THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2019)
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Apocalyptic literature has a certain appeal in every age as evidenced by blockbuster movies and video games which speak about the end of the world by natural disaster or some kind of menacing invader. The Wester’s definition of Apocalyptic is: “predicting or presaging imminent disaster and total or universal destruction.” In challenging times, Apocalyptic literature is particularly appealing, as it provides a definite end to the oppression and challenges the present world sometimes offers. At the virtual end of our liturgical year, apocalyptic passages are frequently found in our lectionary readings, as they are in this Sunday’s readings.
Our first reading is an example of First Testament apocalyptic. The Jewish had suffered greatly in the Babylonian exile, but they were not showing gratitude for God’s deliverance by living good lives. Rather, bad people of all kinds appeared, and even “priests, who could strengthen discipline by their instruction, connive with people, telling them what they wanted to hear (2:1-9),” not what they needed to hear. This is why the prophet Malachi can say: “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the Lord of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays (3:19-20a).” Malachi is telling the people what the Psalm proclaims, that God is coming, and when He comes He “will rule the world with justice.”
It is worth noting that the second reading from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, is one of the oldest books in the New Testament. It was written at a time when people felt the last days were imminent, so imminent that people decided to stop working. They were inclined to fold their arms and just wait for God to come again. Paul makes it clear that that is not what people should be doing; if they don’t work, neither should they be fed. Further, like the people Malachi was speaking to, some “were conducting themselves… in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but being busybodies.” The early Christians were surely meant to look forward to the Lord’s second coming, but they were to do that by living lives that reflected the goodness of God.
By the time our gospel from Luke was written, the people had already witnessed disturbing events, most disturbing of all was the destruction of the Temple, the sign and symbol of God’s presence among them. Tensions arose between Jews and new Christians, and soon the notice of Rome would present new and frightening challenges to the followers of Jesus, the Christ. Betrayal by “parents, brothers, relatives, and friends” will cause the followers of Jesus to be hated, and, in some cases “they will put some of you to death.” But do not fear, Jesus says, for “by your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Perseverance is more that just hanging in there. It is a matter of so focusing on our faith in Jesus as our personal Savior, that nothing in this world can distract us or alter our attention. St. Theresa of Avila knew that determination involved being steadfast and unchangeable. “If the devil knows,” says St. Theresa, “that someone is changeable and unstable in being good and not strongly determined to persevere, he will keep after him day and night; he will cause fears and never-ending obstacles. I know this very well through experience, and that’s why I’m able to say, and do say, that no one knows how important determination is.” How great to hear from a saint what we already know – the powers of evil, Satan, take advantage of our weaknesses to distract us, to weaken our faith in Jesus, which causes whatever suffering we are called to endure to lead us to despair, rather than lead to our “giving testimony.” It is our determination to lead good lives, which gives us the opportunity at all times to give witness to a loving God. It makes no difference that at times the world turns upside down, and we find ourselves on the brink of despair, as long as we continue to manifest our love for the Lord with hope-filled and wholehearted thanksgiving, prayer, and humility. We can look fearlessly forward to the future believing in our hearts, as Jesus tells us, that “not a hair on our heads will be destroyed,” and by our “perseverance we will secure our lives.”