for the 33d Sunday
of Ordinary TimeNov. 14, 2010
Luke 21: 5-19
2 Thess 3: 7-12
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
“By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Luke 21: 19).
Yesterday “perseverance” came up in the parable of the widow and the corrupt judge, and in the life of Mother Cabrini. Today it comes up with a different meaning: not perseverance in prayer or in the pursuit of a vocation or in the building of an apostolic enterprise, but in faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ thru the “toil and drudgery” of daily life, thru earthly travails, thru persecution (2 Thess 3:8) until the end of our individual lives or until that “day comes blazing like an oven,” the Last Day (cf. Mal 3:19).
After Jesus’ journey up to Jerusalem with his disciples, today we find them in the temple, the center of the Jewish world, gawking like tourists in Times Square. Jesus brings them down by predicting the temple’s destruction, which in turn leads to their questioning him about what will lead up to such a terrible event. Jesus speaks of false messiahs, wars and insurrections, natural disasters, omens, and persecutions—such things as in fact preceded the Roman army’s capture and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. His “forecast,” tho, seems to be open-ended, which is how Luke would have seen it, writing well after 70. The temple’s ruin wasn’t the end of the world; Christians would have to continue waiting for Jesus’ return, would have to persevere thru the various trials of ordinary life, thru the extraordinary trials of life, thru ongoing betrayals and persecutions.
Those who persevere to the end will secure their lives, i.e., will be saved when the Lord does return. There will finally be a day of reckoning. Both the anonymous prophet Malachi (the name means simply “Messenger”) and Psalm 98 speak of the coming of the Lord with justice: “He will rule the world with justice and the peoples with equity” (98:9). There’s precious little justice in this world; we wait for God to straighten everything out, put everything in proper order.
Malachi implies that the Lord, when he comes on “the day that is coming” (3:19), will separate the just from the unjust, will use fire and heat to punish the latter and reward the former. Fire as punishment for the wicked is a common biblical image, used by the prophets, by John the Baptist, and by Jesus. That day, “blazing like an oven,” will burn evildoers like stubble, like the refuse burned as fuel after the harvest.
We all know how welcome a fire is on a chilly evening—or on a Scout camping trip! We know how the snowbirds fly to Florida and Arizona for the winter, seeking a warm and sunny climate. For the just, “you who fear my name,” fire—“the sun of justice”—will bring healing warmth and light. On a cold spring nite, we light a great fire to signal that Christ, light of the world, is risen for our salvation—and we burst into an Exsultet and then into a Gloria: “with trumpets and the sound of the horn, [we] sing joyfully before the King, the Lord” (98:6).
Between now and “that day,” how are we to wait for the Lord? What are we to do? Paul’s friends in Thessalonica struggled with that question. It may be that some of them, believing the Lord’s return was imminent, sat on their hands waiting. Why engage “in toil and drudgery, night and day” (3:8) if Jesus will return at any moment to complete our redemption? Thruout the Christian ages there have been groups who thought the 2d Coming was imminent, sold their belongings, and gathered to wait…and wait…and wait. Their waiting has always been disappointed. Paul explains that life must go on, including toil and earning one livelihood. Anything else is a disorder, an imposition upon the community. Furthermore, those who don’t work wind up as nuisances, or worse, among the community, “not keeping busy but minding the business of others” (3:11)—at best, distracting and interfering in the work of others, worse yet gossiping. (What would Paul have said in the age of texting, blogging, and tweeting?)
No, Paul tells us, we have to keep on working, day by day, carrying out our duties, “working quietly” (3:12). The Christian lives in the world, contributes to this world, is “faithful in serving” the Father (Collect) until the Lord comes again or until the Lord calls her home.