Mark 13:24-32, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
When I was growing up in Davao, it took very little for elders to start talking about the end of the world. When there was an earthquake, a typhoon, a plane crash, war, flood—very soon, mom or lola or manang would sit up anxiously share what they “heard” about how the world would end. Then they’d turn to us kids and say, “Ayan, malapit na magunaw ang mundo. Darating na si Hesus.” It was a Pinoy obsession back in the 70s, this end of the world. When I was in Grade 3, I remember reading from the papers about a pastor who commanded a whole village to go up to Tagaytay, because the end was near. Stones daw would rain from the sky, oceans would swell to drown villages, earthquakes would swallow evil people (starting from politicians, I guess). I actually saw pictures of the people. They were carrying salbabidas, you know, those inflatables you buy from toy stores—I guess to keep afloat when the ocean swells. They wore plastic helmets, you know, those nothing helmets you could buy from the palengke—I guess to protect their heads from the rain of stones. Even as a kid, I remember wondering whether I’d pity the people or laugh at them.
Then, when I was in Grade 4, a very religious uncle living with us came to the house one evening. He had carbon copies of a document entitled, Three Days Darkness. He distributed copies to me and kuya: “Ibigay n’yo sa mga teachers, mga classmates n’yo.” It was about the end of the world that was coming “very soon.” The document said it would last for three days. Everything would happen in the dark. All electricity, all water would be cut off. So people should stock up on candles and gallons of holy water. Only candles blessed by a priest daw would light up. Only holy water daw would last. Otherwise, they’d mysteriously dry up daw. And people should stay locked up indoors, and pray the rosary continuously, and beg for God’s mercy. Windows should be boarded up or curtained off daw. For anyone who looked out would drop dead on the spot. Then, after three days, the sun would return. And we would soon notice daw, evil people would have vanished. Only the good would remain. Hahay. You know, sisters and brothers, I still hate myself until now that a document like that made me anxious for many days, and had me praying the rosary, scaring me about God. I was in Grade 4! All terrified of a bad news God.
Today, I still don’t understand why some devoted Catholics find strange delight in bad news end-of-the-world scenarios. They still walk amongst us, you know, religious and lay who sound quite certain about the when and the how of this “end” of the world. But when I look to Jesus who is the norm for all our believing (not apparitions, by the way, okay? Not mystical whisperings, not private visions), when I go back to Jesus, who, I repeat, is the norm for all our believing—I find nothing in his life, ministry, actions, his very person, anything that even hints of God destroying people and the world, to save the holy. If that were true, doesn’t it mean that this universe that God has created and sustained and loved for billions of years, would one day see God crushing it all to dust? Would our Creator God turn Destroyer God? Merciful God become Vengeful God? Saving God regress into Cursing God? Is humanity’s sin so powerful that it triggers God to reverse who he is just to prove to evil men they have no power over him? Ridiculous? Well, that’s the tantamount kind of God doomsayers imply He is in their end-of-the-world scenarios. Yet, in all the years that I studied theology and still studying it, I’ve never seen Jesus reveal that kind of a God doing that kind of violence. Never. In fact, Jesus went about fixing the broken in the Kingdom of God, reordering the messy, provinding the antidote to the poison in men’s hearts. But doomsayers have us believe that the Kingdom of God will be totally the opposite of what Jesus had revealed. Now, that’s not funny anymore.
But, Fr. Arnel, we read about the end of the world from the Gospels. The apocalyptic end-of-the-world scenarios in the Gospels resonate with apocalyptic echoes from Jewish sources and tradition—especially from the prophet Daniel. But the Book of Daniel does not predict the end of the world. Daniel wrote at a difficult time when Israel was being besieged by the pagan Greeks under King Antiochus Epiphanes. This king threatened to annihilate Israel’s religion and replace it with his Greek religion. So, Daniel wrote of Israel’s hope of freedom from oppression, and victory over the foreigners. For some reason, Daniel chose an apocalyptic voice for his writing. Centuries afterwards, Israel was again besieged by pagan Rome in the time of Jesus. So, it was not surprising for a people, steeped in the Psalms and Prophets, to reprise Daniel’s words, but this time, put it into the mouth of Jesus who, after all, is the Messiah who had arrived. Coming back to the point, nowhere in Jesus’ teachings and ministry do I find a bad news end-of-the-world God as doomsayers often render him. We’re sure of one thing, though. Jesus, our Lord, Jesus, our norm, said: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
A vindictive, destructive god might really be an idol we create out of our own image and likeness, moulded and chiseled from the hardened clay of our mutual exasperations. We then project to the idol all our frustration, self-righteousness, vindictiveness. God raining down stones from heaven? Swelling the ocean to drown the enemies? Opening the earth to swallow evil men? This is how we probably want to end our enemies if it were up to us, isn’t it? But in our narrative, we have God do it all in our stead…’cause it ain’t a sin if God does it, right? Well, no wonder our strange delight and indulgence in armchair prophecies of the end-of-the-world.
The good news is: God is no vindictive God. And that’s good news to all of us because we are all sinners. But, unlike what doomsayers imply, our God remains ever Creator, ever Pardoner, ever Lover. Divine creativity and pardon and love will never end.
In that case, it is never too late for us to begin anew!
*image from the Internet