Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
I don’t go to the movies, and even watch few on television. I do watch enough television to see the promotional ads for movies. Among those are the movies whose theme is some extraordinary natural catastrophe: earthquake, tsunami or meteor collision. And the catastrophe is dramatically larger and more devastating than any real events we have experienced. People are probably quick to assure themselves that such an event couldn’t/wouldn’t really happen. We do however take the steps to prepare for and mitigate effects of natural catastrophes of the manner which has been experienced or might reasonably be expected.
When we read the scripture descriptions referring to the return of Jesus Christ in power, after a time of great tribulation, at some future end time we might be tempted to think of them like an exaggerated movie disaster and dismiss the event, confusing the imagery with the basic truths that are being presented.
Today’s Gospel passage and the related first reading from the prophecy of Daniel present our belief that there will be some future event when Jesus Christ will return in power and glory to gather all who have accepted Him. Other scriptural descriptions of the future end times add the concept of judgment. There will be a distinction between those who accept union with God and those who don’t. Further, the book of Revelation speaks also of a renewal of the physical world, speaking of a new heavens and a new earth. The catechism describe the meaning of this event by saying: “Then through His Son Jesus Christ He (the Father) will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire plan of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which God’s providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by His creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death.”
Perhaps we find it much easier to come to grips with a more proximate and individual encounter, the one that will occur at the end of our lives. It too includes being gathered to God, passing through judgment and then beginning a new kind of life.
One way that the end of time encounter with God differs from our individual moment of death is that it deals with us as group, as members of a people, a kingdom. As persons united to the one and same God, we are united to one another. Personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, a relationship we embrace and nurture in this life, necessarily includes relationship with the group, all other believers. And we who believe in and hope for living in the final and triumphant and perfect kingdom of God cannot be content with simply surviving through this life. We should be seeking to maximize the number who will be among those to be gathered into that kingdom. Using the words from the prophecy of Daniel, describing that future time, “…those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.” (we should want to be like stars leading many to justice.) It is the justice founded upon the mercy of Jesus Christ whom ou4r second reading today describes as sitting at right hand of God seeking to forgive those for whom He gave His life in sacrifice. We do believe that God wants to apply mercy won by the justifying death of Jesus, rather than apply the justice of punishment to those who would ignore God’s mercy and not seek forgiveness.
Our task is to do all we can to play a part in the conversion of others. The recent terrorist attack in France reminds us that there is still so much more need of conversation of hearts to friendship with Jesus and the pursuit of grace that enables us to live up to the teachings of the Gospel. They are teaching against violence, but for charity, for patience, for temperance in judgment, for works of mercy to benefit body and soul of others. The same hope that fuels our belief in an eternal life of perfect joy and peace must be expressed in the confidence that individual Gospel acts can change things. When we, in Jesus name and by His grace do good, we give credibility to the Gospel and all the promises of Jesus, especially the promise of eternal life.
We may not be able to convert the hearts and minds of terrorists thousands of miles away. But we can seek to convert those closest to us, with example that reflects the peace and joy of following Jesus. And we may even have the chance to tell of the power of Jesus which make us instruments of His gentleness and generosity. And as we affect those closest to us, they may in turn affect others, and those others further affect even more. But first we do have to be certain of our bond with Jesus and let is affect every interaction we have with those we can encounter in this life every day.