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33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

As we near the end of our Liturgical year, our readings take us to “the end of days.”  Jesus is in Jerusalem and he knows the end is near.  Our readings this week remind us that even in the face of adversity we must persevere if we are to gain eternal life:

Malachi 3:19-20a
Psalm 98:5-6, 7-8, 9
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

We open with a reading from the prophet Malachi, who’s name literally means “my messenger” in Hebrew because the author feared retribution.  In this short passage the prophet gives us a view of post Exile Jerusalem, dating to around 445 BCE (around the same time as the Prophet Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem).  Here the prophet warns what will become of “evildoers” while there will be justice for those who “fear the Lord”.  This was a time of great spiritual upheaval in Jerusalem.  God loves his people, but the prophet finds that love is not being reciprocated.  It’s been almost 100 years since the joyful return from Exile, and the populace has forgotten what it means to “serve the Lord.”  Malachi message is a harsh reminder of what can happen when one turns away from God.  Our Psalm offers support to those struggling to keep true to God as we sing, “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.”  That even in the face of adversity, our loyalty to the Lord will not go unrewarded.

Our second reading from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians explains how everyone should earn their keep, using their own time with them as an example.  Though not directly tied to our theme, the idea of justice still rings true here:  there’s no such thing as a free ride.  A community depends on everyone doing their fair share with all due civility toward each other.  Paul finds that he must remind some of those in Thessalonica that they would do better attending to their own chores rather than minding the business of others.

Our gospel from Luke then gives us a rather pessimistic (but all too true) picture of what is to come.  Picking up the narrative a short time after last week’s gospel (with Jesus being questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection) we have Jesus standing with a group of people as they admire the richness of the decor of the Temple.  Jesus then turns and says that “all you see here” will be destroyed.  It’s a dire warning describing dire times to come.  His warning is a cautionary tale, both for his contemporaries and for all subsequent ages.  We know that at the time of the writing of this Gospel that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple is a matter of history, so this story serves to reinforce the truth Jesus spoke at the time.  But stories like this, similar to those from the book of Revelation, are meant to tell the people that while all signs point to hard times ahead, eternal salvation still remains for those who stay true to the Lord.  And while these authors were focusing on specific moments in history (the fall of Jerusalem, the fall of Rome), these stories also speak to a much larger reality:  That none of this will last forever.  The people in our gospel were marveling at the beauty of the stones in the Temple, but Jesus was reminding them that none of this would last forever.  That even the mighty stones of the Temple would be thrown down.  Everything we build here on earth will eventually be torn down, be it through gentrification, civil unrest, terrorism, natural disaster, or the decay brought on through the passage of time.  Even our very lives here on earth are temporary, and there will be times when our loyalty to the Lord will be tested.  But this isn’t meant to frighten us so much as it is meant to give us hope.  Jesus says, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives, ”  reflecting what we heard from the prophet Malachi as he said “there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays” for those who follow the Lord.

Final thoughts:

It never fails… whenever there is some kind of trouble in the world there will always the prophets of doom to tell us these events are a sign of the “end times.”  And some of them can be pretty convincing, often praying on our ignorance of scripture and our natural fear responses to convince us to give ourselves (and our money) over to their ministry, all in the name of Christ, of course.  Mind you, these wayward brothers and sisters learned from the best, as our own Catholic tradition once used this same sort of fear as a method of conversion and obedience.  To those critics I like to call their attention to 1 Corinthians 13:11

“When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things."

I like to think that our Catholic faith tradition has grown past the gospel of fear and embraced the reality of God’s love and mercy.  We’ve learned to read and understand the scriptures.  We’ve seen empires rise and fall yet the Holy Spirit still holds us together.  We seen history seeming to repeat itself over and over with growing devastation yet we can still count on God’s love when we turn to him and live our lives as Christ taught us.  But while we’re no longer ruled by fear, we still need to keep ourselves spiritually prepared for hard times when they come, but if we stay true to the Lord, he will see us through and grant us eternal justice.


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