Sunday, November 18, 2018

Already but not yet

We live in a time which theologians refer to as "already but not yet."  That is, Christ has already come and has defeated the evil one and opened the gates of heaven.  But, we are not yet with him in heaven.  In fact, we are still free to turn away from him.  The first reading from the prophet Daniel says: "Some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace."   We are living in the in between time, the time of Jesus' Church, the time between his first coming at Bethlehem and his second coming at the end of time.  And, we still must undergo trials and suffering before we can enter into his kingdom.
As Catholic Christians, our perspective of the history of the world is different than that of non-Catholics and especially non-Christians.  We believe that history begins with God's creation of man and woman and ends with the second coming of Christ as described in today's readings.  The key event in history is the Incarnation, God becoming man.  Before Jesus leaves us and ascends into heaven, he establishes his church, the Catholic church, and gives each of us a mission.  Our mission is to make disciples - to bring others into a relationship with Jesus and his church.
In today's turbulent times, which are, in my opinion, the worst times for our church and our nation in my lifetime, we may have difficulty seeing the big picture.  We may not be able to see the forest for the trees.  So, it is good for us to look at our church from the perspective of the last 2000 years.  Our church has been persecuted continuously since Christ instituted it 2000 years ago.  Also, on occasion, her leaders have been very sinful men who led her astray.  But, we will also see that, in spite of this, the Holy Spirit kept her on the straight and narrow often during these 2000 years.   If the church were merely a secular organization, she would have succumbed many years ago as numerous worldly empires have.  But, Jesus told his apostles: "the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church."
Today's first reading and Gospel are filled with dramatic images and scenes, all designed to comfort listeners, to let them know they have not been abandoned, and that God is and will be with them.
The book of Daniel was written almost two centuries before Christ was born when the Jewish people were threatened by the Syrian Empire.  Their king wanted to impose Greek culture and religion on Israel, and he tried to get the Israelites to deny their God and forsake their traditions.  But the people of Israel were willing to suffer torture and death to be faithful to their God, to the Law given to Moses, and to the traditions of their ancestors.
The verses we heard promise that God will send the archangel Michael to help the people of Israel escape their enemies.  Those who remain faithful to God are the wise who will shine like the stars forever.
Jesus draws on the book of Daniel in a long farewell speech in Mark's Gospel.  Our reading is from the middle of this speech.  He is sitting outside the city of Jerusalem, looking across at the Temple, and his disciples have asked him about the end of the Temple and of Jerusalem and about the end of the world.  The words we heard this morning have to do with the end of the world.
Concerning the end time, Jesus says that after a period of trials when all nature will be out of control, people will see a figure called “the Son of Man” coming in glory and power.  He also says that his words are true and the time is near, but no one knows the exact day.
At the heart of these readings is the promise that God will bring all chaos under control and that He will always take care of the faithful.  A new order will dawn at the end and the old order will pass away. 
This Gospel gives us hope and urges watchfulness.  It reminds us that our lives as believers are not just an easy march into eternal life.  The cost of being a faithful disciple of Jesus can be great because we are asked to get involved in God’s agenda, which can arouse intense opposition, as it has in parts of the world even in our own day. 
At the end of time, the Son of Man, Jesus, will return in power and glory.  The just and the wise will rise again because it is God’s will that we are destined to live forever in His presence.  But, in the meantime, we are to be engaged in the life of our world and in the lives of those who live here. 
Today's readings should give us hope.  No matter how bad things might seem, all is not lost.  God is in charge.  And we don't have to solve all of the problems of the world ourselves.  We are here to make disciples - to tell everyone we meet about Jesus and his church.