Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Malachi is the source of this weekend’s first reading. Malachi was not a proper name for a person in ancient Israel. Rather, it was an abbreviation of an informal title, “Messenger of God”.
This prophet is thoroughly in step with all the other prophets whose writings we now possess in saying that humans are responsible for their own misery and disappointment in life. Their sinfulness or indifference to God leads them into trouble.
Sin takes its toll. One day, sinners will have to pay the piper. Part of the viciousness of temptation is that we are lulled into diminishing the effects of our sins.
Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians supplies the next reading. Paul must have been an interesting personality. He hardly was withdrawing and quiet, yet for all his assertiveness, he had the humility that rises from genuine wisdom and true faith. He knew that he owed everything to God’s mercy, and he knew that the greatest reward in life is in being in peace with God. He offered himself as an example, because God will save others as God saved Paul.
In this reading, Paul goes to his well-schooled Hebrew roots, essentially repeating the theme stated centuries earlier by Malachi and the other prophets. Sin has brought grief to humanity, but God never leaves humanity to its peril. God sent messengers to the world repeatedly to lead people away from their foolish sinfulness. In the greatest act of love, God sent Jesus, the Son of God, to the world.
Jesus did not come and go. He left the community of faith that is the Church, guided by the Apostles whom the Lord commissioned to lead all to everlasting life. The Church still teaches, forgives, and encourages.
In the first generations of Christianity, disciples of Christ felt at the mercy of a hostile culture. Paul urged Christians to be brave. God was beside them. He would receive them in glory.
St. Luke’s Gospel, the third reading, follows in this theme. While sin has reaped a whirlwind, relief is on the way. A new day will come dramatically and decisively. It will occur in nature. Earthquakes will shake the earth. Plagues will rage. Among humans, close relatives will betray each other. Danger will be everywhere.
None of this, however, will threaten those who truly trust the Lord. Not even a hair of their heads will be harmed. God will triumph. Those who love God will triumph.
The Church is concluding its year of instruction and worship. Next weekend, it will rejoice that God’s salvation and mercy has been poured forth on the world in and through Christ the King.
So, the Church’s last statement of this fading year is its excited proclamation that, despite all the negative forces in the world, despite the attacks of the devil, even despite all the sin, Christ is king, standing as a rock of security on the edge of a raging sea.
For years now, Americans and others in the world have lived in uneasiness if not fear. The sights of the crashing towers in New York, the bleeding victims of warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, haunt us.
These grim realities should teach us. As the prophets warned, as Paul emphatically declared, sin brings us death. We are vulnerable.
None of us can foretell the future, including our own personal future, with exactitude. Our deaths may not come as the result of violence, as in a war such as now rages in Ukraine, but we will die, nevertheless.
Come what may, if we are in Christ, if we are with God, we shall live. In Christ, we will live forever.
Why then should we fear? Where, death, is your victory? Where your sting?
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