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Reflections for the XXXIII Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the thirty third Sunday in ordinary time. He says that the readings warn us of the final days of the World, our own death and the final judgment.

Mal 3:19-20a; II Thes 3:7-12; Lk 21: 5-19

Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is “The Day of the Lord” or the “Second Coming” of Jesus in glory, as Judge, at the end of the world. They warn us about the final days of the world, our own death and the final judgment.

 Homily starter anecdote: # 1: The theater is on fire: The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, tells the parable of a theater where a variety show is proceeding. Each act is more fantastic than the last, and each is applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager appears on the stage, apologizing for the interruption.  He announces at the top of his voice that the theater is on fire, and begs his patrons to leave the theatre immediately, without causing a commotion. The spectators think that it is the most amusing turn of the evening, and cheer thunderously. The manager again feverishly implores them to leave the burning building, and he is again applauded vigorously. At last he can do no more. The fire races through the whole building engulfing the fun-loving audience with it. "And so," concludes Kierkegaard, "will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators" (Resource, July/August). Today’s readings warn us about a similar fate if we are not well prepared when the “Day of the Lord” dawns quite unexpectedly, marking the end of the world. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Scripture readings summarized: Malachi, in the first reading, foretells this Day, giving the warning that the future, known to God alone, will bring healing and reward for the just who forearm themselves with words and works (peace, justice, mercy and truth), and retribution for the “proud and all evildoers.” Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 98) refers to Jesus in his Second Coming: “The Lord...comes to rule the earth; He will rule the world with Justice and the peoples with equity” (Ps 98:9).  Although Paul expected to be alive at the return of Jesus, he cautioned the Thessalonians, in today’s second reading, against the idleness with which some of them were anticipating the end and encouraged them not to be weary of doing good. He suggested that their best preparation for the future was to devote their attention to present duties, to maintain a holy and wholesome balance between prayer and service, work and play, and to develop enduring family ties and values.  Today’s Gospel passage warns that the date of the end of the world is uncertain.  Signs and portents will precede the end, and the faithful will be called upon to testify before kings and governors.  The Good News, however, is that those who persevere in faithfulness to the Lord will save their souls and enter God's eternal kingdom. Christ’s Second Coming is something to celebrate, because he is going to present all creation to his Heavenly Father. That is why we proclaim His Second Coming at Mass: "We proclaim Your death, O Lord, and profess Your Resurrection, until You come again." For Luke's community which had experienced much persecution, Jesus' words about people being "handed over by parents, brothers, relations and friends," were beginning to come true. They would have found, as did Jesus original disciples, that Jesus' promise of the protective power of a providing God through all of this served them as a real encouragement to persevere in Faith and its practice: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives." Jesus also prophesied the signs of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world in order to prepare His original disciples for this more immediate coming disaster and to remind them to rely upon Him for Salvation, not their own power.

First reading: Malachi 3: 19-20 explained: When Judah returned from exile in Babylon, the people and their leaders showed a tendency, which they had absorbed from their long contact with the pagans, to lead loose moral lives.  The priests were irresponsible, ignorant and indulgent leaders, failing to correct abuses (Collegeville Bible Commentary).  Hence, in today’s first reading, the prophet Malachi, in the mid-fifth century (515-458) BC, chided them for their religious impiety, dishonesty and marriages with pagans, for which they hoped, foolishly, to avoid punishment.  The Lord God, through His faithful prophet, Malachi warned Israel that the day of the Lord was coming shortly, and that He had taken note of the goodness of those who feared Him and would have compassion on them in the Day of His coming. But He would punish the wicked and the proud on the “Day of the Lord by setting them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch.”  The image here is that of a blazing oven. For the sinful, the Day will be a day of fiery purification; for the righteous, it will be the Day of healing. Malachi is the very last book of the Old Testament in many non-Catholic Bibles. The Lord God's final word, that He will send Elijah the prophet to them to give them one last chance at conversion  before  the Day of the Lord brings Final Judgment, is first fulfilled in John the Baptist, the precursor of Jesus, the Messiah, bringing Salvation to the world.

Second reading: II Thes 3:7-12 explained: The earliest Christians expected Jesus to come again in His Glory (Parousia), soon, bringing history to its climax in God's Final Judgment of the living and the dead. Some among the Thessalonians responded to this prospect by abandoning their customary work and leading lives of idleness. They asked themselves, "Why should we spend the small amount of time before the Parousia in hard labor?"  Some of them were more interested in minding other people's business.  Hence, St. Paul corrects them by asking them to imitate his own example of manual work (as a tentmaker or leatherworker of some sort), and preaching, warning them, “If anyone is unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” By his manual labor Paul supported his ministry, preaching his beliefs in word and deed to his fellow workers. We, too, must keep ourselves busy by faithfully discharging our duties and actively bearing witness to Christ through our lives, as we wait in Hope for the second coming of Jesus.

Gospel exegesis: The apocalyptic discourse. Luke 21:5-36 is Luke's version of what is frequently called "the apocalyptic discourse."   The early Christian apocalyptic writing was symbolic in nature, giving more an interpretation of future events than an actual prediction. The purpose of apocalyptic literature is to encourage dispirited people by proclaiming that God is in control of history and that punishment of the wicked will come about by God’s doing. It is also intended to encourage believers to remain faithful through the coming ordeals. Further, these works are meant to inspire believers to derive all the spiritual good God offers them through life’s inevitable suffering.  So the apocalyptic writers encouraged their readers to interpret their sufferings as a sharing in the birth pangs of the “end.” The believers were assured that if they remained constant in Faith, they could welcome the end of all things and the beginning of eternity with confidence and joy rather than with fear and dread. Jesus addressed His words to His disciples and followers gathered in the Temple for the Passover feast.  Jesus demands of his hearers tenacity of Faith and Hope in spite of their sufferings.  In the liturgical context, the Church aptly places the first part (ending with verse 19), of Luke's account of Jesus’ end time predictions at the end of the Church year.  [The rest of Luke's account (vv 20-36), as we have it, includes Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 with His predictions of the end of the world.]

Fulfilment of Jesus’ prediction: To the proud people of Jerusalem, Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple was a great shock, almost blasphemy in fact, because those words sounded like massive distrust of God and an insult to God.  Yahweh would not allow it!  It is not surprising that these words of Jesus were used against him at his trial before the High Priest.  Yet within forty years, the prediction of Jesus was largely fulfilled.  The Temple, originally built by Solomon (960 BC), demolished by the Babylonians (586 BC), rebuilt by Zerubbabel and the returning exiles (536-516 BC), and enlarged and rebuilt by Herod the Great (20 BC-- AD 64), was destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans.  At the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army, 1.1 million people perished, 97,000 were carried away into captivity, the Temple was demolished by fire, and the priests were murdered.

Call for evangelization by heroic witnessing: The real question of the believers at the end of the first century was: "Now that many of these things have happened, and we are being persecuted, what should we do?"  Luke reminds them of Jesus’ assurance that they were to trust His words against their persecutors.  They were to make use of this opportunity to bear witness to Jesus.  This test of Faith was also an opportunity for them to bear witness to Him before the court officials and the public at large.   Thus, the persecution would become a massive evangelization campaign [21:12-13].  Jesus cautions them against despair in the face of wide-ranging opposition and persecution.  Arrests would be followed by trial and condemnation in religious (Jewish) and civil (Gentile) courts.  Their Faith would serve as a clear witness on the Day of Judgment.  Not only would the individual martyrs see the Lord in Heaven, but the Church would flourish in persecution [21:18-19].

Doomsday prophets miss the message: Jesus refused to predict details or provide clues for the time of the coming calamity. “War, earthquake, pestilence and famine" were traditionally personified as the “Four Apocalyptic Horsemen” who would come to announce the end time judgment.  The late Raymond Brown, a renowned Scripture scholar, suggests that end-of-the-world people perform a valuable service for us. They keep the Second Coming before our eyes.  Prophets of doom in every century point to historical calamities (wars and revolts) and cosmic disasters (great earthquakes, famines, pestilence), and "signs in heaven" (like solar eclipses and comets), as signs of the end.  This is a direct contradiction of what Jesus said.  He told us not to try to predict the end, but to live loyally and lovingly in situations which, in many cases, would be hostile to the Gospel. Instead of destroying us, persecution and martyrdom will gain us eternal life.  At the end of the discourse, Jesus gave the assurance, “Not a hair from your head will perish" (21:18).  God's saving purpose will certainly triumph, because, contrary to appearances, He remains firmly in control.  Finally, the way to glory is traveled more often through day-by-day endurance, rather than through isolated acts of heroic virtue. Here is a practical spirituality each of us can live, whatever our current situation may be.   

Life messages: 1) We need to be prepared daily for death and judgment. The ideal way to accept Jesus’ apocalyptic message is always to be ready to face our death.   We must live holy lives of selfless love, mercy, compassion and unconditional forgiveness, remembering the demands of justice in our day-to-day lives. We must also take time to rest and to pray in order to keep our hearts alive to God’s presence with us and within us. Daily examination of our conscience at bedtime, asking God’s pardon and forgiveness, also prepares us to face God at any time to give an account of our lives.

2) We need to attain permanence in a passing world by leading exemplary lives. Our homes, our Churches and even our own lives are temporary. All our structures are provisional. Our influence has no more claims to permanence than our buildings. Hence, our task is not to build monuments of any kind, but to be faithful to Christ.  How our faithfulness is expressed each day is the most important thing.  We are to persevere in our Faith, despite worldly temptations, attacks on religion and moral values by the atheistic or agnostic media, threats of social isolation, and direct or indirect persecution because of our religious beliefs. Let us conclude this Church year by praying for the grace to endure patiently any trials that are essential to our affirmation of Jesus our Savior. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

14 November 2019, 13:49