Reflection on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
I recall when I was in fourth or fifth grade saying goodbye to my friends because the world was supposed to end the next day. None of us took it seriously and had a good laugh the next morning when we were all still there.
Remember the beginning of this century when dire predictions were voiced about what was going to happen on the first night of 2000? There were those who laughed and others who took it very seriously.
I wonder what people thought when they heard Jesus deliver his message as told in today’s Gospel reading. Did they take it seriously? Should we take it seriously? All we have to do is look around us to see that these predictions are happening now — earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, violence and so on. Is the end time here now? Not likely. Every era since the time of Jesus has experienced similar things. Some people have and will continue to take the prophecy literally, but in doing so, they will miss the whole intent of the message. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
This is reason for our hope. The kingdom is being built in spite of our own failed efforts or concerns. Teilhard de Chardin predicted that it would take centuries to complete the work of establishing the kingdom of God on earth. We are obviously slow learners.
Today’s Gospel is attributed to Luke, who was writing not as these words were being spoken, but 10 or 20 years later when many of the predictions had already taken place. The people had already experienced the destruction of the temple and the ravaging of Jerusalem itself. They had already experienced persecution and terrible suffering. They had experienced conflict of belief with even family members turning on one another.
The destruction of the temple was a pivotal event in the lives of those early Judeo-Christians. In Jewish history, the temple was the dwelling place of God, and Jerusalem was their holy city. When the temple and the city were destroyed, did that mean that God was no longer present? Gradually, through their suffering, they learned that God had not abandoned them, that they were able to endure their hardships because they experienced God’s presence sustaining them: “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for l, myself, will give you wisdom. . .”
Are the people of the Ukraine able to trust that God is still with them in the midst of the terrible violence and destruction of their people and beloved homeland? Their extraordinary resilience leads me to believe that they do trust that God is with them. What about the people in Sudan and Somalia, who are dying of starvation? Can a mother, holding her dying child in her lap trust in God?
Personally, I think I have been more aware of God’s presence in my life when the really hard things were happening — my brother’s sudden death, for example. Somehow, underneath all the turmoil and grief, there was an awareness that we were not alone. Did the early Christians feel that when in absolute terror, they were brought to the arena to be thrown in with wild animals in order to provide entertainment for their fellow citizens?
The God who gave us life will never abandon us. As the psalm says: even though a mother abandon her child, l, your creator, will never abandon you. I know that there is great concern about the lies and as a consequence, the violence in our country right now. Can we trust that even at our worst, our God is still there loving us unconditionally? Can we maintain and spread that hope to our friends and neighbors who are worried about the future?