Readings for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: MAL 3: 19-20A; PS 98: 509; 2 THES 3: 7-12; LK 21: 28; Lk 21: 5-19
As I read the news each day, I find myself wondering if we’re living in the “end times” described in biblical “apocalyptic” literature like we find in today’s liturgy of the word. I hope we are.
That’s because in the Bible, “apocalypse” isn’t a threat of doom, but a promise of hope. It’s not about the end of the world, but the end of the corrupt (imperial) order in which believers so often found themselves. The Book of Revelation (Unveiling), for example, pulls back the curtain covering first century Roman corruption and promises that it will all soon end.
In that sense, something similar seems to be happening today. (That’s what I try to point out in the video above.) Something new and hopeful is dawning worldwide.
For example, in Ukraine and on behalf of the Global South, Vladimir Putin is digging in the heels of those traditionally oppressed by U.S. imperialism and European colonialism and shouting a firm “NO!” to the bullies involved.
And then last week, I could hardly believe it when China’s President, Xi Jinping quoted Reinhold Niebuhr‘s “Serenity Prayer” at German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz. In effect Xi told Scholz that a new multipolar world has dawned and there’s nothing he or NATO can do about it.
I bring all of that up because this Sunday’s liturgy of the word addresses the promise of God’s new order (aka the Kingdom of God). It promises a reordering of the political, economic, and spiritual status quo that turns everything upside down. The promised purge features the definitive downfall of those now governing the planet. It promises justice, peace, and happiness for the rest of us. That’s the real meaning of the Jesus’ proclamation. It describes what the world would be like if the GREAT SOURCE (not Rome or the United States) were in charge of the world.
However, the liturgy also affirms the uncomfortable fact that before that Great Reversal, true followers of Jesus must endure severe persecution — very troubled times like our own. According to the Master, great trials must precede the Kingdom’s institution. Jesus promised arrests, judicial silencings, jailings, and general persecution for those with the courage to follow his example as an opponent of empire and injustice.
See that theme for yourself by reviewing today’s readings here. In any case, what follows are my “translations” of those selections. They describe the new order (or what scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan calls “God’s Great World Clean-up”) as advocated by the Jewish prophetic tradition and by Jesus himself. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus outlines the inevitable consequences for any who act to hasten the Kingdom’s eventual arrival:
MAL 3: 19-20A Scorching times are coming For the rulers Of this world! Root and branch They will be destroyed In purging fire When God’s Great Clean-up Finally sets things right. PS 98: 5-9 The Great Purge Will at last establish God’s justice On earth Including environmental rectification For the entire planet, With its seas and mountains. Above all, It will mean Equity and justice For the whole human race. Everyone should be Happy about that. 2 THES 3: 7-12 But don’t relax. Long ago, Some in Paul’s community Thought the Purge Would take place “Any day now.” So, they stopped working. “Don’t do that,” Said Paul. “Your faith Shouldn’t make you A burden to others.” LK 21:28 However, Just because The Great Purgation Has yet to occur, Don’t lose faith. Know that it is Still somehow At hand LK 21: 5-19 So, you’re wondering, Are you, When exactly The Great Clean-up Will take place? It will happen in three stages First, there’ll be Wars, terror and insurrections Along with natural disasters That will leave Religion in a shamble. Secondly, all kinds of charlatans Will show up Claiming to speak for Jesus. Thirdly, even family members And religious authorities Will blame believers for all of it. They will hate, persecute, and arrest them For simply following the Master, Handing them over To civil authorities Deeply fearful Of the wisdom Of their unassailable defenses. Jesus’ recommendations? 1. Reject false Christs. 2. Trust the Holy Spirit within. 3. Endure imprisonment. 4. Persevere!
All of that represents an extremely high bar, don’t you agree? Following the martyr, Jesus – the tortured one, the one imprisoned on death row, the victim of capital punishment – is never easy.
But does that mean that those of us living beneath the lofty bar set by Jesus are lost? Can we not be part of God’s Great World Clean-up?
Let’s hope that we can.
At the very least however, here’s what we can do in line with today’s final reading:
- Reject false Christs by realizing that the meek and mild Jesus of mainstream Christianity is a distortion of the one recognized as subversive by the Roman Empire and by the compromised Judaism of his day. Jesus meek and mild represents the false Christ the Master himself warns against in today’s Gospel reading.
- Instead, embrace Jesus’ rebel Spirit as much as possible by for example refusing to patriotically accept “official stories” about either Russia or China. Despite their very evident limitations, both are resisting imperialism and neo-colonialism.
- Pray for the Spirit of civil disobedience that inspired great people of faith like the prophet from Nazareth.
- Don’t be discouraged by delays in the Kingdom’s arrival or by the apparent victories of its enemies. Persevere!