Those who remember God are true to themselves

By  Fr. Scott Lewis, S.J.
  • November 10, 2006
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B), Nov. 19 (Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32)

Every generation labours under the conceit that the world they have inherited is the worst and its suffering unique. Anguish is very real to those who experience it, but it is also relative.

The author of Daniel could not think of any time in the history of the world when pain and tribulation could be greater. He lived in the midst of the Maccabean revolt of the second century BC, when persecution, murder of the innocent and just, destruction and chaos were rampant. This all seemed to indicate that the world as he knew it was rapidly coming to a close.

His faith in God was unwavering, and he knew without a doubt that the archangel Michael would arise to lead the final battle against evil. The dead would be raised to be judged along with the living and each would receive what they had earned by their conduct. Justice and fidelity to one's faith, especially during persecution, were instrumental in inscribing one in the book of life. Those singled out for special commendation and reward are the wise who lead others along the right path.

From our vantage point more than 2,000 years later, the author's claim of unique anguish and suffering might provoke a grim and cynical smile. The last two millennia have far outdone the author's time in violence and blood. The last century alone brought us two world wars with 60 million dead, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, dozens of localized wars and countless genocidal frenzies from Cambodia to Bosnia and Rwanda. Where is Michael, and where is God's justice? 

The seeming delay or absence of divine intervention has pained thoughtful souls for centuries, and there is no easy answer (and don't let anyone tell you that there is). But the important point in this prophetic exhortation is that those who remember God and are true to themselves, and those who do their utmost to help and encourage others are precious in God's sight. Their labours and suffering have not been in vain and God has not forgotten them, although our understanding of how this is to be played out in history is still very imperfect. But we can be assured that it is a moral and spiritual universe and the purpose of our lives flows from that.

In view of our painful history, the second reading might appear puzzling. Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice for all sins. There is forgiveness and an absence of the law. But this is not an invitation to selfish and immoral behaviour. By setting aside the fear, guilt and self-absorption that drives so much of human behaviour, Jesus invites us to apply ourselves to the real business of life: learning to be loving and just human beings. And this is for its own sake, not some ploy to "get saved."

In the portion of Hebrews deleted by the lectionary committee (again!) the author quotes Jeremiah to the effect that God is going to write God's laws in our minds and hearts and no longer call our sins to mind. Healing from our violent and selfish history begins with looking within where this compassionate God waits to meet us.

In the section of Mark referred to by scholars as the "little apocalypse," Mark's Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem and then the Day of the Lord. The end is etched in lurid detail, with all the drama and symbolism dear to apocalyptic theology. In a verse that has plagued Christians ever since, Jesus insists that His second coming, along with the frightening signs and the judgment, will occur while some of His listeners are still alive. Could He have been wrong? Why not? The very next statement makes it clear that God the Father alone knows the divine timetable.

We should not lose a moment's sleep worrying about when the end will come, nor should we waste any time in idle speculation. Countless generations have discovered to their chagrin that their end-time calculations were deeply flawed. It is far more fruitful to focus on the Master's statement that His words — His teachings on the law of love — are eternal and applicable in every time and place. The ones who "shine like the stars in the heavens" are those who strive to live by that law of love.

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