Summary: Jesus talks about the end of the world. But the focus is not on fear and trembling; but on faith and trust in him, and preparing for it through right living now.
I was ordained on a November day six years ago. The ordination was at my home parish, and prior to that I was still finishing my study of Theology in another city in India. Of course the ordination was a huge celebration, and needed a lot of preparation. Since I was away, most of the arrangements were done by my friends and family. One of my cousins who was a religious sister agreed to look after the decoration and arrangements for the first mass at the church.
After finishing my final exam, I reached my hometown a couple of weeks before the date of ordination. I contacted my cousin to find out about the arrangements at the church, and I was kind of puzzled by her reply. She said that some mystic retreat preacher had prophesied that the world was coming to an end a week before my ordination. So, why to make any arrangements? We should all sit and pray and prepare to meet God. I had to struggle hard to contain my laughter. Anyway I told her that it was too bad that the world would end before my ordination; but anyway I would contact her after a week, in case God changed his plan about the world. I later came to know that there were many good Catholics who believed this prophesy and prepared for the end of the world, with specially blessed candles to overcome the darkness that would precede the doomsday. Anyway, fortunately for me, the world did not end on the appointed day; and my cousin promptly made all the arrangements in the church. Later when I met her at the time of the ordination, I asked her if she still believed the prophet. Well, of course. She said that he gave an explanation why the world did not end. Since so many people were praying, God decided to postpone the doomsday. Well, I thought it was ridiculous, but didn’t want to challenge her trust in the preacher. But I reminded her what Jesus had said about the rumors about the end of the world: that nobody knows that day or hour, not even the Son of Man, except the Father.
There has been a lot of talk about the end of the world at different times. As a matter of fact, in 1947 a “doomsday clock’’ was inaugurated by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a publication of the Education Foundation for Nuclear Science. The purpose of the doomsday clock is to show how things like the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the destruction of the environment, and international political unrest are pushing our world deeper and deeper into the danger zone of global annihilation. Because of its prestigious backing, the doomsday clock is taken seriously by some very serious people. Currently, the clock reads 11:54 P.M. — or six minutes to doomsday. A movie that was released last year predicted that the world will end in 2012, based on some ancient calculations. I don’t know how many people take that very seriously.
End of the world was a hot topic throughout the Christian history too. We have several instances in the New Testament which point to the fact that the early Christians expected that Christ’s second coming would be soon. So all that rhetoric about preparing for the coming of the master. Today’s gospel is part of this rhetoric. In the process of foretelling the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus is referring to the fact that he will return at the end of the world. But he also tells us not to follow the false prophets who try to scare us about it.
Commenting on that day and hour, Jesus says:
“Watch out; don’t be fooled. Many men, claiming to speak for me, will come and say, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t follow them.”
Jesus goes on to say that before he returns, his followers will suffer great persecution. He says:
“Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a single hair from your heads will be lost.”
But Jesus also says: “I will give you such words and wisdom that none of your enemies will be able to refute or contradict what you say.”
When I used to work in an urban parish in Calcutta in India, I used to see a man sitting outside my window, on the pavement, with a parrot in a cage. He was a fortune teller. Several people who pass by that way would stop at him to learn about what the future held for them. I never believed that this man could actually predict the future of these people, but I was curious to know what he told them, and how what he told them affected them. I wouldn’t want to know today what would happen to me tomorrow. If something good is going to happen, I want to receive it as a surprise. And if something bad is going to happen, I don’t want to spend my today worrying about it. I won’t be able to change it anyway. And this is why I am surprised that so many people look at the horoscope columns on the magazines and on the net to learn about their future.