32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment, so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.
As the Church’s liturgical year comes to its end – we have three Sundays remaining until Advent which will begin the new liturgical year – the readings will direct our minds to the end of the world and the final judgement, when Christ will come a second time for the final judgement and the final establishment of the Kingdom of God. Today’s second reading from Hebrews focuses on this final judgement in a very positive way for the children of the Kingdom, for note how it says that Christ “will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”
The first appearance of Christ 2000 years ago was for the purpose of atoning for our sins by His self-sacrifice so that we could be recreated by Divine Grace and made children of God and members of His Kingdom, which is the Church. Christ is presented by the author of Hebrews as the great high priest of mankind who comes into the world as man in order to exercise the supreme priestly office, offering himself as the supreme sacrifice which atones for all the sins of mankind. However, this sacrifice does not mean automatic remission of sins and universal personal salvation.
Here is the difficult truth. Each person, in order to be saved, must truly repent of his or he sins and have faith in God and the High Priest who redeemed us. Moreover, to become a member of the Kingdom each person must be baptized. Finally, those who are actually to be saved must live a life in accord with this faith and the moral law of God, and be ready to be judged when he or she dies and is judged by God. The Letter to the Hebrews makes that abundantly clear in saying that “that human beings die once,
and after this [comes] the judgment.”
The Church calls this immediate judgment after death the particular judgment. This first judgment will determine whether we are to be forever members of God’s heavenly Kingdom or forever cast into the darkness, which Jesus refers to multiple times, where there will be “the wailing and gnashing of teeth,” eternal damnation.
But Hebrews is speaking not so much about this particular judgment of individuals, but rather the text is speaking about the absolutely final or general judgement that will take place when Christ returns in glory to judge all of mankind and even the angels. This final judgement will establish the final and complete condition or situation of all of creation, men and angels, and even the material elements of creation.
At the particular judgment, each of us will be illuminated as to why he or she is either condemned to Hell or rewarded with Heaven, and he or she will be partially established in that final condition, partially because only the soul will be so rewarded or condemned.
At the general judgment, on the other hand, all men will be illuminated as to exactly why some men and angels are rewarded, judged worthy of the Kingdom of God, and why others are condemned, judged worthy of eternal damnation.
In addition, at this final determination of all creation, the bodies of all men will be raised, but with vastly different kinds of bodies. Those destined for Heaven will be raised and transformed in glorified bodies, while those destined for Hell will be raised in purely natural bodies capable of suffering. Even the rest of the material creation will be transformed to be the dwelling place of the glorified sons and daughters of the Kingdom and the exile of those who are to have no place in that Kingdom.
It is truly an awesome thing to contemplate this future judgement that will be the occasion and reason for Christ’s second coming in glory, and it will be even more awesome to experience this great division of creation, for good or for evil. Thus, the author of Hebrews wants to console the pilgrim church struggling under persecution and rejection in this world. He does not in any way suggest that they should fear this second coming of Christ, but says they are to long for it, to desire it, And why? Because Christ will be appearing, “to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him,” Christ is coming precisely to deliver his followers from the evil things of this world and to elevate them to the joys of eternal salvation.
Finally, we will have hope in this salvation if we eagerly await his coming. For certainly no would eagerly await this coming and the final judgment if that person is living an immoral life, a worldly existence rather than a life of faith, hope and charity. Only they truly will await him eagerly who are truly trying to live a Godly life, a life shaped by faith, hope and charity, and not by the values of this world.
We see a great example of this kind of person in today’s Gospel. It’s not one of the scribes are Pharisees seeking the places of honor in the society or synagogue who are praised by Christ, nor even the apostles who are directed to pay attention to this lowly individual. The person who catches Jesus attention in the Temple treasury is the poor widow who donated only a few pennies to the treasury. But Jesus, who knows her situation, judges that she has put in more than all the rest, relatively speaking, since those few cents was everything she had, not some surplus wealth, but her whole livelihood, all her assets as we would say today.
Jesus praises her not so much because of her monetary gift, her generosity, but because this action of giving away everything showed that she was making herself totally dependent upon God and was awaiting the Kingdom which had been promised long ago by God. In other words, this concrete action of total personal generosity revealed her soul, that she was among the little ones whom God loves so dearly because they depend upon His bounty unconditionally, and they long for God with a faith that is like the faith of the martyrs who give up their very life for God.
As in most things, men in this world tend to judge things by appearances, and in this case the onlookers would’ve likely judged that the widow gave very little, which is true if you are only looking at externals. But God reads the heart, and he knows that behind this act which appears so little to the world, there stands a heart filled with faith and love which can only be adequately rewarded in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus read that women’s heart, and Jesus knows what is in our hearts. He knew that this woman had great faith and was eagerly awaiting the Kingdom of God, whose promise he was to fulfill. But does he see the same faith and love in our hearts, witnessed to by the way we live in this world? Or, more importantly, will he see the same faith and love in our hearts when he comes to be our judge. On that day, who would you rather be like, that poor widow in today’s gospel or those who have spent their lives seeking the honors of this world, the wealth of this world, the power of this world, and using the means of this world to gain them all. What will all those things mean then? But what joy if we could all hear those words Jesus applied to that widow applied to us, that we gave it all, contributed all that we had to making God’s kingdom a reality in this world, and first of all in our hearts. Then will we truly know the salvation of our God.