November 17, 2019 – Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Malachi 3:19-20, 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12, Luke 21:5-19
I am excited today. I get to use a word I learned in deacon school. It’s been over seven years, and this is my first opportunity to impress you with the word eschatology. This is a word of Greek origin meaning the study of last and final things.
Eschatology concerns itself with our human destiny, death, judgment, resurrection of the body, heaven, purgatory, and hell – all of which are referenced in the Creed we will pray together shortly. This concept is commonly referred to as the “end of the world”.
Whether taking this to mean the end of all human existence or the end of our own individual life here on earth, it can be an unsettling topic.
I encourage you to read Article 12 in Part I of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It offers a beautiful description of heaven which I will reference at the end of my homily.
However, it is also sobering reading as most of us are uncomfortable imagining death or the concept of our lives being judged.
Here is what the Catechism says about the Last Judgment: In the Presence of Christ, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life. The Last Judgement will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour.
Our first reading from Malachi and our gospel from Luke, and even the responsorial psalm we sang, are considered eschatological scripture. The readings allude to the end of time and what we might expect from that experience.
In Malachi we heard: The day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, that day will set them on fire.
With the responsorial psalm, we sang: The Lord comes to the earth to rule the world with justice.
We hear similar words from Jesus himself in the gospel: Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place.
Which leads to the question: How do we handle this less-than-joyful news?
Well, we can live in a constant state of dread, immobilized by fear. Or we can hopelessly throw in the towel: “It’s inevitable. It’s going to happen regardless, so what difference does it make what we do?” Or…we can prepare.
I had students in the past fail a test I administered. When speaking to them afterwards, one might say, “I was so anxious, I just couldn’t concentrate when I tried to study.” Fear immobilized her. Another student might say, “I just didn’t understand the material. I knew I was going to fail anyway, so I didn’t bother studying.” He had a sense of hopelessness.
To both of these responses I offered hope and preparation as alternatives. I encouraged them to put the anxiety or the feeling of hopelessness to work for them. Put that same energy into preparation. Regardless of the outcome, they will know they have done everything possible. They don’t want to arrive at a test with regrets, constantly worrying that they could have done more, or should have done more.
It is important to note that after Jesus shared the frightening news of nation against nation, famines, and plagues, he said: Before all of this happens, you will give testimony.
Similar to a court of law, we “give testimony” when we are called as witnesses. As witnesses we offer the truth and nothing but the truth.
When Jesus said, before all of this happens, you will give testimony, he meant we are not to sit back and wait passively for the last day. He was saying we have work to do. We are called to be witnesses on behalf of Jesus.
The perspectives offered in the first reading and the gospel give context to the reading we heard from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul encouraged the believers to maintain hope in a seemingly hopeless world. He assured them that Jesus would return in glory on the last day.
Many Thessalonians correctly interpreted this to mean that the impending second coming would signal the end of the world and subject them to final judgment.
Keep in mind that the people of that time had experienced Jesus firsthand. They saw him; they heard him speak. They were there for the first coming. For them, the thought of a second coming and the prospect of being judged was frightening. It was imminent. They had experienced the first coming, so they fully expected to be present for the second coming as well.
Many thought, “Jesus is returning soon, why bother with my day to day work? I’ll just sit and wait.” In Paul’s estimation, that made them lazy Christians.
However, lazy and Christian are not compatible, just as anxious and Christian or hopeless and Christian are not compatible. A real Christian should not be lazy, or anxious, or hopeless.
To that end Paul concluded his second letter with a strong reprimand to the Thessalonians: We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
disorderly way, by not keeping busy. Such people we instruct and urge in the name of Jesus Christ to do your work…
In other words, “Stay focused. Keep your nose to the grindstone.” Or as Jesus would say, Give testimony.
We don’t want to arrive at the test with regrets, worried that we could have done more, or should have done more.
If we do the work we are called to do, living lives that give witness to our belief in Jesus Christ, there is no reason to feel frightened or anxious or hopeless. We have prepared; heaven awaits us.
Again, from the Catechism: Those who die in God’s grace and friendship are perfectly purified and live forever with Christ. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.