33 Sunday of the Year C
Ml 3:19-20a; 2 Thes 3:7-12; Lk 21:5-19
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’ Cycle C, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong. It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2009 and republished in Viet Nam 2012. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand.
However, if readers like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar, it would be greatly appreciated by the author whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
The liturgy of the word at the end of the liturgical year presents before our mind the prospect of the coming of Christ on the last day. Selecting a passage from the book of Malachi, the Church wants to remind us of the day of the Lord, when God vindicates his people and when the sun of justice will shine on those who fear his name (Ml 3:20). The gospel today uses warning signs such as wars and insurrections (Lk 21:9, earthquakes, famines, plagues and awesome sights and mighty signs (c. 10), making us think that the end of the world is at hand.
Discussing the last day, scripture writers (Book of Daniel, parts of Ezekiel’s, Book of Revelation, and the eschatological parts of the Gospel of Matthew, Mark and Luke) often used a kind of apocalyptic language. That is a symbolic language or patterns of thought, difficult to understand about the last day, referring to disasters in the universe such as wars, earthquakes, hurricanes and floods, causing destructions and deaths.
Images of destruction which the scripture authors used to talk about the last day had already happened somewhere in the world, not necessarily would happen in the future. The apocalyptic literature was supposed to be written before a disaster that would happen, to give a warning sign to readers, but actually written after a certain disaster had already happened. The last day was described in an apocalyptic image in the Book of Malachi: For lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven (Mal 3: 19) and in symbolic image: The sun of justice with its healing rays (Mal 3:20).
Thus, images of destruction in the apocalyptic literature are not referred to events happening in the future. In other words, apocalyptic literature is not aimed to predict the future. The meaning of the apocalyptic language is aimed to warn those hearers and readers that there will be the last day, and God will triumph. That is what will happen and what the Christian must believe. When the last day comes, things do not necessary happen, as the apocalyptic language described.
The use of the apocalyptic language has the only purpose of warning those who do not care or those who care only about worldly things . Thus, it does not mean that when wars, earthquakes and disasters happen, then the last day will be at hand. The temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. We ourselves might have witnessed wars, earthquakes, disasters, and we are still alive and the world still exists. Therefore, God’s word in the apocalyptic language in today’s Gospel is to remind the faithful of the last day. It is the day, described in the apocalyptic image in the Book of Malachi: Blazing like an oven (Ml 3:19) and in a symbolic image: The sun of justice (Ml 3:20a).
However, when disasters occur, it is not necessarily that the last day will end. Saint Paul pointed out that mistake of the Thessalonians. Many Thessalonians thought the end of the world would be imminent. Therefore, they just hang around, eating, drinking, and doing nothing and they were chastised by Saint Paul: We enjoin all such and we urge them strongly in the Lord Jesus Christ, to earn the food they eat by working quietly (2Thes 3:12). That was a pessimistic and unrealistic viewpoint.
A number of Christian denominations think in that fashion also. Some Christian denominations predicted the end of the world would come in a particular year of their lifetime. When the year passed by and nothing happened, they proposed another date for the end of the world. Just before we entered the third millennium, people heard sensational news from false prophets and doomsday preachers and spread by the mass media, saying some certain disasters would occur and the end of the world would come in the year 2000. Hearing the news, some people bought and stocked a lot of holy water and many candles in preparation for the end of the world. They rushed to get holy water to sprinkle and to buy candles to light on those days which they thought would be dark days (Jl 2:10; Jl 4:15; Mt 24:29; Mk 13:24). Jesus tells us in today’s gospel: Do not follow them (Lk 21:8).
As Christians, we believe Jesus will come at the end of time as we proclaim at mass after the consecration: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. The second coming of Christ is the object of our Catholic faith. In all of his discourses on the last day, Jesus never implied the time for the last day. The end of the world can be understood as the last day of our lives on earth or the last day of the world. If we understand the last day as the last day of our lives, then the last day is our death, the day God calls us from this life to come before the tribunal of judgment. When the last day of our lives or the last day of the world comes to an end, and how it ends, is not important to us. What important is we be prepared for that day.
While we live in the time after the coming of Christ into our human history and before his coming in glory to sum up history, we are not supposed to ignore the present. If we are to be true to ourselves, we must realize that there is still time to grow in faith and in spirituality and to grow in our relationship with God.
With faith, we must consider natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, flood and man-made disasters such as wars, accidents, terrorist attacks, causing destructions in millions of dollars and deaths to thousands of lives as signs, that God might want to tell us something. Perhaps God wants to tell us to prepare our souls ready to come before his judgment throne because we do not know when we have to face death, the final day of our lives on earth.
Prayer for not forgetting to prepare for the last day:
Prayer for not forgetting to prepare for the last day:
Oh Lord our God, you are the beginning and end of all living things.
You hold our destiny in your hands.
Teach me how to prepare my soul before you.
And show me how to live each day
as the last day of my life
so that I may live in grace and peace with you. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong
1. Referred to Stuhlmueller, Carrol. ‘Post-exilic Period: Spirit, Apocalyptic’ in Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice – Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 1968. Sections 20:21-24