Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading Malachi 3:19–20
Psalm Psalm 98:5–9
Second Reading 2 Thessalonians 3:7–12
Gospel Luke 21:5–19
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
Reading the Word
See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
2 Thessalonians 3:7–12
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Hearing the Word
“Waiting for Dawn”
As the Church’s Liturgical Year draws to a close, today’s readings focus on the concluding events of history and the dawn of a new creation.
The prophet Malachi was active after the Israelites returned from the Babylonian exile, rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple and restored their desolate country. Yet, all was not well, as religious zeal and adherence to God’s Law gave way to religious indifference and assimilation to the pagan culture of the Persian Empire which ruled over Judah at that time. Malachi worked to rekindle this missing religious fervour by looking to the future and God’s approaching intervention, which he called “the day of the Lord”. This will be the day of judgment when God will restore harmony and peace in the world.
Today’s short oracle has two parts. First, Malachi speaks about God’s response to the wicked. The present age was negatively affected by the arrogance and wrongdoing of many Israelites. Employing the image of fire, the prophet described the purging of these evils from among God’s people. Both the root and the branch of evil will be burnt, which implies the destruction of the source and the fruit of wickedness. Thus, evil will be permanently erased from the world and from history.
The second part describes God’s response to the righteous. The righteous “fear God’s name”. Their reverence for God’s name shows itself through strict obedience to God’s law and by piety. The prophet describes God as “the sun of righteousness” which will shine its healing rays upon the righteous. God will rise above his people like a bird with outstretched wings –
this symbolizes God’s protection. God’s healing touch and protection will bring an exuberant life to the righteous, who will “leap like calves”. This is an image of joy and youth, of boundless energy. Through contrasting images of destruction with those of exuberant life, Malachi sought to combat the religious indifference of his fellow Israelites, and to rekindle their religious zeal, as they waited for the dawn of a new era which God, the Israel’s rising sun, will bring about.
The Thessalonian community were suffering from the effects of a distorted teaching about Christ’s return, introduced by some teachers who were rivals to Paul. This led some crafty community members to conclude that they did not have to do anything other than sit and idly wait for that great day. However, since they still needed to have their basic needs met, they took advantage of the generosity of their fellow Christians, and lived off what others provided.
Paul opposed such behaviour in the strongest terms. First, he evoked his own example, how he lived among the Thessalonians earning his own bread through daily toil. Even though he was an apostle, entitled to the community’s support, he took no advantage of this privilege but lived an honest and self-supporting life. Not only did he invest his time and energy in teaching and proclaiming the Gospel, but he sustained himself and provided for his own needs. He did so in order not to burden anyone and make his apostolic work even more credible.
Paul then addressed the idlers’ unacceptable behaviour by issuing a strict command that those who did not work should not eat. This was not an injunction against charity, but a measure aimed at those deceitful members who lived a life of pretence and scheming, acting as “busybodies” to get what they needed without doing any meaningful work. Paul sought to protect the genuine and hardworking Christians against abuse and manipulation by their deceiving brethren. While waiting for the return of Christ and the dawn of a new world, Thessalonian Christians ought to live disciplined and honest lives according to the example set by their founder, Paul.
The Gospel passage contains Luke’s second reference to the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. 19:43-44). This tragic event took place in 70 AD and forever changed both Jews and Christians. The Jewish people lost their Temple, while Christians lost access to the place where Jesus died and rose from the dead. Earlier in the Gospel, Luke explained that this tragedy came as a result of rejection of Jesus as God’s Son and Saviour by his contemporaries (cf. Luke 19:43-44). In today’s passage Luke presents Jesus’ warnings about this coming tragedy and how Jesus prepared his disciples for what was to follow. Jesus began by stating that the beautiful and splendid Temple will be turned into rubble, before proceeding to answer the disciples’ query about the signs that would precede it. First, false Messiahs would appear, there would be wars, rebellions, and worldwide conflict. These man-made disasters will be accompanied by natural disasters such as earthquakes, famines and plagues.
Jesus then went into some detail describing the fate of the disciples. They would be singled out for persecution and imprisonment by the Jewish leaders and tried in the synagogues. They would also face persecution from the Roman imperial authorities, kings and governors. Moreover, they would be betrayed and hated by some members of their own families because of their allegiance to Christ.
With these words, Jesus painted a frightening and troubling picture of what the future holds for the disciples. Luke reported Jesus’ words in detail because, writing some fifty years later, he knew that those words had come true, and the first generations of Christians had experienced exactly what Jesus had said they would.
Jesus also left his disciples with clear instructions on how to confront this difficult future. First, they would have to rely on the support and guidance of Jesus. He would be with them and enable them to speak with wisdom infused by the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 12:11-12). He continued with the assurance that despite facing death, they are safe in the long run. Enduring in faith will ensure that despite the destruction that surrounds them and the death that threatens them, their souls will remain safe. Persevering in faith while waiting for the return of Jesus will ensure that their bodies and souls will experience Jesus’ healing and restoration. The statements, “not a hair of their head will perish”, refers to the preservation of their bodies, while “gaining your souls” speaks of preservation of their souls. God’s salvation which they will experience through Jesus will be a wholistic restoration of their bodies and souls. This salvation is like a new dawn for which the disciple should wait while journeying through the destruction and persecutions of this world.
This Sunday’s liturgy is filled with hope for a new beginning for humankind. Malachi envisioned a complete transformation of reality through utter destruction of the roots and effects of evil, and the restoration of the righteous by God’s healing light. Paul told the Thessalonians that the only acceptable manner of waiting for Jesus’ return is that of honest and self-sustaining work in a community of like-minded individuals. Jesus made no secret of the chaos, conflict, isolation and persecution that awaits his followers on this earth. However, Jesus also taught them that patient endurance, combined with attachment to himself, will lead to the salvation of their bodies and souls when he returns with the dawn of a new world. The Psalmist wrote about the wait for this dawn with joyful assurance and anticipation as he stated, “let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth.”
Listening to the Word of God
A teacher was faced with the daunting task of explaining to little children what happens after death. Knowing very well that theological clichés and philosophical expressions would depress rather than impress them, she sought another mode of explanation. As she lay down on her bed scanning through her mind for an appropriate methodology, her thoughts underwent a total eclipse of ideas. Suddenly, one bright idea popped up.
The next day, she went to class with some maize seeds and showed them to the children. They held the seeds in their hands and observed that they all looked alike. Then in the presence of the children, she planted some of the seeds on the right side of a raised bed garden and the remaining seeds on the left side of the same garden. She watered the seeds and asked the kids to take note of what would happen.
After a few days, the children observed that the seeds on the right side of the bed were shooting up whereas those on the left side had not surfaced. They waited for a few more days and still the seeds on the right kept growing, and those on the left did not “come to life”.
The teacher then said to the kids, “although all the seeds looked alike, not all of them had life in them” Unknown to the kids, the teacher had deliberately boiled some of the seeds before planting them. He continued, “for the seeds that had life in them, sprouting was not a problem. However, those seeds without life could not come out of the soil. In the same way, when there is life inside you, when you die you will resurrect but when the life inside you is dead, when you die, you cannot look forward to any resurrection. You will rot in that dark underworld.”
Life here on earth is transitory. Heraclitus is quoted as saying, “the only constant in life is change.” Every material thing, no matter how beautiful it may appear, has an expiry date. Yes, even the Jerusalem temple was razed down. Both good-mannered and bad-mannered people die. However, for those who revere the name of the Lord, “the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (Mal 3:20).
There is hope for a new beginning for all those who cherish the life of God in them. Our mortal beings will be transformed into immortality. The darkness of an unavoidable death bed can never hold back the dawn of the new day that awaits those who live out their faith in God to the full.
Living out our faith calls for patient endurance. It is a form of our waiting that determines our ling-term future. When our waiting is full of hope, committed work and love, then we rest assured that soon and very soon, a bright new dawn will come over us, ending the darkness of the grave.
“The only constant in life is change.”
How am I preparing for that day when the bright light of God’s presence will bring to the fore everything hidden in the dark?
Have I put my trust in fleeting material things at the expense of my faith in God? Do I have hope in the new creation that awaits men and women of genuine faith in God? .
Response to God
In hours of trial and persecution, I choose to remain in the presence of God. I will wait upon the Lord even if he appears to delay in coming to my aid.
Response to your World
I will choose not to allow my fears and insecurities to weaken my resolve to serve the Lord.
In a world engrossed in materialism, we need to proclaim the good news of a new life after death. In our group we will discuss how we can bring hope to our friends and relatives who fear death.
Eternal Father, teach me to count my days, so that I may apply my heart unto wisdom, and live my life in a manner pleasing to you. Grant this through Christ, our Lord. Amen
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.