Sunday, November 25, 2012

Last Sunday after Pentecost

Colossians 1:9-14 / Matthew 24:13-25

The wholesome and salutary proclamation of the Second Coming of Jesus, of the end of the world, its judgment, and the passing away of what has been, is not an easy task. It can be all too easy for some to worry excessively about Jesus' coming, to be so concerned about meeting him rightly disposed that, in their worry, they neglect to do those very ordinary, everyday things which are among the more important ways of being prepared to receive Christ's coming well. Others, seeing what seems his long delay, may confess the truth in his coming, but all the same fail to be moved by the truth of it, acting as though this truth cannot possibly come to pass for them, not in their own lifetime. Some may fixate on determining the coming of the Lord through exotic and obscure readings of the Scriptures, while others may insist that the whole doctrine itself was propounded not to tell of something actual, but rather to move us to live differently here and now in light of something that will not, in fact, ever come to pass.

The Church, however, in fidelity to her Lord, must confess not only that Christ's coming is true and, in terms of the divine plan, soon, but also that, on the one hand, we will not know the time or the hour, and, on the other hand, that his return will be so manifest to all that we ought, here and now, to refuse anyone who tries to tell us of his coming, since we will not need to be convinced of a coming foretold to be altogether manifest: For as lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 

What we must recall is that Christ's return to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire, is going to be the result of a free act on God's part. Like everything else in the plan of salvation, like all else in God's work in the world, but especially like every other aspect of the mystery of the Word made flesh, the end of the world will come out of the hidden counsels of God. It is a decision, a decision God will make, out of love and wisdom and justice, to be sure, and out of mercy as well, but a decision all the same. This means that the end of the world cannot be derived from any consultation of the world as it is. That is, knowing the constitution of matter and its decay will not tell us when God will bring it all to stop, and neither will counting letters in the Law or mapping the prophecies of Daniel onto current events. The only way we could know precisely when the world will end would be if Jesus had revealed it, and that is one thing we know most certainly that he did not do.

This means, then, that God does not want us to know, which in turn means that knowing the end of the world does not and would not help us to love and serve him in this world, nor to love him perfectly in the next. At the same time, knowing that God will bring this world to an end, a truth which was an important element in Christ's teaching, must certainly, by that very fact, be important for us to know. We need to attend to the fact that the story of the world is God's, not ours. We need to be reminded that the real significance of things, the real way to judge a life as well-lived or wasted, cannot in the end be derived from even the most faithful and faith-filled analysis done in light of this world alone. It is how our lives here and now direct us to the world that will come, how they form us to live when heaven and earth, all of our certainties and commitments in this life, have passed away, and God's words alone abide — this is what matters.

It is to stir up in us just this perspective that Jesus Christ has made known to us that he will, one day, one day soon, bring the heaven and the earth to an end. May we, then, seek more earnestly this fruit of the divine work, that we may receive more abundantly healing gifts from God's tender mercy.

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