We must endure in our faith

  • November 9, 2007
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Nov. 18 (Malachi 3:19-20; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19)

For the prophet Malachi the visitation of God is a dreaded and awesome event, with the destruction of the arrogant and wicked as its aim. But he hastens to assure the faithful and devout that they have nothing to fear, for God will grace them with righteousness and healing.

 Malachi wrote during a period of decline and disillusionment after the return of the exiles from Babylon. So many of the hopes and dreams proclaimed by the prophets had failed to materialize and the communal spiritual life of the nation had deteriorated badly. People no longer considered serving God and walking in justice as a high priority. It is this last book of the Old Testament that lays out many of the apocalyptic themes that are picked up in the New Testament. The most prominent is the belief that the coming Day of the Lord would be a time when the nation would be purged with fire, with sinners being punished and the just rewarded. And Elijah would come again before this event to bring people to repentance. Remember that both Jesus and John the Baptist were thought by many to be Elijah.

This apocalyptic view was carried over into the New Testament and is still with us today. The intent of Malachi’s proclamation was to rouse the people from their spiritual torpor and revitalize the nation. We might ask if fear is a good motivation for loving and serving God. Not only does it paint a negative image of God, but when these events fail to materialize many become bitter and disillusioned. There are still many people who are convinced that God is preparing to visit disaster on us. First of all, God is not in the business of burning people up or slaughtering them in any other fashion. Most collective disasters that we experience are the consequences of human greed, selfishness, indifference and violence. The effects of natural disasters are amplified by incompetence, greed and a lack of foresight. But the final words of this prophecy are consoling: God’s loving and healing presence is always there for those who revere God’s name and who try to live a just and upright life.

If Jesus is coming soon, why bother with anything else? That seemed to be the attitude of some of the community in Thessalonica. They had simply quit working and were comfortably awaiting the arrival of the Lord while living off of the abundance of the community. But all must pull their own weight, and the letter insists that those who refuse to work should not eat at the community’s expense. We might find a parallel in some of the apocalyptically inclined today who are indifferent to working for social justice or protecting the environment because they believe the time is short. If we expect the return of the Lord, it is even more important to attend to these concerns. After all, we would want the Lord to find us being faithful stewards and servants rather than spiritual loafers.

Luke builds on this expectation of the Day of the Lord, which he interprets as the Second Coming of Jesus. Luke’s Jesus warns the disciples not to be dazzled by the trappings of religious power and wealth. The temple and any temple or church — then or now — can be destroyed in an instant. They are not essential to our faith, for the people of God and the spirit that dwells in them is the church that can never be destroyed. Luke gives us all of the signs of the approaching end: wars, insurrections, earthquakes and strife between nations. In other words, the things that we have always had with us — part of the human experience in this world. But even then other horrors must come to pass: savage persecutions, and most poignantly, betrayal by family and friends. The point of all this, however, is not doom and gloom. Endurance — some translations say patience — is what will enable the faithful believer to possess their soul. Endurance is not passive resignation or finding a safe place to hide like some sort of survivalist. It means not losing one’s faith, hope or spiritual ideals even in the midst of personal struggle, chaos, loss or suffering. It is by patient endurance that our souls are formed and we learn obedience to God.