17th November 2013. 33rd Sunday of Year C
Mal 3:19-20. The Day of the Lord will be a day of judgement but also of salvation.
2 Thess 3:7-12. All should try to earn their own living and not be burden to others.
Lk 21:5-19. Jesus warns his disciples to beware of false prophets.
Theme: In this final portion of the church’s year, the liturgy reminds us of the ‘last things’ and today, in particular, the end of the world. We should live our lives in the light of eternity.
First Reading: Malachi 3:19-20
See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.
For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
Gospel: Luke 21:5-19
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”
And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”
Then he aid to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
As we draw near to the end of the liturgical year the Church is putting this question to each of us: “What do you see as the purpose of your life, of your existence in this world? How seriously should we take the predictions of today’s gospel about the end of this world and the day of judgment?” To help us reflect on this, we should keep ever before our minds this one great certainty, that death puts an end, absolutely and beyond recall, to all our works, all our plans, all the seemingly vital concerns which lend a certain purpose to our daily involvement. Every human soul that has cast off this worldly body goes forth into the unknown like a traveller entering into unexplored territory. Cardinal Newman once wrote about the hereafter, “Do not fear that your life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning.” It is when our new life begins that understanding of our present life will be clear to us, how we carried out our role in the spread of God’s kingdom.
The liturgy of these final Sundays of the Church year stress how we should look beyond our immediate worries, troubles, interests, that are largely of selfish concern. It does this by confronting us with the thought of the four last things, namely, death, judgment, heaven and hell. People who never look beyond the immediate here and now criticise the Church for asking us to think on these things, but there is nothing morbid about such thoughts. For if we are exiles and wayfarers on this earth, we are drawing ever nearer to our ultimate home in heaven, a consideration which should fill us, not with sorrow, but with a longing to be with Christ.
It is useless speculating about time of the second coming of Christ, although the first Christians thought it would happen in their lifetime. However, the message in this Gospel is to be watchful, to let the thought of what is to come influence our present behaviour, bearing in mind that the trials of life are small compared with the glory to come. Nor should we be alarmed by the imagery of wars, earthquakes, famines, stars falling from the heavens. These are Jewish apocalyptic terms employed by the early Church to denote their hope for some radical changes at the second coming of Christ.
If we love God we need never be alarmed, for perfect love casts out all fear. But until the day when the Lord calls us, we must try to be ready and prepared to meet him. This after all is what he taught us: We must watch and we must pray.
On the Horizon of Judgment
Most people have a growing realisation as we get older that life is short and that each of us will face the moment of death, within a limited number of days and years, and indeed of heartbeats. Last Sunday, we thought about the after-life and about entrusting our future into God’s hands. But how seriously should we take the predictions of today’s Gospel about the end of the world and the day of judgement? It is difficult to know what to believe about the Last Day. There are sects and groups who claim to know the exact date of the Lord’s coming, and the failure of various previous predictions does not appear to unduly discourage them from setting yet another date for Armageddon.
People have every right to be wary of street-corner orators who seem to delight in uttering threats and warnings in God’s name, about catastrophes about to befall the world. We notice how Jesus warns against believing too readily in such predictions. Even though he himself used the idea of the coming day of judgement as a motive to turn people’s hearts back to God, he also said that about the day and the time of this event, “no man knows, not even the Son, but the Father only.”
But there are too many references to the Final Judgement in our Scripture for us to easily dismiss it as just a figure of speech. And indeed, spiritual people have found important benefits in keeping the Judgement-Day as part of the horizon against which we look at things and assess them at their real value. Seeing our problems, our successes and our wishes in the light of eternity – sub specie aeternitatis – often puts them into a new and different light and one which helps us to judge as God sees things.
Can we follow the classic devotional advice once favoured by preachers, to “always live as though each day may be your last?” For most people, it is probably neither possible nor desirable to regularly centre that much attention on the final things. Sobering and spiritually purifying on occasion, yes; but most days, one must be like Martha in the Gospel story who was fully occupied with her daily work, busy with many things. That’s also the practical advice given by St Paul to people in his day who spent their time excitably looking out for the Lord’s return and gave up caring about such ordinary tasks as planting and harvesting the crops, keeping up with their business or doing the housework. “Go on quietly minding your own affairs. And if anyone will not work, neither let him eat!’