The news in most TV and newspapers throughout the week reads, earthquakes in the Philippines, flood in Venice, catasthropic bush fires in NSW, Australia, volcanic eruptions in Russia, melting glaciers in Iceland, deforestation in the Amazon, haze in Indonesia …
Jesus, in the gospel of today’s 33rd Sunday in ordinary time, also depicts the future events from one catastrophe to another, both human-made and natural:
Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”
Today, the world is faced with crises every bit as bad as apocalyptic literature might suggest. Real threats of unrecoverable climate changes, economic crises that more than wreck people’s lives, war and violence that continue to kill thousands of people. A fifth of the world’s population lives in absolute poverty. About three billion people lack adequate nutrition. There are somewhere between one billion and two billion unemployed adults in the world. More than half of the countries of the world have used violence against their own citizens in the form of torture, brutality, and summary executions.
In the midst of all these crises and tribulations, those with power, wealth and position continue to reign. Their power and influence continued to grow stronger, while the vast majority of the common tao remain poorer and powerless every day.
This will be reversed at the end of times. In the first reading, the prophet Malachi warns that the day of the Lord is coming which will spell doom for all the arrogant and evildoers. But for those who fear the name of God, that day will mean vindication and salvation, beautifully described as the rising of the sun of righteousness with healing in its wings.
But before this glorious salvation and vindication from the Lord, there will be hardships even persecution for Jesus’ disciples.
“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.”
The Lord, however, will give us the strenght and the courage to pass through these trials and difficulties. We only need to hold on to God’s power and guidance.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Each generation has witnessed the signs of the end times. Instead of obsessing about the end, however, the message of the readings today calls us to turn our attention to the present. We need to heed the message the biblical prophets in the scriptures has unceasingly proclaimed: “Repent!” It is a message that is very present-oriented; it is God’s will for the here and now.
The Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth once protested that for many Christians the last judgment had become a dire expectation of doom, whereas the New Testament Christians looked forward to “that day” with joy, waiting for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of the Lord (2 Pet 3:12).
Being attentive to the present means that we cannot just remain idle and passively wait for eternity. There is no need to stop fulfilling our daily duties, which is what some Christians in Thessalonica, in the second reading, were doing. They had stopped working, waiting for the end of the world, and preaching the same to others, confusing them and causing a lot of disturbance. Paul had to intervene and warn them in very strong words:
We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly
and to eat their own food.
The final days of the world are always right in front of us. The end is always near. This means that we must always be ready, be present to the signs and challenges of the times. There is never any time to waste. If we need to repent, now is the time. If we want to thank God, now is the time. If we need to forgive, now is the time.
Scriptures tell us, now is the day of salvation. Now is the time when the Lord is with us, bringing compassion and love. Every Sunday, in the Eucharist, we celebrate, the coming of the future fulfillment of the kingdom of God now.