Luke 21:5-19a, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Three Days of Darkness.” That’s what it was called. I was in grade six when that doomsday prediction became popular. A solar eclipse was said to be but the beginning of 72 hours without the sun, during which time only blessed candles would emit light. And that, they said, was the beginning of the end. March 19, 1988.
And here we are, twenty-eight years later.
Many other such apocalyptic predictions have of course been made, before and after that of 1988. And if you’re the type to fancy drawing up such rumors, now would be a very good time to conjure one up. With the events of the past week – of earthquakes and earth-shaking Supreme Court decisions and earth-changing election results – it would be easy to sell such end-time sentiments in these moments of confusion and fear.
Will it be 5 years from now? 50? or 500?
Will it be climate change? Or the most terrible of wars? Or some unforeseen cosmic collision?
We often get caught up in fear of the when and how. But if we go by today’s readings, the real concern should be not of the end, but that which happens to us after the end, for that will be the time of reckoning for us all.
Both the Gospel and the first reading are clear on this: lines will be drawn, between those on God’s side and those on the other. And happy the one who is on the right team, for on that day, “not a hair of his or hers will be harmed”, while the “sun of justice shall bring them healing.”
But what does it really mean to be on God’s side? What does it mean to be part of God’s team? Many of us Church-going Catholics who love our families, who pray, who partake of the sacraments, and who have decent livelihoods probably think we have it covered. But the grace of today’s liturgy might just awaken us to the fact that God asks more than just prayer, family-love and honest work for those who really want to be on His side.
For one, ours is a God of justice, as the first reading and the psalm today remind us. And to take God’s side is to take part in God’s work of justice. It is to be furthering a just world. Contrary to what we sometimes lazily wish, the Kingdom of God isn’t something that’ll just happen with the wave of God’s hand. He who does not work, will not get his due (as the 2nd reading reminds us), and he who longs for God’s justice but does nothing to work for it, can expect no such reward.
If it can be said therefore that it was out of our failure – our failure to educate the young about our history, our failure to be vigilant against those who seek to cover-up their wrongs, our failure to truly guard against what must never happen again – if it is by such failures that we find our country in such an unfortunate state, then we have failed to do justice to our God.
To be part of God’s team is to take part of God’s work and God’s mission towards a Kingdom “where God rules the world with justice and all peoples with equity.”
The coupling of “justice” and “equity” in that last line of the psalm is also worth highlighting. This tells us that in God’s eyes, a just world is not just about societies that give criminals their due, and the virtuous their reward. It is much more than that. It is also about correcting the injustice of inequity, of the scandalous wealth and profit made at the expense of the grindingly inhuman and paralyzing situation of poverty. To be on God’s team is to be working to correct this situation, too.
Scripture scholars tell us that Jesus himself was scandalized at such a situation. Remember the scene he made at the Temple ? Jesus was enraged at the sellers, not only because of the marketplace they had made of the Father’s house, but also because of the exorbitant profits the merchants were making by exploiting the poor pilgrims visiting the temple. Such a situation was unacceptable to Jesus’s God of justice and equity.
Blessed are you, then who have dedicated your lives to justice in the world and to uplifting the poor. Rejoice that the Lord has given you the chance to work alongside Him, and pray that your tribe may increase.
Furthermore, according to today’s Gospel, to be on God’s side means to be ready and willing to go through trials and persecution, to be hated “because of his name.”
We know so well that genuine goodness, and justice, and peace, and equity come at no easy price. In the building up of a just world, those who stand to lose so much of the power and wealth that have possessed them will not give these up without putting up a fight. But God promises to be with those who choose to be on His side to the very end. And so to be on God’s side is to trust in this promise, and to have courage in standing up for what is right.
To every Christian, Jesus on the cross is the greatest reminder, not only of the dangers of being part of God’s team, but more importantly, of God’s affinity and solidarity with those who suffer for siding with truth and goodness. God is with those who take up their cross for the good of others, as His Son did.
Finally, to be on God’s side is to play by His son’s rules. And what would these rules be? ” Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . the meek . . . those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. . . Love your enemy. . . Forgive seventy times seven (infinitely). . . Whatever you do for the least of these brothers and sisters, you do for me. . . Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.
We know the rules. We know whose side we want to be on. But we also know that the price to pay might be too costly, might be something beyond our capacity. That is why today, we pray. We pray for the graces we will need – for strength, and courage, and commitment – to do what needs to be done as members of God’s team.
A final word on justice, God’s justice. We now live in an age, where violence and brutality are made to masquerade as justice in order to further “development” and the “betterment of society.” But more and more it is becoming clear that such a means corrupts its lofty end, and sows fear and terror among us all. So to be very clear about it, as many of our Church leaders have already said, the brutal extra-judicial killings of our brothers and sisters – be they addicts or pushers or users or innocents or mistaken identities, or framed targets of a system gone awry – do not, and cannot bring about God’s justice. There is nothing Godly or just about these killings. And those who sow lies and terror and fear can by no means be counted on God’s side, for clearly they play by rules other than Jesus’.
Today we can ask ourselves, “What have we done for justice? What are we doing for the oppressed? What ought we to do to build a just world?”
May we learn to ask these questions now, so that if and when the three days of darkness finally do come, we may be found rejoicing as the Sun of Justice rises, and may find in it a healing and not a scorching. Amen.