Summary: What shall we do as we await the return of Our Lord Jesus Christ?
33rd Sunday in Course 2015
End and Beginning
The Book of Daniel and St. Mark’s Gospel have one important thing in common: they were both written in times of persecution of the faith. Daniel was published–probably through a kind of underground press–in the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, ruler of Syria in pre-Roman times. Mark was written during a first-century persecution, probably that of Nero, and was a kind of short version of St. Matthew’s Gospel for Romans who daily lived in danger of martyrdom.
Next month the Jewish communities will celebrate Hanukkah, which dates from the same period as Daniel. It was a grim age to be a Jew. Antiochus had decreed that all the world would adopt Greek culture, and worship the Greek gods, especially Zeus. He arrogantly set up an image of Zeus in the Temple of Jerusalem–it just happened to look just like the king–and forbade circumcision, burned the scrolls of Torah, and forced Jews to sacrifice to idols and to eat pork–all acts forbidden by God. Thousands were martyred. The survivors wondered what had happened to the God who had brought them out of Egypt and had saved them from so many foes. And, moreover, what about all those who had been murdered? What had become of them? This, coupled with the belief in the goodness and justice of God, reinforced the understanding that there is more to life than this life. So we read today that those who remained faithful to the Law and right worship would awake from the sleep of death to shine brightly forever, while those who apostatized would become an everlasting horror and disgrace. The people of God would be freed from the tyrant’s boot.
The battles of Judas Maccabeus and his relatives brought that liberty about for the survivors–for a time. But the Romans came in their turn with a different kind of oppression and new forms of murder. Time and time again the Jews revolted, only to be suppressed and forced into new humiliations. Jesus Himself predicted the catastrophe that overtook Judea between 67 and 70 AD, when the Romans encircled Jerusalem at Passover, trapping as many as a million Jews inside their circumvallation. All of them died or were sold into slavery when the city fell, just as Our Lord had foreseen. Titus used the proceeds from the sale to build the Coliseum at Rome.
All these cataclysms, however, are to be considered child’s play when compared to the final act in the divine-human drama we call the history of man. Jesus describes it for us today: darkened sun and moon and falling stars, a gathering of the faithful to meet Our Lord returning in glory. The Book of Revelations gives more detail, but understand that none of these writings are meant to be taken word for word. They give in heated terms the message that is ultimately a message of hope: the persecution of the world is not permanent; it will end. Jesus is not defeated; He has already triumphed. The sinful and hateful world will end, but a new heavens and earth, new in kind, will be crafted by the Divine Creator. And we shall all–if we are faithful–be part of the everlasting community of the elect, embraced by the Trinity in unspeakable joy forever.
So what are we to do now, when the media are arrayed against us, just waiting for some priest or religious to do something irresponsible so they can bring out their spray cans and craft hateful graffiti across the walls of Mother Church? When governments are massed across the world to make us proclaim that what we know is Truth is a lie, and what we know is sin is good? When across the Middle East, Islamic fanatics have bought into the lie that spreading their heresy is the way to glory, and that they should murder any Christian or Jew who refuses to adhere to their false religion? What exactly are we to do other than be personally ready for the return of Christ?
The temptation is for us to whine to God and pray to Him to smite our adversaries. Why, we ask, do the wicked prosper, do the fanatics prevail, do the leaders cower before the enemies of the good? Why doesn’t God destroy the evildoers who would destroy His Church and His people? It reminds me of what one of my religion students said in class almost fifteen years ago, “Wouldn’t it have been better if God just forced us to do the right thing? Wouldn’t life be a lot better?”
Here’s the problem, and it is recorded in Genesis, before humans started messing up: God said, “let us make man in our image and likeness.” So He made man in the image and likeness of God, with intellect and free will. God made us free. He gave our intellects the freedom to believe the Truth, but they are also free to believe the most horrendous lies. Think of the ones that have almost destroyed humanity: that one race is better than another, that humans should love their countrymen but hate their enemies, that there is a moral way to use weapons of mass destruction, that one person can own another.