Today is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time in our liturgical calendar; that means we are just one Sunday shy of closing our liturgical year which we celebrate via our annual proclamation of Christ’s kingship over all creation. For those who follow closely the Readings for each Sunday, it is probably too obvious already not to notice that all those Readings leading to next Sunday’s solemnity focus only on one theme — the end time or the scenario of the final events in view of our Faith and in accordance with our Church teachings.
And speaking of the final things, we just heard of Jesus in today’s Gospel saying these things: “Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he’ and the time has come; do not follow them… Nations will rise against nations, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place… They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons…and led before kings and governors because of my name. You will be handed over by parents, brothers (or sisters), relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of me.”
Tadaaah! Big words, huh? Shocking, in fact. Rather, scary, horrific, worse than any terrorist attack. Putting ourselves in the shoes of those who were present when Jesus was saying those things, how would we feel? What should we do? Must we even take time to ask why?
It appears that when Jesus Christ was somewhat in the mood to “terrorize” his followers, he was speaking of something about to happen in the near future. And so, humans that we all are, our most probable primary reaction is to get scared, to be terrified, give in immediately to fear. As one song goes, “First, I was afraid, I was petrified…”
But do we really think that Jesus only meant to exhibit his scare tactics? Of course not! And this is where we will get the first little lesson that we can learn from today’s Gospel reading. First, choose to act rather than react. Jesus’ chilling words were spoken to incite some action, not reaction; to think, reflect and dig deep into our souls, rather than to feel. The main problem with reacting is that it always rushes us to cave in to sudden emotions over baseless speculations. The moment our emotions come flooding, that’s the time we are left with no more room for thinking of what better to do next, to focus on the essentials (of survival, for instance) and the next best thing for the immediate future. And the worst of all emotions is fear, for it renders us motionless (inactive), selfishly self-preserving or, worse, totally paralyzed.
Once we are overcome with the very negative feeling of fear, even just by listening to Jesus’ provocative language, we can also become victims of our own editorial listening. In other words, selective hearing. When our ears begin to sieve only what it wants to hear depending on our personal worldview, we definitely miss the vital and most necessary of all the messages given to us by God.
In between Jesus’ horrific forecast were thoughtful alert signals that offer positive vibes to the human spirit. Out of fear, we might have missed his encouraging words like,“…Do not be terrified, for such things must happen first, it will not immediately be the end… Awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky… I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your enemies will be powerless to resist or argue… Not a hair on your head will be destroyed… By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Wow! Did we really hear them or did our ears lock them out without our knowing it? This is what our sudden emotions often do; this is what reacting always leads us to—missing the target, overlooking the substance.
If we chose to take action rather than to blow up a reaction, we have the better chance to see the light, to view the essentials and absorb them into our lives and move positively forward. Here is where Pro-Action proves to be better than hollow, non-substantial reaction. Pro-acting allows us initially to pause, breathe deep, think, reflect and plan before deciding to take action on something imminent or remote. In the case of having heard Jesus’ pronouncements, the listener that chooses pro-action would first of all realize the following via reflection:
1) that Jesus never meant to incite fear but to simply utter some prophecy on the events that would happen to Israel in the years following His death and resurrection — (1) the rebellion of the Jews against the Roman Empire, and (2) the next wave of the Jewish exile and the destruction of the second temple (built by Herod the Great) as the Roman response to the rebellion. With the eyes of our Christian Faith, we would also see here Christ’s prophecy of the rise of the Christian Church that would be founded upon the blood of the first martyrs.
2) that God is the One in control of all that the past, the present and the future, not us, neither any human nor earthly power.
3) that The End-time is not to happen so very soon after all. If our basic catechesis often reminds us that Jesus Our Savior Is Already but Not Yet, then so does our salvation, and so does The End. That is why it is best to view The End not as the ultimate or final judgment but rather as The Authentic Purpose/Goal for Life and for Living in the present moment. (In fact, even the English language offers us that duality in its meaning.) If our today is OK, then so would our tomorrow. So why view The End as somewhere there when it is just around here? Shirley McLaine’s book title of long ago best applies here— You Can Get There From Here. Here and Now is where and when we ought to begin in actualizing The End.
4) that best way to deal with The End is action, not reaction.
5) that Jesus Christ promised in the Gospel that will empower us to live, endure and overcome The End (“Be not afraid… I shall give you wisdom…perseverance,” etc.).
6) that Jesus is ushering us towards martyrdom or prophetic witnessing just as he did with the First Martyrs of the Church.
Having reflected upon all these, what then should we fear of? Fear has no room in a pro-active stance.
By choosing Pro-Action, we will eventually be led to asking ourselves what is the next best move. What should I do now to positively respond to Christ’s provocative pronouncements? Here are three suggestions: (1) forge a rock-solid trust in God come hell or high water, resting securely in His promises mentioned in today’s Gospel; (2) persevere in taking towards the present time Christ’s prophecy on being seized, persecuted and killed “because of My Name” through our daily little deaths [our day-to-day ordinary acts of martyrdom by dying to our selfishness, our fears, our worries, our high-tech gadget preoccupations, our endless quest for 15 minutes of digital fame in the virtual realm, etc.], living out Christ’s mercy and compassion, standing up to our Christian morals and virtues when and where no one dares; (3) lastly, seek out fresher yet deeper understanding of The End, which is never in the far, frightening future but in the Here and Now.
We live up to Christ’s divine End by embracing it as our own, thus making Him my End, your End, our End — actually, Our Life.
So have no fear, Your End is now here — Jesus Christ, no less.