33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Malachi supplies this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word with its first reading.
Actually, Malachi is not the name of the author of this book. Rather, it refers to a title, “Messenger of God,” that appears in chapter 1, verse 1. It is thought that the book was written about 450 years before Christ.
As in the cases of all the prophets, the purpose of Malachi is to summon the people to greater religious devotion. This book was written, it is believed, in the aftermath of religious reforms. It probably was an effort to reinforce these reforms.
Many prophets in a sense warned people. If people did not return to a more exacting observance of religion, they would reap the whirlwind. Such is this reading. One terrible day God will come with swift and final justice. The wicked and the lukewarm will not escape.
For its second reading, the Church this weekend offers us a passage from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians.
In this reading St. Paul again declares how seriously he took his vocation to be an Apostle. He says that he imposed on no one. Further, he says that he has worked day and night, in order to be an example. He was focused on his vocation and on it alone.
St. Luke’s Gospel is the source of the last reading for this weekend.
Generally speaking, in reading the four Gospels the Church teaches that we should be aware of three stages of interest. The first stage is the actual life of Jesus. The events in the Lord’s life, told in the Gospels, are important. Circumstances surrounding these events are important.
The second stage is the experience of the Christian community existing when the Gospel was written, and for which the Gospel was written.
The third stage is the context that the text of the Gospel itself literarily creates.
Quite clear throughout Luke, and surely in this reading, is the fact that Christ, and then Christianity, faced serious hostilities in the first-century Roman imperial world. The message is crystal clear in this reading. Indeed Jesus warns the disciples that they will be hated simply because they are disciples. He predicts catastrophes that in time actually occurred.
Most shocking of all predictions was the Lord’s announcement that one day the temple would fall. It was so shocking because the temple was regarded as God’s dwelling on earth, indeed a symbol of God. To say that the temple would fall could be construed to mean that God, the almighty, the eternal, would fall. Of course, Jesus also said that God would rebuild the temple, and the new temple, the new dwelling of God, would be the Lord Jesus.
The Gospel reading from St. Luke’s Gospel is typical of other sections of the same Gospel. It is somber and chilling. Terrible things will happen. When the Gospel was written, also quite likely at the time of Jesus, Christians were seeing their own friends and enemies turn against them. It was a frightening sight to be left alone in the face of enemies.
These readings together remind us that we cannot choose our circumstances in every situation. We are at the mercy of fate and often of other human beings. Circumstances in our lives can be very perplexing. Others’ decisions can disturb us.
Our task as Christians, indeed our only option, is to be true to the Gospel. As Paul indicates, nothing else truly matters. Being with God for eternity is the only reason to live.
Pursuing this ideal of being with God requires deep and uncompromising commitment. We cannot hesitate. We cannot turn away. God will assist us. He finally will reward us, with the everlasting gift of life.
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