33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
Yesterday, while walking down to the bus station, I was thinking about the picture painted by the readings of this Sunday. And suddenly the image of those trees above caught my attention which made me to take a quick shot of them. Evidently the leaves are drying up and losing their hold from the trees as a result of the advent of winter. But then I asked myself; is there any other meaning that could be read into them more than just a seasonal effect? This made me to see in them an image of ending glorious days and fading beauties; a perfect expression of the mortality and finitude of everything which is the central message of today’s Liturgy of the Word, especially the Gospel.
As we approach the end of this liturgical year, it reminds us that the dawn of each day is an added opportunity, and its dusk brings us closer to our end. Since the warning has become serious, we are expected to give an urgent response.
Malachi is the very last book of the Old Testament. The last part of his prophesy contains God’s promise to send Elijah the prophet to bring reconciliation to his people (3: 23-24). This promise will be fulfilled in John the Baptist, the precursor of Jesus. He will serve as a link between the Old and New Testament as we will see it present in the first pages of the New Testament (Mt 3:1-2).
The message of Malachi (515-458 B.C) came during the period post-Babylonian exile as a warning against the relaxed moral life and religious impiety of the people. He warns them about the anger of Yahweh over the desecration of his sanctuary and their marriages with pagans (2:11). The priests were not excluded from the warning since they failed in their responsibility (2: 1-9).
Today, the prophet reminds the house of Israel about the coming of the day of the Lord. It will be a day of total destruction of evil and the wicked: “…leaving them neither root nor branch.” But for those who have remained faithful, even though they may have passed through the furnace of the wicked, the Lord will set over them the sun of justice which will bring healing to them with its ray.
Jesus is that sun of justice, the perfect gift of the Father to those who believe in him. And at his appearing those who are wounded in this life will receive their healing.
The message of Parousia was a stumbling block for many Christians in Thessalonica. They did no longer find reasons in daily commitment to work and service in the community since they thought that there was a small time left before the second coming of Christ.
However St. Paul has this particular attention to the community of Thessalonica because it was the first community that received his very first letter (50 A.D) among others. And as a father and a pastor, he did not waste time to warn them on the danger of idleness which has led some of them into gossips. He exhorts them on the virtue of work as an expression of their Christian life.
God is the model of work (through creation and governing of creation). Jesus affirms this when he told the Jews, “My Father is always at work, and I am at work too” (Jn 5:17).
Like the Christians of Thessalonica, St. Paul reminds us of the beauty and necessity of work and the need to keep ourselves busy by faithfully discharging our duties in every sector of life we find ourselves. For it is in these places that we can actively bear witness to Christ through our lives as we wait in Hope for the second coming of Jesus.
The literally style of today’s Gospel suggests that Luke’s Gospel constitutes the Corpus of the early Christians’ apocalyptic writings. Apocalyptic writings use symbols to paint pictures of future events; and these pictures often generate fear in the mind of the readers. However, they are meant to encourage persecuted Christians that God is in control of history and that the wicked will certainly be punished at his own time.
Today Luke locates Jesus and his disciples in the Temple of Jerusalem.
The very first Temple of Jerusalem was constructed by Solomon (957 B.C) according to God’s promise to David (2 Samuel 7:1-13). This Temple was later destroyed when the Babylonians attacked Judah and carried many into exile in 587 B.C. At the return of the people from exile, during the reign of Zerubbabel, the Temple was reconstructed (537-516 B.C), and the city walls rebuilt under the supervision of Nehemiah (Neh 2:17-20; 3; 7; 12:27). Many centuries later, King Herod the Great, a man of thirst was not so much pleased with the architectural physique of the Temple. Thus around 20 B.C, he decided to restructure the original edifice into a magnificent one decorated with expensive ornaments. This is the Temple that Luke speaks of as being admired by the disciples of Jesus today.
He pointed out how they were immersed in material and physical beauty. And this for him served as an impulse to Jesus’ teaching to them about the eternal beauty. Thus what started as a mere architectural admiration ended up in a prophetic and eschatological warning?
In the verse 6 of this passage, Jesus spoke about the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem which will eventually come to fulfillment in 70 A.D (by the Romans). Earlier on, he had ironically spoken of the destruction of his body as the destruction of the Temple (Jn 2:19). This suggests a great connection between Jesus and the Temple. First, according to the Gospels it was at the same moment of the immolation of the lamb in the Temple that Jesus died on the Cross (Mt 27:45-54), and the veil of the Temple was torn into two (Mt 27:51). Few year after his death, the Temple of Jerusalem suffered ruin, and this will be the last Temple to be made mention of, because Christ has become the Eternal High Priest ministering in the Eternal Temple (Heaven). Hence, Jesus called the attention of his disciples to move from admiring beauty of the earthly Temple that does not last to admiring the Eternal Temple. John who was among the admirers of this magnificent ornamented Temple would capture the beauty of the Eternal Temple of Jerusalem (the Holy City) in a similar decorative language (Revelation 21:1-27).
However, before arriving at this Eternal Temple, Jesus tells his disciples that this physical world must first come to an end, and its end will be characterized by catastrophic manifestations. This will include the rise of the kingdom of darkness, false prophets and the persecution of believers. But then, Jesus concludes his teaching by assuring them that in all these, He will never abandon those who believe in him (Lk 21:15); he will make sure that not even a single hair of their head will be lost (Lk 21:18). In this second part of the teaching of Jesus, Luke presents persecution as a necessary path for the disciples to give good testimony to Christ (Lk 21:13) which will win them salvation (Lk 21:19).
What a beautiful message from Luke! And it is important to highlight that the redaction of the Gospel was placed around the first century dates after 70 A.D. It is most probably a little while after the destruction of Jerusalem, and when the wave of persecution was already strong. Thus it is Luke’s affirmation of the fulfillment of the prophetic message of Jesus and as well a consolation to the persecuted Christians that what they are passing through had earlier been prophesied by Christ. However his end note message is that God will never abandon them in their suffering as long as they remain faithful.
What do we admire?
- The experience of the disciples of Jesus is also our experience. How often have we stopped noticing the presence of Jesus because we are carried away by ephemeral beauty that the world presents to us? Jesus calls us today not to waste so much time on earthly beauties because sooner or later they will fade away; our beautiful homes, our magnificent church buildings, our exorbitant living, all our structures, our titles, authorities, and influences are momentary. Conscious of this, let us not stop gazing at the ‘Eternal Beauty’ (God) and the ‘Eternal Edifice’ (Heaven).
- Reliving the message of Luke today: It is interesting to see that the Gospel of Luke written over 2000 years ago is very much alive in our days. Today we have uncountable false prophets around us and very close to our doors and streets. And some of us may have fallen into their trap. We are equally living witnesses of catastrophic situations of wars and revolutions and of persecution of Christians around the world. Luke calls us to be sure that we are already living this tragic moment, and that the life of each one of us is a fullfillment of the message of Christ either as ‘catastrophe’ against others or as victim. If we are persecutors of others, then Malachi says that we will not go unpunished and for those who are persecuted for just course, they will receive a ray of healing.
- When will the last day be? Every given day of our lives is a possible last day. As we go to bed and plan for the activities and achievements of the next day, so should we plan for the next day as if it’s our last. The invitation today is that, as we wait for the last day when all things will be subdued in God and God will be all in all (1 Co 15:28), we must not fail to see each passing day in the light of that final day.
Fr. A. Francis HGN