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God's Word on Sunday: We cannot separate light from darkness

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  • November 10, 2019

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 17 (Year C) Malachi 4:1-2; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19

The wicked and arrogant will be burned up with fire! 

In our darker moments, we might feel a twinge of gleeful anticipation. After all, the wicked and arrogant seem to be working overtime to wreck the world we live in and make humanity utterly miserable. But lurking at the back of our anticipation at seeing the wicked punished is the nagging fear that we might be among them! 

For centuries, the fiery and violent end, complete with judgment and punishment, has been the reigning image of our collective encounter with God. Small wonder many people have been so terrified of God. That was one reason many were so puzzled by Jesus — He seemed to defy those expectations at every turn. 

Humans tend to divide humanity into the sheep and the goats, the saved and the damned, not realizing that it is not quite that simple. 

In every person there is light and darkness, as well as in every human institution and society. There is some good in many of the wicked, there is some evil in many of the good and righteous. To separate the two now would tear us to pieces spiritually and psychologically. 

Light and darkness, good and evil, all commingle until the end. The wicked and the righteous are still part of each other — we cannot cut off and abandon a portion of humanity, even in our imagination. Gloating over the possible fate of the wicked prevents us from taking a moral and spiritual inventory of ourselves. 

We do not destroy evil. We overcome evil with good. Darkness that is exposed to the light becomes light. We can hope, pray and work so that all the Earth and its people are transformed and restored to God.

The delay of the return of Jesus caused a host of problems in the early Christian communities. Some became spiritually lax while others drifted back into old habits and life patterns. Others used the community’s shared resources for their own benefit, eating their fill but doing nothing in return. 

There have always been those looking for a free ride in the Christian faith. There are none. Christian faith is not a call to a materially or spiritually easy life, either then or now. Paul was strict — and rightly so — when he called on all to put their shoulders to the wheel according to their abilities.

A swift and violent end for humanity is still part of our consciousness. Today, however, the causes of this fear lie more in the natural order. 

Asteroid strikes, earthquakes and tsunamis, pandemic diseases, environmental disasters, nuclear war and technological collapse keep many awake at night and provide plenty of raw material for sensational books and articles. They are all distinct possibilities, but that does not mean that they have nothing to do with our collective moral and spiritual state. 

Many of the dangers and challenges we face are the consequences of human actions and choices. The big question on everyone’s mind — then and now — is when it will occur. 

Jesus ran through a list of the things we usually associate with end times: wars, rumours of wars, plagues, famines and earthquakes. But He always adds that these are merely markers along the way, a prelude, for the end is still to come. 

The bigger danger is from other human beings or, more precisely, from bigotry, crusading zeal, fear, polarization and intolerance. These are the causes of people turning on one another. Unfortunately, it describes very well our collective state in the present day. 

All of this was written in the chaotic and violent first century AD, but it also applies to our own time. We are given a way out. All those that exercise patience — perseverance — will be saved. This takes the form of not giving into the negative impulses and thoughts of the world around us, and not taking part in hatred and division. 

Patient endurance is an expression of trust, hope, steadfastness and living by the divine principles we have been taught from the beginning: compassion, mercy, justice, kindness and forgiveness. Nothing should ever deflect us from this path. 

If we are faithful, it does not matter when the “end” comes, if in fact it does.

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