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November 13 2016 (C) Thirty-Third Sunday of the Year (c)

A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Looking towards the End; persevering to the end.

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Malachi 3:19-20). For you the sun of righteousness will shine out. This is the second last Sunday of the liturgical year and the readings are intended to remind us of the end time. The message of this present reading is that in the end evil-doers will be punished and the good rewarded. The reading may be understood all the better when placed within its original biblical context in the book of Malachi. The name Malachi in Hebrew means “my messenger”, and in 3:1 God says: “I shall send my messenger (malachi) to clear a way before me”. It may be that the title of the work comes from here, so that we do not know the name of its real author. The date of the work is also quite uncertain, possibly some time in the fifth century B.C. The work is composed of six passages similar in construction, in each of which God, or his prophet, makes a statement which is disputed by priests or people. After this a discourse follows in which threat and a promise of salvation are given side by side. The sixth and last of these passages is 2:17-3:21 in which the people are represented as wearying the Lord with the following complaint: “Any evil-doer is good as far as the Lord is concerned; indeed he is”, and their further statement: “Where is the God of fair judgment now?” Their complaint is not born of cynicism, but is the anguish cry of those who want to live in a world where good and not evil is paramount. God replies that he will act. He will send a messenger to purify the priesthood and the Temple. He takes note of their complaint and writes the names of his faithful ones in a book of remembrance. The triumph of the upright will come with the Day of the Lord, when the difference between the good and the wicked will be seen.

            Today’s short reading tells of the coming of this day of the Lord, when the wicked will be destroyed and those who fear the Lord’s name rewarded.

            This brief reading, and the biblical background to it, treat of the age-old problem of the success of the wicked in human dealings. God is aware of it, and tells of the final triumph of uprightness. With regard to the success of God’s plans in our world, in one sense God has no other hands but ours. It will be for every society in every generation to work and pray for the triumph of the good over evil. Organized human society is attempting to do this. We should work and pray for the success of such projects – over violence, organized crime, drug barons and such like. Our vision of a new heaven and a new earth where justice will dwell should inspire us to work towards a movement to that here on earth, as we await the final fulfilment.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 97[98[). The Lord comes to rule the people with fairness.

Second Reading (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12). Do not let anyone have food if they refuse to work. This heading given to this reading in the lectionary can be extremely misleading unless the passage is read in its fuller biblical context. This context is best expressed in the verse immediately preceding the present passage: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we urge you, beloved, to keep away from believers who are living an undisciplined life, not in accord with the tradition you received from us.” Paul seems to have referred to such a group already in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, in which he urged the community to admonish those who are undisciplined. In that letter he also told them to make a point of living quietly, attending to their own business and earning their living, not to be dependent on anyone (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). These may the same as those (some, the few) mentioned in today’s reading as living in idleness, doing no work themselves, not busy at work but busybodies. These would be a few within the small Christian community, within the much larger pagan city population. They may have been agitated by the belief that the Day of the Lord was near, or had already arrived. This letter’s statement must be read against that background, and is in no way an argument for neglect of those who do not work, or cannot work, for a variety of reasons (no suitable work available, physical or mental disabilities).

            Having said all that, it still remains quite clear that in this passage Paul puts himself forward as an example to be followed with regard to working for one’s keep. We do not know what the particular situation was that Paul addressed in this passage, but it appears that the expectation of the end, of a better and glorious future, had caused agitation and had some withdraw from work. Paul’s clear message is that any such expectation does not justify withdrawal from society, or one’s commitment to it. This carries a clear message for our own day. While our faith bids us to look forward for a better society for humanity, one in which justice will dwell, we must take our place within the human experiment, and work for the betterment of this world.

The Gospel (Luke 21:5-19). Your endurance will win you your lives. Jesus is speaking in the Temple. Some of his audience are presented as admiring the magnificence of the building, its stonework and votive offerings. Well they might. The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian armies in 587 or 586 B.C. A replacement Temple was completed in 515, but was far removed from the beauty of the original one. King Herod, with no Jewish religious belief, would see to it that the Jerusalem Temple would rival the best in the Roman world. He began his embellishment in 19 B.C., and his work was renowned for it masonry. Jesus predicts its destruction, not a single stone being left on another. This was the year 30 or 33, and his words were literally fulfilled by the destruction by the Romans in 70. The disciples then ask him with regard to the date for this destruction and signs preceding it.

            Jesus’ reply seems to refer to the end, the return of the Son of Man, rather than to the destruction of the Temple. But some of the signs he mentions could refer to many times, such as false Messiahs proclaiming salvation and the arrival of the end. Some of the signs and events occurred before the final destruction of Jerusalem. The purpose of the section is to warn his followers not to be led astray by any such signs. This passage and its imagery are in the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic.

            The next section, on persecution, is very much about the church on earth, and not just before the end time. Jesus’ followers must be prepared for persecution for their belief in Christ. Their very trial before judges and governors will be an opportunity of bearing witness to what Jesus stands for (“for my name”). Other New Testament texts say that the Holy Spirit will be with them. Here Jesus says that he himself will give them eloquence and wisdom. One recalls Stephen’s vision of the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand (Acts 7:56) when he was about to be martyred. Like the seed in fertile ground (Luke 8:15), their perseverance, their undying attachment to Jesus, will win the day.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Looking towards the End; persevering to the end.

At the end of the liturgical year the Church in its liturgy invites us to reflect on end events and realities: the end of history and the coming of the Son of Man, the end of one’s personal life, the end of the triumph of evil over good and the coming of new heavens and a new earth, in which justice will prevail. There are references to all these in today’s readings. There is, however, another truth we are invited to reflect on in conjunction with these truths -- that is the need for perseverance if our religion, our attachment to the person and work of Christ, is to survive the problems and boredoms of human and Christian existence. Luke’s presentation of Christ’s teaching makes this point: “Your endurance (through trials and persecutions) will win your lives”, just as he does at the end of the explanation of the parable of the sower and the seed (Luke 8:15). The perseverance in question is not something passive, of the “grin and bear it” type, but is part the faith that links us with God and with Christ. It is part of the mystery of salvation. God is saviour of all humanity and given free will there is no easy answer to many questions. God was with the human race from the beginning, from the big bang many trillions of years ago, if we so wish to put it. The Epistle to the Hebrews (chapter 20 and others) lays stress on the need for this perseverance. Chapters of this Epistle have been read on Sunday 19 to 22 this year. See these readings and the notes on them.