Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Malachi 3:19-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 98:5-9
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians 3:7-12
Gospel: According to St. Luke 21:5-19
“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” While still a band on the cusp of worldwide success REM wrote some great songs, including “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” The song is catchy and the refrain is impossible to get out of your head. The only problem is that we don’t know when the end will be – either the world as we know it or the world as an entity – and we have been pretty lousy at predicting that end for a very long time.
St. Paul posited that there would be people from his era who would still be alive when the end came. The fall of the Roman Empire seemed to be a logical conclusion for all of this. Then there came the end of the first millennium and on and on until the end of the second millennium. And now the end is nigh because of the mess of politics, economics, the environment, and the rest. It’s hard for us not to have REM ringing in our ears.
This weekend’s readings give us an alternative to Michael Stipe and his buddies from the hidden gem of hipness that is Athens, Georgia. But anyone who is looking to Scripture for the warm and fuzzy Jesus to offer some nice thoughts about the lilies of the field while He offers them a frothy mug of Ovaltine to take away the early winter chill is in for a cold slap in the face.
In our Old Testament lead-in to the Gospel at least Malachi offers us warmth, but not the kind we want or expect:
“Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch.”
The fact that Malachi is the last of the Old Testament prophets, living in the unsettled days after the exilic period, is fitting. Just as we are in the last days of the liturgical year as we await the coming of the infant Jesus into the world, so was Malachi in the last days of the Old Law as a small and insignificant nation awaited the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.
That Messiah tells us this weekend that we need to keep our eyes open and not be deceived by those who tell us that the end is here when it has not yet arrived. Solace can be given to those who are told that the end is definitely not upon us and that there is still time. But Jesus offers no solace. He offers only a vision of what must happen before the end arrives:
“They will seize and persecute you.”
It is as if the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, must go through the exact course of events that Jesus in His physical body went through. Who would believe that a Person who was hailed on Palm Sunday would be nailed on Good Friday? Is the Church – are we – awaiting a new and final Passion? Jesus tells us that we are, and so we must be prepared.
The world is a busy place, and very noisy. It will get busier and noisier once we begin Advent and the bombardment of all things “holiday.” Now would be a good time to get things in order. Take time to pray, to contemplate, to take stock of life. The doomsayers may have been wrong about when the world would end, but we know that someday they will be right. We also know that for most, if not all, of us our own earthly end will arrive way before the apocalypse.
Most listeners never hear it, but there is a phrase in the background as the refrain of “It’s the End…” is repeated as the song winds down. That almost subliminal lyric is: “It’s time I had some time alone.” Yes it is, as long as it is put to good use.