2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
|November 12-13, 2016, Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C|
Each year at this time the church invites us to reflect on the end times the eschaton or some people would call it the second coming of Christ. One of the ways that the church does this is the readings for the last few weeks in ordinary time and then the first week in advance or readings that contain apocalyptic language. Apocalyptic language is a very specific way of speaking or writing. It arose in the post exile period when the Israelites had finally been allowed to return home to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile in Babylon. We hear this language in Malachi, where today's first reading is taken from, in Ezekiel, in Daniel, in Revelation, and in all three of the synoptic Gospels, and even a little in Paul. The word itself is just the Greek word we translate as Revelation. It would have been a very familiar type of speaking to the people Jesus was speaking to. Unfortunately for us, Hollywood has co-opted the word to just mean cataclysmic events like earthquakes or asteroid storms. While that is part of the genre, it is a small part.
Apocalyptic language is mostly found when a people or nation is experiencing great stress. And its primary purpose is to give that people hope. Yes, hope. You might ask, how does Jesus talking about wars and insurrections and the destruction of the temple, and persecution give people hope? To understand that we need to understand a few things about apocalyptic language. First, it is never meant to be interpreted literally. Which should be obvious from the last few lines of the Gospel reading. Jesus says some will be put to death but not a hair on your head will be destroyed! Unless Jesus is saying that only the bald will be put to death, it is hard to take those lines literally. The second thing is that it portrays past events as if they are future events. The words that Luke has put on Jesus' lips are describing the destruction of the Temple some 10-15 years in the past. One of the ways this gives hope is that in reminding the community that they have already gone through this terrible event, they are still here. God will get them through the crisis they are facing now.
One of my favorite posters was one I saw on the wall of the emergency room nurse's wall. Basically it said "On particularly rough days when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through particularly rough days so far is 100% and that’s pretty good."
I am wondering if any of you heard any hope when you listened to the Gospel, or feel positive excitement anticipating the second coming of Christ? I mean as Catholics, we pray and say we believe that we look forward to this coming of the Kingdom. Yet I think I am pretty safe in saying that if we suddenly got an alert on our cell phones that it was happening tomorrow, few of us would be overjoyed. Why is that? If we understand what the second coming of Christ means: no more war or violence we see all around us, no matter how you voted it means not having to live through the next 4 years of divisive politics. It means no more teen suicides or opioid overdoses. Heck it means we don't have to go work tomorrow, or school; we don't have to rake any of these leaves that are falling. What is there not to be overjoyed about?
Well I think for most of us, it is our very dysfunctional understanding of God. For all our praying to God our Abba, we still picture God, especially at judgment day, as the stern judge we come before. The prosecutor lists all our faults and sins. The defender lists all the good we have done. And then the judge passes sentence: you go here or there. For most of us because we are all sinners, we don't have confidence that we will be sent there.
But what if that is not what judgment is like at all? What if it is this: We stand before God, who dare to call Abba, and God presents us with a true, deep, and complete vision of who we are because of all the choices we have made. But at the same time God presents us with a true, deep and complete vision of who God created us to be. And because we are standing in the face of God who is love, we have the strength and the courage to choose the latter, no matter how hard the growing pains.
If we truly believed that would that give us hope? If the world believed that would it help at all? That my dear people is the good news. Let us see that hope in the baptisms of these two children called by name to be part of the body of Christ whose mission is to bring about that second coming. Let us see it in the celebration of this Eucharist as become more deeply this body of Christ as we receive the true body of Christ was is given up for us, and we drink the cup of his true Blood which is poured out for the salvation of many. And then let us commit ourselves to this mission of spreading this good news as we pray that God's kingdom come and God's will be done here on earth. That in its fullness is the second coming of Christ. And I for one cannot wait until it gets here.