Words on the Word
33. Sunday C
You can find the French original if you press on ‘Norsk bokmål’ in the top left-hand corner of your screen.
Malachy 3:19-20: The day is coming now, burning like a furnace.
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12: You are supposed to imitate us.
Luke 21:5-19: Everything will be destroyed.
The perspective which today’s Gospel puts before us is a perspective of destruction. Walking around Jerusalem, the disciples admire the buildings that surround them, the work of human ingenuity: ‘Lord, look! Isn’t it amazing what man is capable of?’
Jesus’s response is curt, indeed harsh: ‘Everything will be destroyed.’ Is this the attitude we, as Christians, must adopt with regard to the world? The question is an important one. It invites us to reflect on the way in which we inhabit this world.
Spontaneously, the thought of universal destruction repels to us. We all carry a vital desire to leave traces, to leave our mark on the world, whether by being part of building up a monastic community, by founding a family, by doing constructive work. This desire is good. When it is absent, it is a sign that something is not right. It may even be a sign of illness.
Having crated man, God commanded him to be his co-creator. A sublime vocation. The Garden of Eden was not a primitive version of an urban park, a place of leisure in which gardening happens out of sigh (perhaps at night?), whereas the light of day exposes only languidly promenading amorous couples, amateur practitioners of Tai-chi, and elderly ladies taking their minuscule mutts for a walk. ‘The Lord took man’, we read in the Book of Genesis, ‘and led him to the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it’. This is our primal, identity-shaping task: to dig and plant and weed, in short, to work, so to reveal the potential latent in the world to render it fruitful and lovely.
Still, what’s the good of all this if ‘everything will be destroyed’?
While growing up I had occasion to observe at first hand an unhealthy religious tendency. In the area in which I grew up, in Norway, a band of preachers arrived proclaiming the end of the world. Proud as I was of my agnosticism, I kept a distance; however, the vague of fervour moved my circle of friends, my school, the local population. We heard rumours of children no longer doing homework. It makes sense. If the parousia is at hand, why bother about arithmetic? Some people sold their land. A few enthusiasts tried to walk on water. It didn’t end well. A growing collective hysteria detached those who were hooked, and there many of then, from daily life but without attaching them to a constructive supernatural finality.
That’s not what the Gospel is about.
In fact, the Lord provides a corrective to this way of thinking. He does not tell us to dispose concrete realities. He tells us not to mix them up with realities that perdure. Remember the context in which the Gospel discourse is made. Jesus is about to enter his Passion. He knows he has precious little time to communicate his message, of crucial importance. Yet the disciples are busy with tourism.
If we’re honest, have we not often acted in precisely this way, ignoring the teaching of the Lord, letting ourselves rather be absorbed by banalities? It is to wake us up that the Lord brusquely reorients our gaze. He says: ‘All the beautiful things you can see, your possessions, the work of your hands – they are not everything there is.’ He says: ‘Be attentive!’
Why? For a simple reason. If we lose the habit of considering what is temporal in the light of what is eternal, we shall seek the purpose of our life in view of an horizon that grows ever narrower, full of menacing shadows. We shall be at the mercy of false prophets who manipulate these shadows as puppets to inspire fear and to keep us submitted to the power of their rhetoric. We see this tendency at work often enough in our anxious Europe today. The Christian’s remedy is to raise his eyes serenely in search of a vaster comprehension, animated by hope, remembering that creation doesn’t exist for its own sake, that it indicates a purpose that transcends it.
If we accomplish our earthly pilgrimage in this way, our life will not be any less sweet or precious. On the contrary. Hope will bestow on constrained existence an opening towards eternity. By following this hope, we shall give to others, too, the courage to hope.
The quality which the Gospel proposes to learn to live in this way is perseverance: perseverance in directing our thoughts and acts according to the mind of God; perseverance in listening and patience (the two presuppose one another); perseverance in friendship with Jesus, by which grace will also instil our others friendships, which otherwise might tend towards superficiality, informed by self-love and self-interest.
By building our lives thus on what is true and real, we shall not need to fear the day of the Lord, burning like a furnace. Let fire consume the chaff and withered branches! For the Children of the Kingdom, who live according to the logic of their baptism, the day of the Lord will bring healing in its wings. Let us, then, give ourselves faithfully to our daily tasks, as St Paul would have it, for the good of others and for our delight, but without forgetting that our today points towards God’s tomorrow. Our present condition, even in its moments of ecstasy, is but a noviciate preparing us for a life of eternal abundance. Amen.
En spansk Pantokrator datert til 1123, da cistercienserordenen var i full ekspansjon.