33rd in Ordinary Time (Year B)

We grieve and pray for those in Paris who died in the terror attacks on Friday, and those in Beirut who died earlier in the week, also from terrorist violence. The events of this past week on the international stage show us that death comes for us all, at some point and some time, and most often, not at a time of our own choosing. Just as certainly as death comes for us, so too will be the judgement we will each face after our departure from this life.

But our culture often wants to approach things like ‘judgement’ in a minimalist sense; what is the minimum ‘passing grade’ or what is the least I must do to achieve the maximum result? It is as if we can wait until just before the moment of death and fulfil whatever the least is that we need to do, so that we can approach the throne of God with our passports stamped, because we did what was ‘necessary’.

Perhaps that is the greatest danger in seeking to know the time of, as St. Mark’s Gospel calls it ,’the end which is to come’. If we know when the end is, then we can live as we please up until that time, thinking that we will always have enough time to avail ourselves of God’s mercy.

The truth is, though, while God’s mercy is limitless, the time we have in this world to receive it, to turn towards it, and to show it to others is limited to our lifetimes. We don’t have unlimited opportunities to live for God as if we really mean it. We need to act, and we need to act in the immediate moment because we simply do not know when the ‘end’ will come, either of our own individual lives, or when the ‘end of the world’ will come.

Often groups or people will say they have figured out or calculated or ‘deciphered’ the clues in scripture that give an exact date or time; just as often, these groups and individuals have been proven wrong; the date of ‘the end’ has been predicted by people time and again, and yet here we remain. But Jesus is quite clear when he says ‘about that day or hour no one knows, neither the Angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”…and the Father isn’t telling anyone. Why not?

Because while God’s kingdom in heaven is something we aspire to, to dwell in eternity, the truth is the Kingdom begins in the here and now; in our present circumstances and lives. Jesus repeatedly told those who would listen, that because He had entered into our humanity, our world, He would say ‘the kingdom of heaven is upon you’ – it isn’t just something we plan to act for down the road; it begins now, – the way we treat others, our actions, our words; the way we live out our faith; our relationships with God and others – whether we act upon all that God has given us to guide and lead us closer to Him now – not later – but right now.

Rather than worrying about when the end will come, so we can get ready to spend eternity with God, we should be concerning ourselves with how we are living for God now, so that when the end does come, we will simply be continuing to live for and with Him; living in His mercy, His justice, and His love.

We may not know when the end of time will be; but we do know when the time to start living for the Kingdom of heaven is – that time is now.

hands

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

One of my weaknesses is t-shirts with catchy slogans of either a religious or social justice nature:  I have one that says ‘Get Holy or die trying’, and has a list of Christian martyrs on the back.  Another one proclaims, ‘the earth is for all, not for sale.” 

There is one that I have and I’ve long admired; it says,

“Jesus is coming…..look busy”

 As long as there have been people on the face of the earth, there has been a morbid fascination with the end of time.  Every generation has in some way, considered themselves the absolute focal point, the pinnacle of human existence and history, somehow thinking that everything about nature, history, arts and sciences and the entire fate of the human race is centered on their generation.

We see it reflected in recent movies, books and television series; and there are many out there who think, “well, this is it. This is the beginning of the end!”

Remember the Mayan calendar? 

But this is really nothing new: throughout our history there have been examples, time and time again of people pointing to their generation, trying some way to twist and warp events to ‘match up’ with Sacred Scripture to point to a timetable of actual events – so much so that in their ‘wisdom’ they have pointed to exact dates and times when God would finally say, “enough is enough’ and bring the existence of the world to an end.

The passage we have read today from St. Luke’s Gospel is one of those parts of scripture that is often used as a kind of literary sign post for those who presume to ‘know’ when the world will end.  In this particular passage, Jesus is quite clear in his advice to anyone who would rush after those who claim to have such knowledge or to take them seriously,

“…many will come in my name and say, “ I am he’ and, ‘The Time is near!’ Do not go after them”

For those who somehow ‘need to know’ when the end will come, we need to ask,

“Why?”

‘What purpose would that serve at all?”

‘Would it somehow enable us to avoid the end of all things?  Would it give us a timetable to accumulate more wealth or possessions; to build up our own little empires? – what good would that do if all things end anyway?’

“ Would this knowledge somehow give us a timetable to live our lives one way, then provide ourselves with enough time to sort of ‘move over’ towards God at the last minute to somehow get closer to Him ‘just in time’?  Perhaps give us some means of bending God’s will in our favour?”

Jesus tells his disciples that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed: the destruction of that Temple, the place where for the Jews the glory of God dwelt, would have been absolutely unthinkable.  But it did happen – in 70 A.D., about 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Surely to those living in Jerusalem at the time, this would have felt like the end of the world.

He tells them that there will be wars and natural disasters; that they will be persecuted and attacked for witnessing to their faith in Him.  He warns them that the world will reject them, even become violent towards them because of their faithfulness to Him.  But even in this, Jesus, who is God, does not give them a specific timetable to follow like a calendar or day planner. His message is not just for the apostles in that specific time.  It’s for all people of all times.

His point in all of this discourse is to tell them and us, that He will be with us at all times… ‘not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

He’s reminding His disciples that despite trial, tragedy, loss, persecution – in all manner of difficulties, He will be with those who follow Him.  He says explicitly, when we are tried, ‘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.” He will not abandon His own; but He wants the disciples, and us, to understand clearly – a reality check if you will:

That part of the human condition is the struggle and grief and sorrow that are part and parcel of our fallen nature.  There are no ‘quick fixes’ to the sufferings and trials that are part of our existence.

And it’s not as if He doesn’t know what He’s talking about or preaching to us from some removed, distant, unreal place: He entered into our humanity; He experienced losses and disappointments, struggles and rejection, and He most certainly experienced pain, torment and suffering.

But throughout the ages, He has been with us; calling to us and reminding us that He has always been with us and present to us. That we don’t need to know when the ‘end’ will come, because it is not just at the ‘end’ that we will meet Him.

He is present to us now, in the poor and the lonely and the marginalized.  He is present to us when we gather as a people of prayer and praise.  He is definitely present to us in His Sacraments, particularly in the Holy Eucharist.

And because of this, we don’t need to ‘Look busy’, because we think He is going to surprise us, showing up ‘some day soon’ when we’re not ready:  He is already here; He is always with us; He is always among us.

birds over blowing rocks

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!