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Michael O’BrienNovember 28, 2023
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Find today’s readings here.

When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end." (
Lk 21:5-11)

Reading today’s Gospel, it’s feasible to imagine that Jesus’ apocalyptic prophecy is unfolding right before our very eyes.

He tells of “nation [rising] against nation” (the death toll in Gaza approaches 15,000 amidst the Israel-Palestine conflict, in addition to the 1,400 Israelis killed on Oct. 7), “powerful earthquakes” (the quakes in Turkey and Syria earlier this year claimed 50,000 lives), “famines and plagues” (starvation ravages countries like Somalia and the Central African Republic, with recent reports showing that over half of their populations receive inadequate nourishment), and “awesome sights and mighty signs [coming] from the sky” (last but not least, there have been congressional hearings in Mexico regarding supposed evidence of mummified aliens).

Especially on that last mention, these images that Jesus describes give room for what I refer to as “Chicken Little” theology—like the titular character of one of my favorite childhood movies, there are plenty of passages in the Bible that give reason for us to hit the panic button and scream in the town square that the sky is falling.

 

While the belief that Christ will return to Earth is an essential aspect of the Catholic faith, in this Gospel reading, Jesus explicitly tells us that these signs he lists will not result in the immediate arrival of Judgement Day. He urges us to not be afraid of such horrors.

As is the case with other aspects of society such as politics, it’s easy to take words of fire and brimstone that strike fear into our hearts, but Jesus knew “such things must happen.”

The main issue with focusing too heavily on what a biblically accurate picture of what the end of the world may look like is that other words of wisdom in the same passages are left neglected.

If we took these words literally, one could argue that the stage was set for the second coming of Christ in 2013—the Syrian Civil War escalated into a humanitarian crisis, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in Pakistan killed nearly 1,000 people, and the Eebola epidemic swept through West Africa. While it may seem like today’s unimaginable struggles present a fulfillment of his prophecy, Jesus knew the earth possesses an unavoidable cyclical quality that repeats the worst elements of what it means to be alive in the world.

The main issue with focusing too heavily on what a biblically accurate picture of what the end of the world may look like is that other words of wisdom in the same passages are left neglected.

“Chicken Little” theology may intensely comb through these signs of doom, but the section of today’s readings I find to be most valuable comes in Jesus’ words when examining the “costly stones and votive offerings” that adorn a temple, to which he says “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

Jesus again alludes to the fact that the world will indeed end, but these words contain more instructive information than adopting the sentiment that it’s time to abandon our everyday lives and repent because the end is near. He understands the fact that everything will turn to dust one day, and, as is often the case with Jesus, warns of the temporal nature of material offerings.

Years after our own deaths, we likely won’t be remembered for how much money we spent to make a church look pretty, but instead by our words and deeds that reflect those of Christ.

Today’s readings show a side of Jesus’ ministry that I feel is misunderstood—he’s not asking us to spend every day of our lives in fear that the world may crumble with the angry wrath of God, but instead reminds us that since our days are numbered regardless, spend them in a way that honors him which will live on after we perish.

More: Scripture

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