33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012 B
“In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Mark 13:24f.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible has some very definite things to say about the end of time, that is, the end of this world as it presently exists. Science also is convinced that this planet like other large bodies in the universe will be destroyed one day, and scientists have various theories about how this could happen. But the Bible assures us that the world as we know it will pass away not simply by chance, simply by some chance cosmic event, as scientists predict, but rather by a decree of its Creator. Moreover, both the Old and New Testament teach that this event will take place in conjunction with the coming of the Messiah, who will establish God’s kingdom in power, which will include establishing a new heavens and a new Earth.
Now, the teaching of the New Testament on this matter is quite specific. The second coming of the Messiah will be accompanied by a cataclysmic event that will put an end to the world, not completely, but as we know it. For Christ will create a new heavens and new earth through a dramatic transformation of the old. In addition, this final event will also put an end to human history which will be consummated by the Messiah’s final judgment of the living and the dead.
Today’s gospel is very specific in this regard: “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” This gathering is for the clear purpose of judgment, and this purpose is confirmed by our first reading today from the Old Testament Book of Daniel where it says: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.”
Jesus does not soften His words when speaking of this final judgement, and there is no way of explaining away his warning. These words are either true or false; you either believe Him or you deny Him. There is no “middle ground” here. Indeed, belief will lead to our being prepared to meet our judgement, and unbelief will leave us unprepared.
On these matters, science has nothing really to tell us. It can speculate as to the possible ways the world could be brought to an end physically, but it cannot tell us anything about the decree of God that will terminate man’s history nor anything about the coming of the Son of Man to judge the living and the dead and establish a new heavens and a new earth. While scientists can deny all this, they cannot do so as scientists. They can reject all this but only as unbelievers who will thus unlikely be prepared to meet the Lord and face His judgement if they persist in their pride and unbelief.
Psalm 14 begins with these words, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” The unbeliever, whether a scientist or simple person, is biblically a fool because he cannot discover God in the wonders of creation, which the wise do; for, as Ecclesiastes says, “The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness.” There is no greater foolishness than to stand before the Son of God one day unprepared to answer for your unbelief and for your sins which are unrepented. For unless a man believes in God, he can never truly repent for his sins, which means to humbly recognize the offense that his sins are to God and to God’s Redeemer Son who died to expiate for their evil. That is the ultimate definition of a foolish man.
However, what is most significant about the description of the second coming of Christ is not the host of fearful signs that will accompany it, but the joyful fact that this universe will be transformed along with the bodies of the righteous into a new and more wonderful creation. For, as 2nd Peter says,“we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home;” and Revelation confirms this truth, for “he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
No indeed, the foretelling of these cataclysmic events is not meant to terrify us, but to give us hope, which is summarized in St. Luke at the end of his description of the second coming, “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Christian believers should not be terrified but filled with hope that at last their rescue from the evil of this world is at hand.
So Christians who have true faith will not live in fear of the second coming and the events that will accompany it, so long as they are also ready to meet the Lord when he comes. Those who are unprepared for this judgment will understandably be terrified by the physical events, but they really should be more terrified of the spiritual event that it signals, the judgment which follows, which will reveal their eternal destiny to all.
Moreover, if I truly believe that the end of the world will come at a time that is known to no one but God, as Jesus says, “But of that day or hour, no one knows,” then I will be much more likely to be ready at all times to meet Christ. Nothing, then, is more salutary than to intensely desire to meet Christ, in this world and in the next, and to see his creation transformed in glory, including ourselves. And nothing is more prudent than our being ready at all times to welcome Him. For we also know that “the Son of Man will come when least expected.” Mt. 24:44.