We are pleased to share with you the reflection from the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time from Nov 12-13.
So, we’re already celebrating the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary time. Next Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, the end of our annual liturgical cycle. In the final weeks of each liturgical year, the church places before us a variety of so-called apocalyptic or end-times readings. These scripture texts tell us, first, that there will be an end to the human story on earth and secondly, and more importantly, they challenge us to consider how we should live in the meantime—a challenge that seems quite appropriate on this 6th World Day of the Poor.
It seems that predicting the future and the end of the world has been one of the most popular and persistent occupations through out human history. For example, who among us has not heard of Nostradamus—the 16th century French astrologer who has been credited for predicting many pivotal events in history including the French Revolution, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and even the COVID19 pandemic. According to Nostradamus, the world will end in 3797, so I think we’re all safe! Most of us will remember the predictions of the end-times as we approached the millennial year 2000. And, of course, there are almost innumerable sources today that interpret current events such as the war in Ukraine and other wars, the rise of the State of Israel, or natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods as signs of the Apocalypse when Jesus will return for Judgement Day.
Our passage today from the Gospel of Luke gives us an example from the first century. Luke depicts Jesus predicting the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, the central place of worship for the Jews. He speaks of wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues. His hearers ask him what will be the signs that this is about to happen. For them, it must have seemed that such destruction would surely signify the end of the world. In response to their questions, Jesus urges them not to worry about such signs and, instead, to focus on doing the will of God in their daily lives—to remain true to his name. He warns them that doing so will result in persecution and even death just at it did for him. But he promises that in this way they will gain their souls.
It is interesting to note that, at the time Luke wrote these verses, some 50 plus years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the destruction of the Jerusalem temple had already taken place. Evidently, those hearing Luke’s gospel message would have known this—and they knew that the world had not ended. Luke is reminding them—and us—in a very graphic way—of Jesus’ call to follow his example—to remain faithful even when everything seems to be falling apart. Perhaps especially when everything seems to be falling apart.
At first, as I read the passage from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians I was confused. It comes across a bit like a rant against the dangers of receiving something for nothing. Indeed, arguments like this have been used to support cuts to social welfare programs. However, it seems that Paul had a different problem in mind when he urged the Thessalonians to work and earn their own living. Apparently, some of the Thessalonians had been convinced by some false teachers that Jesus had already returned in the second coming. Since the day of the Lord had already come, there was no point working—they were celebrating in anticipation of being welcomed into heaven! Paul could see that this was not going to end well—he showed by word and example that it remained important to contribute as best we can in service of our neighbors, families and friends; to use our gifts and abilities to help one another and all members of God’s family, no matter what we’re hearing about end times—to build the kingdom of God here on earth and in this way to hasten the day of the Lord’s coming.
In this month of November as the church year comes to a close, we also remember our beloved dead. On Friday, we marked Remembrance Day when we remember and pray for all those who have served and those who have died in war. Six weeks ago, my friend Marthe died. In early summer, Marthe celebrated her 80th birthday, something that brought her a great deal of pleasure as both her parents had died at much younger ages. I only met Marthe about twenty years ago, shortly after we moved to Ottawa. Over time, I came to learn that she had experienced much suffering over her lifetime. Marthe never married and only once had a brief romantic relationship. Coming of age in the 1950s she completed a university degree but struggled to find a career. Her passions included music, painting, sketching and photography but her parents had pushed her into a commercial career. Eventually she became a free-lance translator, but she could seldom earn enough money to pay all her bills. Marthe suffered from chronic depression but easily saw beauty around her which she captured in her art. At her core, Marthe was a deeply sensitive and spiritual person and a faithful Catholic. In the last years of her life, as her body gradually failed her, Marthe was supported by a small network of friends, mostly drawn from her parish community to continue living independently in her apartment. My creative friend Marthe died poor in financial terms but rich in so many other ways; she died with a long list of unfinished projects, unfulfilled hopes, and dreams—but it seemed to me she died peacefully in the knowledge that she had done her best to listen and respond to God’s call. Many might say that Marthe’s life was unremarkable. For my part, I feel almost certain that the prophet Malachi’s words “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness shall shine with healing in its wings” were written for her.
On this 33rd Sunday of Ordinary time and this World Day of the Poor, I invite all of us to pray that we too might be faithful to God’s call in our lives to help build God’s kingdom. And let us pray that the prophet’s words “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness shall shine with healing in its wings” were written for us too.
November 13, 2022