Guidance and grace help us respond to life's challenges

  • November 3, 2010
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Nov. 14 (Malachi 4:1-2; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19)

The thought of the “arrogant and the evildoers” getting their comeuppance is a very appealing one. Most movies and books cater to this very human desire and when a film ends in ambiguity or even with evil triumphant we feel a sense of distress and unease. We want an orderly and tidy moral universe.

These sentiments are expressed well by Malachi, but they can also be borne of disappointment, cynicism and resentment. Malachi — which means “my messenger” — prophesied in the period after the return of the exiles from Babylon. Although a temple of sorts had been rebuilt, it was merely a weak shadow of the former one. The city was still ruined, and worst of all, the practice of Israel’s religion was half-hearted and seriously compromised, at least in Malachi’s eyes. The nation was also torn by factions, corruption and indifference. The Messianic Age prophesied in Isaiah had not materialized and now seemed an illusory dream.

Malachi’s exhortations were of the “fire and brimstone” variety, promising destruction and punishment for the wicked but holding out promises of rewards for those who were righteous and faithful. The Book of Malachi is filled with messianic expectations. In fact, Malachi introduces the prophet Elijah as the prophet who would return to usher in the Messianic Age and prepare the nation for God’s visitation, an expectation that carried over into the period of the New Testament. The call to conversion and a commitment to justice and compassion are just as urgent now as then — perhaps even more so. But exhortations to justice and holiness need not be accompanied by sabre-rattling threats. God does not destroy anyone — we do that quite well without divine assistance. The wicked ultimately bring destruction on themselves. But we, individually and as a community, are brought face to face with what we have created. Not only that, there is not always a clean and clear line between the good and the wicked. We are often not as good as we would like to believe and the wicked are not always as hopeless as we think.

God will give us guidance and grace to respond to life’s challenges wisely and responsibly.

Human nature often looks for the path of least resistance. There were those in the early Christian community who took full advantage of the manner in which resources were shared. Not only that, they figured that since the Lord was going to return soon there was really no need to expend any energy working — far easier to sponge off of others. There are always those who are takers rather than givers. But that is not how God’s universe works. We are all expected to contribute to the best of our abilities. And as far as the Lord’s return, no one knows when that will occur and all that matters is that the Lord finds us doing what we are supposed to do.

Big stones, fancy buildings, institutions and structures, all of these can be swept away and Jesus warns His followers not to cling to these aspects of religious faith but to the principles they represent. This passage was written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD and Luke is attempting to interpret the theological meaning of the terrible event. It is far more likely the natural consequence of an ill-advised rebellion against a brutal and ruthless empire. Luke’s descriptions of some of the end-time warning signs are not much help: famines, wars, earthquakes and so on have always been with us and will be with us for some time to come. Although persecution is not a reality for most of us, there are still times and places where one is called to truly suffer for faith. End-time speculation is a useless and distracting enterprise.

Jesus gives them some excellent advice that applies as much today as it did then: don’t be led astray by the many conflicting voices. Don’t live in fear. Remain focused on your faith and ideals. Stand firm and have courage. As for divine destruction of the wicked, Jesus insists that God loves and blesses both the wicked and the good and desires the salvation of all and so should we. All good counsel for living in uncertain and scary times.

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