five weeks we will celebrate a first-coming. It will be a birth of a Baby, the Prince of Peace. Shepherds and Wise Men will come in humble awe. We will kneel with them fearlessly joyful while the stars of the heavens keep watch. Now the Liturgical Year seems to be ending with Jesus casting joyless fearful bolts at His listeners and those same stars will be falling from the skies. Where’s the Good News?!!
Allow me to make a quite bold statement here. God is not a “Mercy-Machine”. God, as revealed in the fullness of revelation in Jesus, remains as in the beginning, is now, and will be for all ages, the God of Creation! Mercy is more a legal concept and Jesus gave battle to the legal-eagles of His day. Mercy is but a fractional part of God’s creative love. Sin is our personal de-creation of ourselves, others and our relationship with God.
If we have an image of God that centers around God’s being legalistically just/merciful, then we push Jesus to the sidelines and stand in mid-field shivering like the naked trees of winter, fearful and frightened that the sky is going to fall upon us with wrath and vengeance. With that image would we, could we, ever look forward to the “second coming” of the Prince of Peace? What God asks of us is “mercy not sacrifice”, mercy towards ourselves from ourselves. God is always at work, laboring to bring all of us into harmony within and around us. We can worry about whether we will be ready. The more important reality is whether or not we believe we belong to God, by God’s creation of us from the beginning and leading up to our final ending, which of course, is only the beginning of what’s always new.
Let me say it clearly once more. God is not merciful! God is more than what we mean by that lazy word. God is always coming to make more of us than we can make of ourselves.
“It is good for me to be with the Lord and to put my hope in him.” Ps. 73, 28
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