THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018
“HEAVEN AND EARTH WILL PASS AWAY, BUT MY WORDS WILL NOT PASS AWAY”
Readings: 1st- Dan. 12:1-3; 2nd- Heb. 10:11-14, 18; Gospel- Mk. 13:24-32
Two options are possible when one is entering into the exam hall: confidence or fear. To feel confident is usually a good experience. Perhaps, you step in with expectations of solving difficult questions, then realize that the questions are really cheap. The expression on the face is that of satisfaction, smile, something like, “Is that all?” That is confidence. On the other hand, going into an exam hall unprepared or less prepared is usually accompanied by some trepidation. The feeling is usually that of a wishful expectation. You pray for luck perhaps hoping to make some successful guess. Most times, it doesn’t work that way, then you feel frustrated, disappointed. The readings of today remind us of the need for preparations in the long-term-examination of our lives. The judgment of God will be based on the preparations we make in this world, our ability to abide by the words that God speaks to us while on earth.
The first thing to note is that today is the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical calendar. The church presents us with the signs of end times just as we end the church’s liturgical year. In the first reading, the prophet Daniel describes the dangers of unpreparedness. That time shall be surpassed by distress. There will be the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. The righteous will awake and shine. The unrighteous shall sink into everlasting horror and disgrace.
The theme of preparedness is continued in the Gospel with Jesus speaking in one of the most fearful tones; the days that follow will be marked by tribulation: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (Mk. 13:24-25). Here, Jesus recapitulates what the prophet Isaiah said about the signs that will follow the destruction of sinners: “The stars and constellations of the heavens send forth no light. The sun is dark when it rises, and the light of the moon does not shine. Thus I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their guilt” (Is. 13:10-11). In the Scripture, punishment is usually associated with darkness. In this case, the cosmic forces will simply come to a halt. The darkness here signifies the absence of the goodness of God in the life of the sinner. Against such horror Jesus warns, “If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). That’s like a spiritual shut-down.
In that apocalyptic vision presented in the gospel, we see the image of the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. Christ will arise in those last moments as we profess in the Creed, “to judge the living and the dead.” The angels will be dispatched to gather God’s elect. The first reading from Daniel narrates that the archangel Michael, the great prince, will rise to fight on our behalf. God’s people will be protected from the destruction. That’s why we say the prayer to Saint Michael the archangel to defend us in battle against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
The next thing is the uncertainty of the end times. Christ uses the analogy of the fig tree to describe the prediction of seasons. The trees lose their leaves in the winter, as if they’re dead. The leaves sprout again in the spring to announce the coming of summer. In the same way, the burning out of the cosmos will signal the end of the old and the arrival of the new world order. The important message is this; “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk. 13:32).
End time messages therefore are not meant to scare us in the strict sense. Such messages should rather inspire us to appreciate the reality of the opportunity we have in Christ. What is important? To prepare. Not to be caught unawares. Christ tells us that heaven and earth will pass away. What will remain are the words that he presents to us. Humanity itself shall pass away. Earthly possessions will pass away. Power and fame will pass away. Physical connections will pass away. External beauty and attraction will pass away. Social status will pass away. Biological affiliations will pass away. Everything in this world will pass away, but God’s word will never because God is the beginning and the end.
Therefore, God’s word invites us to readiness about end times. When is it going to be? Certainly, we do not know. What is expected of us? Like students going in for examination, we have to go in with confidence and not fear. If we prepare, we become confident. If we fail to prepare, we become afraid. We all have been given the syllabus and the rubric for the course. The syllabus is God’s commandment: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your soul. You must love your neighbor as yourself.” The rubric is the standard for evaluation, namely: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all nations will be assembled before him… Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcome me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison and you did not care for me… And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt. 25:31-46). That is the real end time.
Let us prepare for it now.