Sixty-third in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Malachi 3:19-20a; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19
I’ve never been particularly swayed by the argument that says people of deep, abiding faith should stay out of the political arena for fear that they will “impose their morality” upon the populace at large. In the first place, all politics – and all law, for that matter – involves imposing the morality of the rulers, elected or otherwise, upon the populace. In fact, you can easily substitute the word “principles” or “values” or “platform” or “vision” for the word “faith;” all these things contribute to the creation of the shared morality that a nation abides by. If you don’t believe me, just turn on the news and hear all the hoopla occurring nationwide over the character of the new president-elect. Then in the second place, a deep and abiding faith – whatever that faith may be – is something that should affect and shape one’s whole life. That means career is not exempt from the demands of faith, even one in politics or other forms of public service, any more than waking and rising, weekday and weekend. If you think it is exempt, I frankly must doubt how deep and abiding your own faith is.
Nevertheless, there is a difference between evangelizing – proclaiming the Gospel message – and just being a nosy busybody. Where is the line drawn? When are we more of a hindrance than a help?
The prophecies of Malachi can probably be seen as bit of both, as the prophet tours the Judean country wondering if there is any deep and abiding love for God left, among the people and especially among the priests. He knows the arrival of Israel’s Lord is increasingly imminent, and only those who are ready will be able to bear His presence. “[A]ll the proud and the evildoers will be stubble,” he says, and “the day that is coming will set them on fire.” Israel is meant to be a light to all the other nations, drawing the world towards the glory of God. Now it runs the risk of being consumed by that glory just as the sun consumes dry wood. God doesn’t want that; if He did, He wouldn’t be sending a prophet around to get in people’s faces. The glory of the Lord is meant to be like a “sun of justice,” giving “healing rays.” He wants us to be ready to drink that energy in and be replenished by it, not undergo some kind of living purgatory of cleansing fire.
But such messages are annoying to us, no matter what form they take. And they have to be. It takes a proper pest to evangelize rightly. But again, there’s a difference between being a pest and being dangerous. In the Gospel Jesus takes time to clarify that difference for His disciples. He speaks of a coming persecution of those who believe, followed by the arrival of people who purport to speak on behalf of Jesus – or even claim to be Jesus Himself. There are no parables, no hidden messages this time. His lesson is explicit: “Do not follow them!” All well and good, sure! But how do we know? How do we know the real message from the imposter, the helper from the hinderer? The real message, Jesus tells us, will come from Jesus Himself through us, the persecuted, because our persecutions “will lead to [our] giving testimony.” Simply put: we are the helpers. When we are called upon to testify to our counter-cultural beliefs, that is when the real message will come forth,just as it did with the persecuted prophets. ”[Y]ou are not to prepare your defense beforehand,” He tells us, “for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking.” (And his promises must be true, or this pesky series never could have happened!)
Here the Lord Himself lays bare the secret to being an intentional disciple: not simply acting like the Lord, but allowing the Lord to act through us. After all these weeks and months of discussing how to be an impartial minister of reconciliation, how to be “merciful like the Father,” it turns out that acting “like” is not enough – it’s just the stepping stone! True, Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians in our Second Reading that they should imitate him, that he presented himself “as a model for you” for that very purpose. But even Paul is following a model himself, one that never ceases to live within him totally. How many times have we heard him say it, that it is no longer him who lives but Christ who lives in him? That he is who is by the grace of God alone? It was not enough for Paul simply to act like Christ; he opened the door of his being and let Christ in so that he might no longer live on his own but with Christ, not for himself.but for Christ – and, through Christ, with and for Christ’s whole Body. That is the difference between “keeping busy” with Christ’s work and “minding the business of others.” That is why Paul instructs these disorderly busybodies “to work quietly and to eat their own food” – because they’re certainly not ready to share anything beyond themselves. They cannot be models to anyone else if they cannot be models to themselves, if they cannot let Christ – the absolute model of the Father – live that model within them.
There’s been a meme circulating through the Internet in certain circles over the last few weeks: “No matter who is President, Jesus is King.” As members of the King’s Body, we rule with Him. As adopted children of the King’s Father, we are co-heirs with our Lord Brother to all the Father has promised. And as temples of the Holy Spirit of the King and His Father, we are the royal dwelling place of the Divine Presence. God comes to us to go home. God comes to us to go to church. Why should there be any aspect of our lives, good or bad, busy or free, work or play, in which we do not joyfully and radiantly act like it? When the time comes to have that long talk with our Lord, when He comes to rule us with His merciful justice, let’s be ready to answer why we did or not live that great and glorious reality, why did or did not trust Him enough to work that reality through us.
“By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Isn’t that a morality worth sharing?