Mass for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Malachi 3:19-20; Psalm 97(98):5-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19
Transition times are inevitably full of chaos, uncertainty and even confusion. As the Holy Spirit leads us in a new exodus, we are called to go forward into the future with courage. We need to remember that the tough times can be the blessed times. The church was not at its best when it reached the heights of imperial power in what was known as Christendom. The church was at its best when it was poor, persecuted and powerless. Consistently, we true believers are challenged to be the beacons of hope in the midst of pain, suffering and despair.
God’s ways often involve the pain of letting go, of beginning again, of going forward with hope and trust. The Word of God this Sunday helps us to come to terms with our present situation and live it with courage, faith and hope. It talks about times of upheaval and change, times of cleansing and purification. It also encourages us to be vigilant, to hold firm and not to lose heart.
In the first reading, the prophet Malachi speaks about the burning anger of God. He uses apocalyptic language to describe the day of judgement. The wicked will be burned like stubble. But the sun of righteousness will shine on the just with its healing rays. Malachi prophesies about the renewal of the Temple and its worship. The long exile that preceded the return to Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple was seen in hindsight as a cleansing time. They will make the offering acceptable to the Lord on account of their renewed faith.
Malachi’s message is that God uses pain and suffering as a means to test and cleanse them, in order to make them more authentic, more true to their calling. Therefore, they should not fear and shirk from testing times. Rather they should embrace them and grow through them. The long arc of God’s story points towards not just Israel’s restoration but the restoration of all things according to the divine design. Malachi summons them to a new future after the exile. This new future does not simply consist in the regaining of former status in Palestine. It is not “make Israel great again”. Rather it will be a humble remnant people learning to be a beacon of light and a sign of God’s presence in the world.
In the Gospel, Jesus talks about the impending crisis in terms of the challenges and adversities that his disciples must be prepared to face. He speaks of the destruction of the old temple which will be a catalyst for a new Israel. The crisis that the death of the old will create will also bring believers an opportunity to bear witness to the new. The end time is not doom and gloom for those who believe. In fact, it can also be the blessing in disguise, the moment of purification and maturity of faith.
Just as Malachi called on God’s people, humbled and cleansed by the exile to rebuild themselves into a model society, Jesus encourages his disciples to see beyond what meet the eye, to discern and act with faith and courage. Crisis is not a time for fear and trepidation. On the contrary, crisis can be a catalyst for the faithful to act as agents of hope and Good News for the kingdom.
Things may be disheartening now but the future belongs to God and the disciples must not lose heart but must act in favour of that future. Therefore, we are exhorted to discern the way of God in times of turmoil and upheaval. What distinguishes us as true believers is the ability to discern and to live the creative power of the Spirit through the chaos of decline, death and renewal.
Metaphorically, both Malachi and Jesus speak about the destruction of the old structures of power and the emergence of the alternative relational paradigm under God’s rule. Against the background of loss and hopelessness, they both prophesy about God’s plan that summons the people to a new future, so that the matrix of brokenness becomes the venue for new possibility.
Brothers and sisters,
The metaphor of the death and destruction becomes relevant for us as we witness an emerging Church from the ashes of the sexual abuse crisis. Our churches may not be destroyed like the temple in Jerusalem. But in many ways, the death of the old way of being Church is already evident for all to see: our reputation, moral credibility and trust capital are effectively destroyed in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis along with the vestiges of the old fortress, insulate, triumphalist, clericalist Church. But let us not be afraid of the dying of the old just as the prophecy of destruction is followed by the fresh hope of a new dawn.
Christianity may be returning to the earlier times in terms of being a marginalised or even unpopular minority. But if we follow the example of our ancestors and the early Church in being an alternative society, a community of justice, inclusivity, solidarity, prayer and support, then it is the future worth dedicating our lives to. May the Holy Spirit give us courage and guide us in finding new ways of doing things that will garner fresh energy for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for self-preservation.
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