18 November, 2012 –– 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Daniel 12:1–3 / Hebrews 10:11–14, 18 / Mark 13:24–32
Thinking About The World (as we know it)
We live in a hard and frightening world. We usually try to avoid thinking about that. We give our attention to distractions that give us pleasure (or at least keep us busy). We can even perpetuate the mirage that our day-to day lives are relatively secure.... until something painful comes so close that it intrudes and shatters what we thought was our comfortable reality.
I do senior care and home Communions fairly regularly, and I am reminded of what Time has in store for most of us. I see people fighting cancer. I work with families who have recently lost a loved one. Libby and I are closely following the reports from a ministry acquaintance whose recently-born daughter has been diagnosed with abnormal brain development; the hopes of these young parents have been vastly altered apart from a divine miracle.
On a broader scale we stress over social and political issues that seem to threaten us. The news from the Middle East right now is quite foreboding. (Isn’t this an encouraging start to a homily!?) Life in this world is hard. I think of my grandchildren and the huge issues it seems they will face. We want some word of comfort and hope.
There are two ways to seek hope. One can give some immediate relief, but is no real hope at all –– it’s the human tendency to find pleasurable distraction. The “world” offers us all kinds of lies that provide distractions, but the relief we feel is not real. Our spirits can be anesthetized so that we do not sense the disaster around us. That is not so comforting.
The second way to seek hope is by taking a realistic look at two things: first, the true nature of this world, and second, what God has said and done about it. I’ve already said enough about the true nature of this world. It is often hard and painful.
BUT.... God has told us –– and shown us –– that this world does not have the last word. The whole biblical story is one of God breaking into a hard and painful world with signs of life and hope. The signs are partial and incomplete because God wants us to learn to trust him.... to develop a spiritual life that is not so focused on and affected by the substitutes for God that our broken world offers us.
Think about the circumstances that surround the word of hope God gives Daniel: a time unsurpassed in distress. And yet in the midst of that, your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book (the Book of Life mentioned in the NT book of Revelation).
There is a reason for this hope, and the writer of the Hebrews letter explicitly tells us what God has done through the death of Jesus Christ: by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated. As we give ourselves in faith to Jesus (consecrated life –– it’s not only for the vocationally religious; we are all called to be saints) we can have hope that we have been given a perfect atonement for our sins.
In this 13th chapter of Mark’s Gospel Jesus is honest with his disciples about the nature of life in this world, especially for people who give a priority to spiritual faithfulness –– being consecrated to Jesus. There are awful things in this chapter of Mark’s Gospel. I have my own fears as I think about these things, and I pray for the strength to be faithful.
Still, Jesus told his disciples what is someday going to happen –– the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.... he will send his angels to gather his elect from the ends of the earth (v26,27). Yes, terrible things happen; that is the kind of world we live in. And there is little we can do to stop it. Wars happen, accidents and tragedies come, sometimes God’s people are persecuted (even horribly)... the list goes on. But these things do not have the last word.
For God's people, these things are reminders of a greater reality: this world will not always be this way. Someday Jesus will return and make it new, but until then the devil and all his hellish demons will fight like crazy to keep the world the way it is now –– and to try to distract us. Jesus gives his disciples these words to help us understand what is happening around us, and to know how to respond in the midst of hard things.
How shall we respond to a world that is falling apart? The invitation is always the same: open our hearts to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This world is passing away; his kingdom is forever. As the world around us crumbles, God's word is sure. All of us look to something for security and hope. In the readings today we are encouraged to fix our eyes on Jesus. May the Lord give us eyes to see....