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Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (2)
We modern people have our own ways of imagining the end of the world. We see asteroids coming from a distant part of space. Our earth choking on the fumes we find necessary for our modern way of life. Some people even imagine aliens coming in space saucers and occupying our planet. For over 50 years the idea of total nuclear destruction seemed to recede; but it has returned with the invasion of Ukraine. Such are some of our modern images. Of course, Covid gave us yet another threat.
Our Scriptures, as they near the end of the church calendar, typically turn to a kind of literature we call “apocalyptic.” The word actually means “reveal what is hidden” but we take it to mean the definitive end of everything. Jesus and his contemporaries were quite familiar with this kind of literature and speaking which our Gospel plainly shows us.
The idea of the end of the world is strange. One the one hand, wow, it’s terrifying to think about. On the other hand, what are we supposed to do about it? Some early Christians sat around most of the time, talking about the end of the world, but used that worry as an excuse to do very little. Should we run around and panic? Should we live paralyzed in fear?
Jesus takes an entirely different approach in the Gospels. “When you see these things happen, do not be terrified. Such things are bound to happen.” Rather, Jesus invites his disciples to look upon their lives as people filled with hope, people who cannot be shaken by fear. Our first reading sees the end of things as the coming of justice, the coming of the time when everything will be lit up by the sun of God’s justice.
When you think about our Catholic faith, it is one unending participation in the victory that Jesus has already won. Isn’t baptism our sharing in the death and the resurrection of Jesus? Aren’t the sacraments of marriage and holy orders ways to arrange life in order to serve and give ourselves, and, in this way participate in the fullness of life? Isn’t Anointing the sacrament when we anticipate God’s healing of all creation through the healing you and I receive in our lives? And Reconciliation states that we have already discovered God’s peace and reconciliation. We Catholics don’t panic; we rejoice in the victory which is constantly being given to us.
The second reading is a very sober one. Paul is talking about people who refuse to live the life they are called to live. Maybe they think that, because they are saved, they are no longer responsible for anything. Paul tells us, rather, to imitate him, a man completely filled with the belief of Christ’s Resurrection and victory and, for that very reason, a man able to dedicate his life to helping others experience Christ’s victory too.
These apocalyptic images that we have are not to frighten us into immobility nor paralyze us in terror. They are to point out the terms in which you and I live, that the moment we have here are important because of the way they anticipate the promised fullness of creation. We go about our daily lives and work not because they are pointless exercises. Rather, the moments we have are shaping that ultimate event when God is all in all.
We may not know how or when the world will end. But we certainly have been taught how to live in the meantime.
One day during Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem, he and his disciples walked by the gorgeous temple in the Holy City. Someone said in awe, (It could have been one of the disciples, or possibly a tourist passing by), we are not told explicitly who it was. “Look how beautiful the temple is! King Herod had built this enormous, ornate, cream-colored temple of stone and gold in order to appease the Jewish people for whom he had responsibility under the overall supervision of the Roman occupying legions. Tourists from all over the world came to see this unique building. Construction began in 19 BC, and the building proper was completed by 9 BC. The building was totally completed in 64 AD, six years before it was destroyed by the Romans under General Titus. But the day Jesus and his disciples walked by the temple, it was a thing of beauty.
While the disciples and other tourists admired the temple, they were shocked to hear Jesus say: “As for these things that you see, the day will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down”(21:6). The disciples had a hard time believing his words, and they asked him, “Teacher when will this be, and what will be the sign this is about to take place?” (21:7).
Jesus responded by saying many people will come in his name purporting to know when all this will happen, but don’t go after them Jesus warned. They will hear of wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines and plagues, and other dreadful things, but the end is not near yet. Then Jesus gave them instructions about how they should respond when brought before the authorities or even cast in prison. When the time came, they would be given words to say. He then spoke of Jerusalem under siege until the Son of Man appears and their redemption draws near. Part of his reply seems to relate to what happened in 70 AD when the Roman general Titus attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, but parts of it seemed to be of a later time. Whatever the setting, those who follow Jesus should prepare for that time by prayer, patience, witness, and by being alert at all times. Jesus’ disciples can be assured that no matter how severe persecution might be, in the end will be ultimate victory.
Chapter 21 in the gospel of Luke is a difficult chapter to interpret; it is usually considered to be an eschatological section. Eschatology is the study of “the last things.” The most eschatological book in the New Testament is the book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible. Such writings usually include an accent on symbolism, numbers, and other bizarre material.
The Jewish view of eschatology divides history into two categories: this age and the age to come. The main book in the Old Testament that has visions of the future is the book of Daniel. Other examples are eschatological writings, such as Enoch, the Ascension of Israel and Fourth Ezra which were written during the inter testament period, the four hundred years between the time the Old Testament ends and the New Testament period begins.
“The Day of the Lord” appears prior to “the age to come.” It would be a time of upheaval, war, and judgment. After this dreadful day would appear “the age to come” capturing all the dreams of Israel from the beginning of their covenant relationship with God.
The Christian understanding of “the last days” may be divided in three different views of the millennium — the thousand year period when Christ reigns with his people in ultimate victory. It should be pointed out that the term millennium or thousand year reign is only mentioned in Chapter 20 of the book of Revelation and yet much has been written about the details of this thousand year reign by Bible commentators that do not actually appear in the Bible itself.
Three principal views of this thousand year reign are called postmillennial, premillennial, and amillennial. As I explain each and I am sure that around here you have heard statements of most. I want you to pick what the view of the Catholic Church is,
The post-millennial view contends that Christ will come after the millennium begins. The kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel. The nineteenth century was the great century of Christian missions and also the increase of benevolent societies that began to reform a variety of social ills. Optimism was in the air. Many were looking forward to a golden age of one thousand years that would climax all their efforts. The weakness of this view was that such progress did not continue with two world wars in the next century and a giant economic depression in between, in the 1930s.
Jonathan Edwards, congregational pastor at Northampton, Massachusetts, and a leader of the Great Awakening, had a keen interest in “the last days.” He set forth the stages as he saw them: 1) Christ’s earthly ministry and crucifixion, ending in the destruction of Jerusalem and ‘bringing the church into the glorious state of the gospel’ ; 2) advancement of the church in Constantine’s time, to liberty from persecution; 3) the downfall of the antichrist, now being accomplished, by the advancement of the church to the ‘glorious prevalence and truth, liberty, peace, and joy which we had often read of in the prophetical parts of scripture.’”
The second view is premillennialism, this is the favorite of most evangelicals in our day. This view maintains that Christ will return “before” the millennium occurs. Although many attempts to reform society have been made by those of post millennial persuasion yet, premillennialists believe the world is getting worse and worse, and later the antichrist will take over. Only the dramatic return of Christ can bring about the golden age of one thousand years of peace here on earth.This particular view lends itself to so-called prophetic teachers setting dates when “the last days” will happen and even identifying the antichrist with certain people living in their day.
Premillennialism is a relatively late theory having been set forth by John Nelson Darby, an Englishman living in Ireland, who belonged to a small denomination known as the Plymouth Brethren whose church membership in America is about 85,000 members (Garrison Keillor, of Prairie Home Companion fame, was reared in the Plymouth Brethren church but is not now a practicing member.) Darby also applied various dispensations to his premillennialism; each dispensation had a particular title, according to Darby we are presently in the “church age” or sixth dispensation, a period marked by apostasy and the weakening of Christian morality. This period will be followed by the rapture when all saved Christians will ascend to meet Christ in the sky and be safeguarded from the Great Tribulation, a time of violence and death, to be followed by Christ’s thousand years of reign on earth and his last judgment of humankind. Darby’s views came to the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago became hotbeds of dispensational premillennialism. Even more so, in 1909 the Scofield Bible was published based upon the King James Version of the Bible, but containing in the margins the whole theory of dispensational premillennialism.
In the twentieth century advocates of this view included Hal Lindsey, Pat Robertson, and Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, the latter two co-authors of their highly successful Left Behind books and movies, both based on premillennialism. American church historian Sydney E. Ahlstrom notes that although adherents of this view claim to be literalists, dependence on highly debatable (not to say fanciful) interpretations of some obscure apocalyptic passages have led many to insist that its interpretation is anything but literal.
The third view of millennalism is what might be called amillennialism. This view regards the thousand years, like other numerals in Revelation as symbolic. The millennium does not refer to a literal one thousand years but a very long time stretching from the first coming of Christ to his second coming. This is a more “realistic” view, somewhere between the optimistic view of the postmillennialist view and the pessimistic view of the premillennial view. The millennialist theory assumes that good and evil will continue until “the last days” when Christ comes again to destroy the forces of evil forever and issue in the peaceable kingdom.
Which view do you think the Catholic Church holds: Postmillennalist, Premillennalist or Amillennalist. The answer is amillennialist which is a nice way of saying we don’t know
I heard of a group of theological students who were studying the gospel of Luke, Chapter 21 in the seminary gym when the custodian walked by, and they thought they would have a little fun with him. They told him the eschatological passage they were studying and wondered if he could help with the interpretation. The old man looked at the passage of scripture, and then without hesitation he gave them an answer. He said the passage said, “God wins!”
This would seem to be the underlying theme of Jesus’ eschatological teaching in chapter 21 of the gospel of Luke, as well as the central point of the book of Revelation. John, the author of the book, wrote in symbolic language so that the enemy, the Roman Empire, would not know what he was writing, but only those being oppressed on the mainland of Asia Minor would understand its meaning. The book was written to give hope that in the midst of their persecution, they would not give up and realize that in the end God would be victorious no matter how dark the day seems now. For us today, the same message holds true, Luke is convinced at the right time all things will be made right. We can count on it.
. Robert Raines, A Time to Live: Seven Tasks of Creative Aging, 160-161.
. Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America’s Millennial Role (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968), 200.
. Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, Volume 2 (Garden City, New York: Image Books, A Division of Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975), 281.
. Bruce Metzger, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 94-95.
Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)
Have you ever been in trouble? It’s no fun, is it. Maybe you got in trouble for picking on your brother or sister. Maybe you got in trouble for saying something that wasn’t true. Maybe you got in trouble for making a mess in the house. Nobody likes to get in trouble, do they? Did you know that bees can actually smell trouble? It’s true. If another insect or an animal gets too close to the beehive, the bees can smell it. There are certain bees, called the guard bees, that guard the entrance to the beehive. These guard bees have a kind of perfume in their bodies, and when they smell trouble, they release this perfume. The other bees in the hive smell this strange smell, and they know that it means trouble. So all the bees come flying out of the hive and start stinging the insect or animal that is bothering their hive. Once the guard bees warn them of trouble, all the bees get together and fight off the trouble together.
Our Bible passage today is about getting ready for trouble. Jesus warns the Jewish people that bad times are coming. Soon, the people will be caught up in wars and other bad stuff. The beautiful temple they worship in will be torn down. All kinds of bad things will happen to them. But Jesus tells them not to worry. God will be with them, and will help them if they will stay faithful to God. You see, Jesus knows trouble is coming, and He wants to warn the people. The only way for them to get through all their troubles is to have faith in God and count on Him to take care of them. Even today, the Bible tells us that we can count on God when we’re facing trouble. If we’ll just trust in God, He will help us through the hard times. Let’s pray and thank God for watching over us all the time.
I know they’re corny, but I love good news/bad news jokes. We laugh at them because of the element of surprise, but also because we can relate to the scenarios in them. They appeal to the cynic in us that just expects the world to operate in that order–good news, then bad news.
A young man phones up his dad at work for a chat.
Dad says, “I’m sorry, son, but I’m up to my neck in work today”
Son says, “But I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you, Dad.”
Dad says, “OK, but since I’ve got no time now, just give me the good news.”
Son says, “Well, the air bag works . . .” (1)
Or a gallery owner says to an artist, “I have some good news and some bad news.”
The artist asks, “What’s the good news?”
Gallery owner says, “The good news is that a woman came in here today asking if the price of your paintings would go up after you die. When I told her they would, she bought every one of your paintings.”
Artist says, “That’s great! What’s the bad news?”
Gallery owner says, “The bad news is that woman was your doctor!” (2)
In our Bible passage today, Jesus had to deliver some terrible news to his disciples. But he didn’t deliver it in the good news/bad news formula we’re accustomed to. Jesus told them the bad news first, but then he told them the good news—that God had already planned to help them persevere when events in the future became painful and chaotic.
Jesus and his disciples are standing in the Temple courts, and his disciples couldn’t help but remark on the beauty of this place. What did the disciples see when they looked at the Temple? The Temple courts sat on 36 acres of land. The giant stones that made up the Temple were dazzling, blinding white marble, and over some of the stones was gold plating that reflected the sunlight. From a distance, the whole complex must have looked like a glowing jewel. Up close, it probably seemed like the most impressive building in the Roman Empire. (4)
And Jesus has the sad task of telling his disciples that this magnificent center of Jewish life and faith was destined for destruction. This would be an event that would be more traumatic than the fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last spring, for the Temple was the center of the Jewish faith. And not only that, Jesus said, his followers would also experience persecution and violence because of their commitment to him. Life as they knew it was going to fall apart.
It’s always disorienting to think about how a Gospel passage is heard in different places. In the Philippines, for example, the words “not one stone upon another” will have a much more drastic feel than they can have here. And, of course, when we read this passage after the September 11, 2001, attacks, they carried a particular dread.
In verse 6, Jesus says, “As for what you see here. . .” Those are powerful words. It is so easy to put our faith . . . to anchor our hope . . . in the things we can touch and see in this world. It’s so easy to be impressed by appearances . . . by possessions . . . by symbols of security . . . even though some of these symbols are superficial and, in some cases, not even real.
Jesus knew that it is fear that motivates us to put our trust in things we can touch, things we can see, things we can own. It is fear that motivates us to put our trust in worldly power and physical possessions. We find security and significance in our homes and our church buildings, our appearance and our possessions. And worry leads us into chasing after any false prophet or guru who promises us security and significance.
Every year, hundreds of runners from all over the world compete in the Boston Marathon, a twenty-six-mile test of endurance and strength. Blue lines are painted on the pavement throughout the course to show the runners where the appropriate turns are.
One year, on the night before the race, a prankster painted some other blue lines, which would have led the runners into a dead end. Fortunately, the deception was discovered just before the race began, and the event was run on schedule. (6)
Just like runners following the wrong path to the finish line, Jesus knew that some of his followers could stray away from their faith under the pressure of persecution and suffering. Because fear and worry lead to an increased desire to control our lives. And an increased desire to control our lives in turn causes us to focus inwardly and become even more fearful and anxious.
The solution to fear is to trust God’s plan no matter what the future holds. Jesus said it beautifully in verse 14: “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.” That’s interesting, don’t you think? “Make up your mind not to worry beforehand . . .”
Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “All worry is atheism, because it is a want of trust in God.” (8)
Why is worry a form of atheism? Because it stems from a focus on earthly things, on security, on self-protection. Worry is rooted in a self-centered life.
From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he cast visions of a heavenly kingdom in which all people from all nations would find identity and security. The people of Jesus’ time took their identity and security from a magnificent Temple. Jesus took his teachings outside the Temple, into the streets and into the fields where the average Joes were just scraping by. He took his message to the lepers and the women, to the Samaritans and the tax collectors. In the Book of John, chapter 4, he shared a secret with a despised Samaritan woman. He told her that worship is no longer confined to the Temple. He told her “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
In our lesson for today, Jesus reminds us that all earthly things that we put our trust in will one day be destroyed. Because the kingdom of God is not something we can touch or see. It is the Spirit of God working in human hearts to bring about holiness and justice, righteousness and peace until the day that Jesus comes again. And before the Spirit of God can come alive in your heart, you have to die to yourself.
We are deceived if we place our trust in earthly kingdoms and temples built by human hands. So these things have to be destroyed in order for the kingdom of God to come. Jesus told his disciples that the majestic Temple would be torn down. Their fellow Jews, their loved ones, all those people that they trusted would turn against them and persecute them for their faith in him. Every earthly kingdom, every tangible thing in which they put their trust had to be torn away in order for them to know that the kingdom of God is the only sure foundation for their life—for it is eternal and it will never fail.
When we are surrounded by hard times and persecution, when all that’s tangible in our lives is falling apart, how can we keep from giving in to fear and running down dead ends?
Jesus says to see your suffering as an opportunity to witness to God’s truth. How would it change your life if you looked at every setback, failure, loss or heartbreak as an opportunity to witness to God’s goodness and faithfulness? More importantly, how would it change the lives of everyone around you if you turned your suffering into an opportunity to witness for God’s glory?
Jesus promises in this Bible passage that God has already prepared to defend those who believe in Him. He will give them the words to share their faith with conviction. Not a hair of their heads will perish. And if they stand firm, they will win their lives. It’s a promise from an eternal and faithful God, and we can bet our whole lives on it without fear, without failure and without regret.
Diet Eman and her boyfriend, Hein, were Dutch Christians who hid Jewish citizens from the Nazis in World War II. They knew they were risking their lives in this work, but their faith in Jesus compelled them to protect innocent Jews from persecution. In 1944, Hein was arrested and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. Diet was arrested soon after and sent to a different camp. Although she suffered greatly in the camp, she continued to trust in God’s promises of protection. She even took a hair pin and scratched Jesus’ promise from Matthew 28 on the prison wall, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end” (Matt. 28: 20 KJV).
Diet was eventually released, but Hein died in Dachau. Fellow prisoners reported that Hein radiated the love of Christ in the concentration camp. Before his death, he wrote a final note to Diet. It read, “Darling, don’t count on our seeing each other again soon . . . Here we see again that we do not decide our own lives . . . Even if we won’t see each other again on earth, we will never be sorry for what we did, that we took this stand. And know, Diet, that of every last human being in this world, I loved you most.” (11)
Think about that. “Here we see again that we do not decide our own lives . . . Even if we won’t see each other again on earth, we will never be sorry for what we did, that we took this stand.”
We do not decide our own lives. And sometimes that is bad news . . . Jesus knew that this truth could cause his followers great fear and anxiety. It could lead them to following false gods and straying from the truth. Or it could lead them to decide beforehand to trust God—to see any suffering that came into their lives as an opportunity for sharing God’s faithfulness. And ultimately that leads to Good News—the greatest good news imaginable that we really are not in control of our lives and our destinies, but a loving God is in control and every good thing in our life that we have lost will be restored. And we will live life more fully and more wondrously than we have ever imagined.
- David Guzik, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/luke-21/.
- “The World’s Most Counterfeited Brands,” https://www.lovemoney.com/gallerylist/52360/the-worlds-most-counterfeited-brands.
- Elliot Johnson, The Point After(Grand Rapids: Daybreak Books, Zondervan Publishing House).
- George F. Regas, Kiss Yourself and Hug the World(Waco: Word, 1987).
- Zig Ziglar, Better Than Good(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006), p. 33.
- God’s cure for worry © 2006 – Robert Griffith, Orange Baptist Church. http://www.orangebaptistchurch.org.au/sermons/sermon_documents/Gods%20Cure%20for%20Worry.pdf.
- “Good News about Suffering” by Jeffrey Dillinger.
- http://whitehallchurchofchrist.com/sermons/good-news-about-suffering/.Suzanne Burden, “Meet the Dutch Christians Who Saved Their Jewish Neighbors from the Nazis,” Christianity Today, November 23, 2015, http:// www.christianitytoday.com/ ct/ 2015/ december/ meet-dutch-christians-saved-their-jewish-neighbors-nazis.html. Cited in Max Lucado, Unshakable Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018).
Dynamic Preaching, Fourth Quarter Sermons, by King Duncan