HOMILY FOR THE 33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (NOV. 13)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
The readings in the Church Year are interesting in that you would expect that you would start with Advent, then Christmas, then Ordinary Time, then Easter and Pentecost. But it doesn’t work that way. We have already celebrated the Easter season when we jump back into Ordinary Time which is all about the teachings and miracles of Jesus. So how does the church give the liturgical year a climax then? It does it by looking ahead to the end of time and the glorification of Jesus. This week and next, the last two weeks in Ordinary Time deal with both of those issues, and in Luke it is especially appropriate because we have been spending the last many weeks on the final journey to Jerusalem and so finality seems to be a theme on that journey.Therefore, at the end of the church year we look at the end of time as Jesus often did on that journey.
We start, though, with the prophets’ take on it, in this case the prophet Malachi. The word of God as spoken to Malachi is that there will come a time when the arrogant and the evildoers will be judged and punished. He uses the image of fire that is often used in the Bible because fire is such that whatever is burnt, little is left except ash. It seems to be the most destructive punishment. But Malachi is not without hope for the good among us. He says that “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” We, of course, interpret this sun as the light of Christ who will continue to be the healer and lead us into glorification with him. The idea of “rising” here is also appropriate for Jesus, and that he comes just like a sunrise breaking up the darkness.
The Psalm, too, was chosen for its positive image of the end of time. “The Lord is coming, coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” Again the emphasis is not of the scariness of the end of the world images that we sometimes see today, but the positiveness of it for those of us who are faithful believers.
It is only by chance if the middle reading has anything to do with the theme of the day and today we don’t luck out on that account. It has nothing to do with last days, but with today only. But it is important because it shows us how we can be the faithful Christians that will be saved on the last day. Apparently in some of the early communities where they were living together and sharing their food and incomes, there were a few who were taking advantage of that and lolling around and not providing any support for the others. I her this from people today about the handouts we give to people – that they are just lazy – and they wouldn’t need handouts if they just got up and worked. That bothers me because it is making the issue black and white and it is a very grey issue. Paul is a bit black and white, too when he says “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” But we must realize that he is addressing this to those people who could be working but choose to live in idleness as he puts it. Paul actually puts a great deal of worth in a person’s occupation and in my Psychology course, one of the things we are constantly told is that a person’s occupational vocation is essential to happiness. Paul wasn’t far off in that.
By the Gospel, though, we are back to the last days. This topic is brought about by the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple. Jesus has now arrived in Jerusalem. His own death is immanent and he is drawn to musings about life and death with his followers. Some of his followers were awed by the beauty and the majesty of the temple, which leads Jesus to predict that it was going to be destroyed. This, of course, shocks everyone and they throw questions at him, much as we do today about predictions: when, how, why, how soon?
Now it is unclear, at least to me, whether Jesus’s answer to the questions is referring to the destruction of the Temple or that destruction leads him to generalize or enlarge the picture to apocalyptic size and talk about the destruction of the world. He doesn’t transition from the Temple destruction, yet people have always taken this as Jesus description of the end of times, probably because it is similar to Matthew’s Gospel which is more specifically the end of times.
But Jesus talks about the three signs: false messiahs appearing who falsely give times and places to the destruction; wars and international upheavals; and natural disasters, all of which are worldwide. But Jesus does not dwell on that. He doesn’t make the big thing of it that so many fundamentalists do. Instead, Jesus moves quickly to what will happen to his followers before this time. There will be persecutions, and there will also be great fear and stress about what is going on. It will be difficult to remain faithful to Christ because doing Christ’s work will lead some to be imprisoned, tortured or killed. Families may break apart, friends will desert you. This certainly happened in the early church, and sometimes even happens today.
But then there seems to be a discrepancy. Jesus says, “But not a hair of your head will perish.” Oops. Did Jesus get that wrong? A lot of early Christians perished in the persecutions.
But, no, he didn’t get it wrong because he wasn’t talking literally here, he was talking metaphorically about the soul as we see into least line, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” There is more to us than just our bodies. There is a spirit, a soul, a part of us that never dies, and that is what will triumph and become part of Jesus’s glorification that we will focus on next week as we celebrate the last feast of the Church year – the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe.
How can we take these readings and apply them today in the here and now. First, don’t be bothered by all the apocalyptic talk and false prophets who are always predicting the worst. It will happen when it happens. We need to live in the here and now and do our best to live Christ’s message faithfully. If we do that we don’t need to worry about the end of days – whenever that might be. Use the everyday things to remind you of Christ. Treat your occupation as a path to Christ and find ways to bring Christ into your workplace. Do the best you can in your work and try to do the work that strengthens you and not pulls you down. I was excessively fortunate to be in a job that i loved for 47 years. Not all people can say that, but that should be the goal and it should be a fulfilling way to happiness. If it isn’t, maybe you need to look at things and change what you do. Not always possible, I know, but let’s look at it as a goal. Meanwhile, living a truly Christian life every day, thanking God once a week at Mass, finding ways to help your church and community – this is what is important, not fear of an event we can never predict.
This is the Good News surrounding the bad news for the unfaithful. God bless.