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God's Word on Sunday: The faithful will be rewarded

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  • November 7, 2021

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 14 (Year B) Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32

How do people respond when they feel that God is absent or has deserted them? Many give in to cynicism, despair and loss of faith and purpose, while others find new purpose and meaning.

In the second century B.C., the people of Judah rose in rebellion against their oppressive Greek overlords, who had banned the practice of the Jewish law and religion. Under threat of death, many surrendered to demands that they renounce their ancestral tradition and violate the food laws. They received material rewards for their apostasy from the imperial authorities. Others refused and paid a fearsome price: torture and death.

Many people were disillusioned and bewildered. Whose side was God on? They had been faithful and had suffered terribly, while those who had been unfaithful were prospering. It was a simple question: Was God faithful and just or not? This was an opportunity to rethink their vision of God and how God works in human history. Enter apocalyptic theology and the idea of the resurrection.

This passage from Daniel is one of the first mentions of the raising of the dead. God would send the angelic hosts, led by Michael, to intervene in human affairs and set the nation back on a straight path. Those who had suffered and died for their faith would be raised again and rewarded — no need to worry. The wicked would also be raised but only so that they could suffer just punishment.

The righteous were not fools for their fidelity to God and their courage. And the wicked were not getting away with anything. The wheels of divine justice grind slowly but exceedingly fine. The challenge to believers was to decide immediately whom they would serve and to courageously stand fast.

This is the same call and challenge we face today in the face of so much injustice, chaos and apostasy. Our “reward” for our fidelity will be the knowledge that we have supported and guided others.

The faithful will never be the losers — that status is reserved for history’s unrepentant wicked. Knowing that we have done right by God and other people brings satisfaction and joy.

What does it mean to say that Christ has died for our sins? The phrase is often used without much understanding of its deeper meaning. How can Christ die for the sins that we have not yet committed? Just this: Jesus wiped the slate clean and gave humanity a fresh start. He has taken control of our salvation and spiritual growth, and He is the standard by which we will be measured. He walks beside us every step of the way.

In the meantime, there is much work to be done. Overcoming and subjecting the enemies of God is a continual process and one to which we are all called.

The end of this long process is portrayed in vivid and frightening imagery. Falling stars, a darkening moon and failing sun, and a shaking of the entire cosmos are all the stuff of which nightmares are made.

It would be easy to smile and pass over these signs — after all, it hasn’t happened yet — but nature is dishing up its own cosmological and ecological disasters. We cannot simply assume that everything will continue to work as it has in the past, especially when humans have done so much to disrupt and destroy natural processes.

These challenges serve the same purpose as the ancient text: a wake-up call to set things right. Jesus urges us to be aware and to read the signs of the times. He describes the ingathering of the elect — presumably those who have walked closely with God.

Jesus then made an amazing statement — all would happen before that generation would pass away. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Jesus was mistaken, which is perfectly possible. But there is perhaps much in the text that we have failed to understand. Jesus seemingly confirms this by His insistence that the “when” of all these final events is a closely guarded secret. No one, not even the angels or the Son, knows the day or the hour — only God the Father.

This will not prevent countless fear mongers, number crunchers and
“sign” readers from making their frightening predictions. But if we harmonize our minds and hearts with God, it will not matter when the end comes, for we will be ready.

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