I mentioned last Sunday that November is a kind of mini-season in the Church’s liturgical year which focuses on the last things or the end times as the liturgical year comes to an end. And so our readings at Mass this month have taken on an apocalyptic tone. We human beings have a fascination with the end times. It seems that every few years we hear about some ancient prophecy or other that indicates that the world is going to end on such-and-such a date. Then the date comes and goes and everything continues on as before, and everyone forgets about the prophecy. I remember a few years ago hearing about how the Mayan calendar supposedly ended with the year 2012, and so there was this media-driven anticipation: is this the year the world is going to come to an end? Hollywood even made a really cheesy movie about the supposed end of the world in 2012. Lots of CGI special effects of destruction, mayhem, etc. I watched a minute or two on YouTube and decided it wasn’t worth my time. And of course, 2012 is now 7 years ago already, and the world keeps turning. So, the question remains: when will the end be?
All three of our readings today point in some way to these end times. The first reading from the prophet Malachi refers to a coming day when evildoers will be punished and “those who fear the Lord” will be healed by the rays of the rising “sun of justice”. In other words, for those who do evil, this will be a very bad day; for those who do good and have suffered at the hands of those who do evil, it will be a very good day. For those who do evil, it is a day to dread; for those who do good, it is a day to anticipate.
In the second reading, St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, urging them to work for their own food, rather than depending on others. The context of this passage of his letter was that some Christians believed that the second coming of Christ, i.e. the end of the world, was coming soon, within their own lifetimes. They figured, why work for a living when Jesus is coming back so soon? So they didn’t work themselves but instead were living off the labor of others. As St. Paul says though, they weren’t keeping busy, but rather acting like busybodies. St. Paul exhorts everyone to work to provide for their own needs as best they can while they await the coming of the Lord.
This is one of the challenges of serving others, and it involves a kind of balancing act. We should seek to provide for the needs of those who truly need the help, who are unable to help themselves. The danger is when aid creates dependency, a kind of learned helplessness. Not everyone who says they need financial or material help really needs it. Or perhaps they think they need it, because they’ve learned through the good but misguided intentions of others to be helpless. The goal with aid should be to help people ultimately get on their feet so that they too can begin to work to provide for their needs, and hopefully even reach a point at which they would be able to help provide for the needs of others as well. Of course, there will always be some who truly are incapable of providing for themselves, and they need to be taken care of. But wisdom and prudence is necessary.
Finally, in our Gospel reading, Jesus speaks ominously of the coming destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem – the holiest site for Jews. And indeed, his words came to pass: the Romans completely destroyed the Temple in 70 AD. There’s nothing left of it. The Wailing Wall that you can visit to this day in Jerusalem was not actually a part of the Temple, but rather a part of the retaining wall for the area on which the Temple stood. Today the Dome of the Rock – a Muslim mosque – stands where the Temple stood. I think it is a prophetic sign that Jerusalem remains a city divided and the Temple has never been able to be rebuilt.
Jesus, however, was speaking about more than just the destruction of the Temple, as horrible as that was to the Jews. The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was also a sign of the coming end of the world. But that was 2000 years ago, and the world hasn’t ended yet! The age we are living in now, as Jesus himself said, is the end times. This is the age of the Church: Jesus has already died for our salvation, but his work here on earth is not yet completed – and he continues his work now through the Church. We are living in the age of the “already – not yet”: Jesus has already been redeemed the world, but His promises have not yet come to fulfillment.
As I said, human beings are often fascinated by the how and when of the end of the world: how will it happen and when will it come? But these are actually not the most important questions. Certainly the end will come for each one of us when we pass from this life to the next, and we don’t know when or how. However, the most important question is: are we ready? If we strive to follow the Lord and to keep his commandments, even if we are not perfect at doing so, but as long as we persevere, Jesus tells us that we do not need to fear the end. “Not a hair of your head will be destroyed,” Jesus promises. In other words, we do not need to fear death, because we can trust that Jesus will raise us up to eternal life.