33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
One day, farmers Fred and Luke were standing on the side of the road, fishing. One of them made a sign that read, “The End is Near! Turn yourself around now, before it’s too late!,” and showed it to each passing car.
One driver that passed by though, didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted back, “Leave us alone, you religious fanatics!”
Shortly thereafter, the farmers heard a big splash.
Fred grinned at Luke. “Maybe we should have just put up a sign that read: ‘Bridge Out of Order’ instead?”
Yes, sometimes we all need a clear sign to avoid dangerous pitfalls along life’s path. That’s what Jesus is trying to give us in today’ gospel. He’s trying to get his followers to consider that the world in which we live, has a definite expiry date, that one day, it will invariably come to an end. And when that time comes, Jesus doesn’t want us to be unprepared. He doesn’t want us to ignore the signs that God will send, either. And he sure doesn’t want us to think that we can predict when that end will come and coast haphazardly through life until then.
No, Jesus, in his mercy, shares with us a description of cosmic events that will precede the end of the world. “The sun will be darkened…the moon will not give its light…the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Mk 13: 24-25) —Certainly ominous signs that no one can ignore! And they’re meant to be able to be seen by everyone, regardless of whether or not one has faith, as a last-ditch effort to get all persons to believe in the almighty power and presence of God, who is the Creator of our universe and everything in it.
So in that sense, the end time warnings are a sign of God’s merciful love for every human being, who desires that “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4)
Even today, no one on earth can say for certain when our world will ultimately come to an end. —Not even the best scientists, who have narrowed down the list of how the world could end, to a top ten most-likely list, but don’t have dates associated with the events! In an October 18th, 2018 article by Abigail Higgins on Vox.com, this list includes an asteroid impact with earth, a super-vulcanic eruption, and catastrophic climate change— all of which would have the same sort of cosmic effects as recorded in our gospel today. But the list goes on to include ecological collapse brought-on by the effects of climate change, a pandemic in which much of the world’s population is destroyed, the start of a nuclear war by one nation, the use of biological or chemical warfare to eradicate one’s enemy, the creation of artificial intelligence gone-bad and which becomes hostile to humanity, the unanticipated effects of solar geo-engineering in which the attempt to lower the temperature of our world by aerosols released in the atmosphere affects significant ecosystems or world weather patterns, or lastly, some— as of yet— unknown world wide event.
While this list may sound scary, the important thing to note is that we’ve been given the ability by God himself to assess the risks posed to us and our planet. We just can’t go about our merry way and ignore the warning signs that present themselves. Far from ignoring the human factors which may be indirectly or primarily responsible for many of these apocalyptic events from occurring, we should instead, face them head-on and deal with them now, before it’s too late! We need to embrace a sound ethics of the environment too, and seek to listen to the planet when it cries out to us —enough!
Pope Francis emphasized this re-orientation to and prioritization of our environment in his encyclical, Laudato si, published in May of 2015, where he writes, “The ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (#217)
Like Pope Francis’ own reflection on the connection between our interior life and what it says to others about how we treat the planet, Jesus’ own words in the gospel carry a sense of urgency with them, because the end could have happened even in Jesus’ own lifetime, as he indicates. And although he emphasizes that no one knows when the world will end, except our Father in Heaven, Jesus doesn’t say that we should hasten its approach by ignoring our stewardship of the planet, all creation, and our connection as fellow human beings. He doesn’t say we should discard the negative impacts we are having on our planet and environment. No, Jesus wants us to be faithful to our relationship with God and to all of creation and to recognize our interdependence with all life on our planet. Jesus wants us to live in the expectation of the Lord’s second coming in glory without fear! In this anticipation, Jesus invites us therefore, to live authentic human lives in concert with all of creation, loving God and neighbor, and seeking to become the best possible version of ourselves. He invites us to hasten the Kingdom of God by using gospel values to shape and influence our world and those in it by giving others a foretaste of what living as brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God is like!
If we all lived each day of our lives as if it were our last, then we’d be ready for the end whenever that day arrives.
Until then, and as an anchor along the way, Jesus gives us some assurances of his steadfast abiding presence and continued love for us. He says in today’s gospel, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mk 13: 31)
Yes, one thing we can depend on through all the tumult and the strife, is God’s divine word! Indeed, scripture attests that, with the divine, spoken Word of God, the universe and all creation was birthed into existence! Hence, all of creation, coming from the mouth of God, proclaims to us the unbounded imagination and creativity of God. All of creation, coming from the mouth of God, reveals to us, something too, of the divine milieu and proclaims to us something of God’s divine glory! All of creation, coming from the mouth of God, has God both as its origin and as its end. By reflecting on the awesomeness and magnificence of God, we can hopefully avoid the dangerous temptation of limiting God to any one ideology, theology, or historical or cultural expression. In fact, the more we learn about the universe and all it contains, the more we come to appreciate and relish in the many and varied aspects of our Creator God revealed to us!
Besides God’s eternal word, though another aspect of God that the scriptures reveal to us that we can depend on, is God’s promises. They will never pass way. God’s love for us too, will never pass away. What’s more, God’s eternal covenant made in his Precious Blood will never pass away and God’s free gift of salvation offered to those who believe will also never pass away.
Such assurances as these can help us to approach the God who calls us into being each day and who fashioned us in his own image, so that we might come to know him, more and more, each day and reflect something of his expansive love to those whom we encounter as we live one foot in this world and one in the kingdom which has no end. May assurances such as these help us to look expectantly toward that day “when the Son of Man will come on the clouds with great power and glory” (Mk 13: 26) and gather the elect from the four winds and ends of the earth.
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