33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Malachi is the source of this weekend’s first biblical reading. The author’s name, contrary to what might seem to be the case, is not Malachi. Rather, the word is a title, or description, for the author. It means “Messenger of God.”
The book was not dated when it was written, but the context leads scholars to think that it was composed 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.
Such attempts involved encouraging the people. But, warnings also came, reminding people that digressions from God’s law reaped the whirlwind.
These warnings often were bleak and very much to the point. 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 offers a passage from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians in which Paul again declares how seriously he takes his vocation to be an Apostle. He says that he works day and night to meet the obligations imposed by his vocation. Discharging his obligations is his only purpose.
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 AD 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 almost 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. It was 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. Others can gather against us. Circumstances in our lives can be very perplexing.
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. However, God will assist us. He will reward us, with everlasting life.
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