THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2019
Readings: 1st- Mal. 3:19-20a; 2nd- 2 Thess. 3:7-12; Gospel- Lk. 21:5-19
“By your perseverance, you will secure your lives (Lk. 21:19)
What does it mean when Jesus says, “By your perseverance, you will secure your lives?” It seems like some paradox: our faith will attract persecution and possibly death, yet we’ll be rewarded with life. As we near the end of the liturgical year, the readings focus on the end of times. The disciples ask Jesus, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when these things are about to happen?” The reason for their curiosity is because Jesus was telling them how the beautiful and expensive structures and decorations will be no more. The costly stones and adornments of the temple! What will happen to them? Jesus says they will be no more at some point. That time is a period of reckoning when God will bring everything to accountability before him.
The prophet Malachi sets the precedence in the first reading by presenting some harsh images of the judgment that will come. The prophet exposes the unfortunate consequences that will befall proud persons and evildoers. He maintains that the day is “coming” which will be like an oven, blazing and burning down all that is connected with evil. The poor and arrogant will burn on fire like stubble. But those who fear the Lord will receive his soothing and healing touch. The sun of justice will shine on them. Malachi’s graphic metaphors of this horrific “Day of the Lord” is intended to elicit change in the people, inviting them to turn from evil behaviors and seek God's presence.
In the gospel, Jesus warns against two things, falling for false prophecy and despairing because of persecution. As in the time of prophet Malachi, Jesus reveals that Christian persecution is a part of the life of believers. Christian persecution will be characterized by betrayals, disappointments, and fear. Jesus highlights, “You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends.” One danger arising from threats to religious freedom is the rise of (false) prophecy. When times get tough, when faith gets ridiculed, believers become vulnerable. Once Christianity is under attack, the tendency is that people might accept messages that present an easy alternative. End-time prophecies thrive. False prophets assume messianic roles and take advantage of the chaos to deceive believers. Such messages that make false claims might become popular, “I am he,” “The time has come.” Jesus warns us, “See that you not be deceived… Do not follow them!”
What comes to mind here is the passage about the narrow gate where Jesus remarks, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). False prophecies provide a way that is wide, cozy, and attractive. We must be careful how to react in the face of disasters, natural or human. They’re not necessarily signs of the end times. They may not also imply that God is ending creation.
Last week, I visited a man who requested to have a priest. The man seemed to have so many questions about things bugging him. He repeated these questions several times to me, “If God is perfect, why does he not stop earthquakes and disasters that we have from time to time? Why does God not stop evil people from committing evil?” Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I had the complete answers to those concerns or if my answers would change his perceptions. I tried to focus his attention on the goodness of God. One thing is clear, we didn’t beg God to create the universe. I hope we realize that. The world is all his, in the first place. Everything belongs to Him. Yet, He lets us do with the universe what we want. God is not the problem, we are. I tried to tell this man that earthquakes and disasters are the results of humanity’s abuse of freedom given to us by God. We’ve messed up the universe, so, creation is not the same. That’s why Saint Paul wrote that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22). Human beings have become evil because they’ve sold out. They’ve given their hearts to the devil.
Christ warns us today, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he.’ The time has come.’ He reminds us, “There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” But the positive thing is this, “It will lead to your giving testimony.”
Friends, let us not be deceived. Let us not be swept off our spiritual and religious foundation. Let us not be made to become panicky to the point of compromise. We are invited to brace up for the challenges that come our way just because of who we are. Our faith is an essential part of our being. Faith means a lot to us, otherwise, we won’t wake up early in the morning to be here. It is important to us in the formation of our children. It matters so much to us how it is treated, how our religious beliefs are regarded. Jesus says, “See that you not be deceived.”
Christianity means discipleship. It means witnessing. It means readiness to follow Christ which includes the inconveniences that are associated with it. The solution to religious opposition is not lukewarm. The solution to threats against our faith is not mediocrity. We might live in a time where our faith is challenged or opposed, but we don’t have to apologize for our faith, for being Christians, for being believers, for being followers of Christ. We might live in a time when religion is consciously removed from the schools to deny our children the opportunity to learn about Christ, but we don't have to give up our identity. Jesus offers us hope. Hear what he says, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives” (Lk. 21:18-19).