Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Running with the Lord
I was in Publix this week, and I noticed that they were selling Christmas stuff, cookies, ornaments, etc. Then I got back to the office to learn that our parish Christmas cards have just come in. Discouraging isn't it?
Two weeks from now the season of Advent will begin. That's when the most important preparation begins. That is the preparation for celebrating the spiritual becoming physical. Since Advent is about the two comings of Christ, in Bethlehem and at the end of time, the readings this week and next week, the Solemnity of Christ the King, eases us into Advent by speaking about the Second Coming and the end of the world.
We begin with the prophecy of last Book of the Hebrew scriptures, Malachi. The prophet who called himself Malachi or God's messenger, wrote about 450 years before Christ. He concealed his identity because he leveled some sharp reproaches against the Temple priests and leaders of the people. The people had fallen into religious indifference. They had compromised their faith and taken on immoral lifestyles. Still, their lives flourished. They were very much like many modern day Americans. So many people, so many times we, fall into religious indifference. It is not that we reject God, we just tend to ignore Him. Perhaps we have too much, too much to distract us from remembering much we need God. To all who are tempted to just go along with the immoral lifestyle that surrounds us and smothers us Malachi says:
"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."
In today’s Gospel, from Luke, Jesus speaks directly about the end of time. He uses apocalyptical language, the language of the Book of Revelation. This is a language that is somewhere between prose and poetry. It is meant to stir up emotions, to get people involved. Jesus looks at the Temple. The Gospel of Luke began in the Temple with the story of the annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist to John's father, Zachary, a Temple priest, as he offered incense in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the Temple. The Temple was the place that Simeon and Anna rejoiced at the Birth of Jesus and prophesied about his life and death. Jesus was found in the Temple as an adolescent. In the Gospel of Luke the Temple is the sight for Jesus' final teachings, of which today's gospel is a central part.
The Temple was the joy of the People of Israel. Its stones were inlaid with jewels. The disciples marveled at it. Jesus wept. He said it would be torn down, as it was in the year 70 AD. There is a section of the Temple still standing. It’s called the Wailing Wall. People still go there and mourn the fate of the Jewish people, and the fate of all who are persecuted. (By the way, the Wailing Wall is actually not a wall, but a support structure, part of the foundation.)
Jesus told the disciples that the Temple would be torn down because all material things come to an end sooner or later. Then the disciples asked the big question, the question that so many people want to know: When? Every year self- proclaimed prophets come out of the woodwork telling people that they have an answer to this question. Every year newspapers carry advertisement from materialistic self- proclaimed prophets with supposed reasons why the world is coming to an end in a few days, months or years. Of course, to help them get the word out they leave an address where donations to support this "ministry" can be sent.
When? Everyone wants to know when. No one wants to hear what Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew 24:36: "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
“So,” Jesus says in today's Gospel, “Don't fall for anyone telling you when the end of the world is coming: whether it is a priest or a preacher, a self-proclaimed prophet or a spiritual writer, don't fall for it.” There are many people out there who try to take advantage of you. They will stir you up to paying big bucks to help ensure your salvation. The only thing you will be ensuring is that they meet next month's payment on their Bentleys. As soon as you hear the words, "The time is now!" remember Jesus' words in today's Gospel, 'Don't follow them." As soon as you hear someone say that his or her followers will be saved from the final destruction of the world, avoid them like the plague. Jesus says, "For many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them. They will mislead you."
Jesus absolutely refuses to say when the end of time will come. All he will tell us is that there are signs of the end. Wars and insurrections are typical and bound to happen, but the end will not follow these immediately. Jesus says "there will be earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven." Does he mean the nuclear bomb? Perhaps, perhaps not. Jesus' point is that his true followers should not be concerned about when the end is, they should only be concerned that they are ready for the end so they can take it in stride.
And that is what is at the heart of the apocalyptical predictions of the end of time. We need to have a lifestyle that is a continual stride to the Lord. I used to run long distance races, and I used to coach high school cross country and distance runners. Any distance runner or coach will tell you, you don't reach your goal of a fast time or winning an award with a sudden burst of speed at the beginning of the race and a huge sprint at the end, but only running evenly through most of the race. You need a constant strong stride. It is the same regarding our lives. We achieve our goal with the constant steady pace towards God. It is pace, the Christian lifestyle that puts us in the position to win the spiritual award.
Yes, the world will come to an end, but we have no cause for panic. Only those who ignore the Lord, the people Malachi spoke to in his day and in our day, people of religious indifference and immoral lifestyles, need to panic. The rest of us should just ask ourselves: Is my pace good? Am I striding towards my God? Do I need to pick up the pace a little bit particularly through confession and a renewed prayer life. Am I ready for the end?
We conclude the Our Father with “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” What we are asking is for God to run with us and keep us from being so overwhelmed by the sin around us that we give in. And so we pray that He deliver us from evil.
Today we pray for the courage to put God first in our lives and to make him the goal of our existence. May we always run with the Lord.