Saturday, November 16, 2013

The 33rd Sunday of the Year: 2013

when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified

G. K. Chesterton in a strange little essay, entitled appropriately enough “The End of the World,” relates a story about once when he was in France being taken for a ride by a driver into the countryside. After considerable time had passed he asked the man: “Where are you taking me?"  And the response was “to the end of the world.” Sure enough they arrived at an Inn with its name written in large letters LE BOUT DU MONDE – “the End of the World”.  "Are you not satisfied?" asked his companion. "No," I said, "I am not satisfied even at the end of the world. . .  there are two ends of the world. . . And this is the wrong end of the world; at least the wrong one for me. This is the French end of the world. I want the other end of the world.  Drive me to the other end of the world." . . . I want the English end of the world.”

There are many ‘ends of the world’. There is ‘the end of the world’ that happens when we are not invited to a party, or ignored or slighted in some way. There is ‘the end of the world’ which is brought by sickness or death or unemployment or any of the other ordinary terrors of human life. Then there is ‘the end of the world’ which is matter of reading the daily news in one hand and the Bible in another. There is the end of the world according to the Mayan Calendar or Nostradamus. There is ‘the end of the world’ which involves a famine or nuclear holocaust or global warming or some other disaster, real or imaginary.

All these ‘ends of the world’ may sound a bit like the end of the world which Jesus describes in the Gospel this Sunday: Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you. . . you will be hated by all for my name's sake.  But Jesus’ end of the world is really fundamentally different from all the other ends of the world.

First, Jesus says of the temple as for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down. The world like the temple is a very good thing, not just because it is beautiful and handy and generally speaking a nice place, but because it is designed to bring us to the God who made it.

The ‘end’ in question does not mean just the termination, the stopping of something, something ceasing to be but it also means the goal, the purpose, the end for which the world was created and towards which it is directed and governed.  As St. Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans All things come from God, through God, and return to God. The fact that Almighty God has set up things in such way that we easily manage to forget this dogmatic truth is no excuse for us doing so. The world is temporary because everything is temporary except God.

Worry about ‘saving the world’, if you like, but it is a lost cause.  What is more, if you worry too much about saving the world, you will end up worshiping the world and that is idolatry, worshiping something that is temporary rather than the only One who is permanent.

Next Jesus says when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified.  All the other scenarios of the end of the world are designed to scare the daylights out of us. But the end of the world of Jesus is designed to make us brave. The Gospel end of the world is not bad news but good news. By your endurance you will gain your lives. This is just what the Holy Scriptures teach us to expect. Nothing that God does goes unopposed by the forces in rebellion against Him. The snake in the garden, Pharaoh, the Golden Calf, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, Nero, the unruly wills and sinful affections of sinful men, all trying to hold on to power and control. You will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. Because the Creator and Redeemer of the world, not the Lord of this World, will triumph.

Finally, Jesus tells that folks are likely as not to get it wrong about the end of the world. Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, `I am he!' and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Fr. Von Balthazar describes our situation and that of Jesus perfectly: “no one knows the hour; no more than anyone knows the hour of his death. The hour possesses us not we the hour. All calculations as to the hour are mistaken. People have always tried, for nearly two thousand years, to calculate when the end of the world would come, and they have always been wrong. ‘Not even the Son!’ Jesus lived day by day, hour by hour, in an attitude of self-surrender to the Father”.

That is what this strange business of the end of the world is about. About us not knowing everything about it, even the things that we feel we have a right to know: When will it happen? Who will be saved? Who will be lost? “Where are you taking me?" For us there  is only following Jesus ‘day by day, hour by hour, in an attitude of self-surrender to the Father’.  Only in that is there no fear.

when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified

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