The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
2015 – Cycle B
Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
Did it not start in 1938 with Orson Welles’ radio drama War of the Worlds? A conflict between earth and invading Martians bent on destroying us. We were invaded again in the 1956 film, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers whose theme of invasion was revisited in the 1996 film, Independence Day. 1998 saw the premieres of Deep Impact and Armageddon followed by The Day After Tomorrow in 2004. Instead of invading extra-terrestrials, now it is comets on collision courses with earth and extreme weather and new Ice Ages that threaten our planet and its inhabitants. Can we ever forget the final scene from Planet of the Apes (1968) and the half buried Statue of Liberty rising out of the sands of the seashore?
Have you ever considered that much of our entertainment the past decades has revolved around watching the violent destruction of our most cherished symbols and institutions as well as our planet?
Spilling over into Advent the biblical passages with similar images offer us no respite. “…it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress…some shall live, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” “In those days … the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from the sky…” “Nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright.”
What is the meaning of such fearful and destructive stories and images found in both the biblical texts and societal literature and fiction? Why do human beings imagine such scenarios? We are living in a period of substantial change and instability in all aspects of human life. Hopelessness abounds. Do these images not reflect our present personal and world situations?
- The racial tensions that were uncovered in Ferguson, Missouri are now igniting protests at the University of Missouri, Ithaca College, New York and across the nation’s college campuses.
- The movement of refugees, immigrants and migrants across the globe straining the resources of European nations and challenging the moral compass of the world.
- The rising concern over the environment. A clarion call by a Pope. Yet, what will come from the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris? Will world leaders, will international industry and corporations step up to the plate for future generations?
- Unemployment, underemployment, the arguments over the minimum wage.
- Yesterday’s multiple bombings in Paris by ISIS. Was it a terrorist bomb that brought down the Russian airline over Saudi Arabia? Are we on the verge of another Dark Ages or World War III?
- Fear often leads to seeking out a black and white world view: right vs. wrong, them vs. us. It requires no reflection just blind adherence to a position. Uncomplicated answers for complex issues and questions that lead to the inability of people to listen and speak with each other. We have seen this in the polarization of the Synod of Bishops to the American Congress.
- The cutting winds of the resurgence of the Cold War under Putin in Ukraine and Syria.
- The sad litany of Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, ISIS, Somalia, Ukraine, Boko Haram.
- Blame is another aspect of fear as throughout the world we see the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity with its accompanied persecutions and martyrdoms.
- The course language and situations of television programs and what passes for entertainment.
- “Big Brother” watching our every move from drones, ubiquitous security cameras and Amazon.com following our preferences and making suggestions for our next purchase.
This is the world we live in. The world we have created… a time unsurpassed in distress. And we are unique among all generations of human beings who have ever existed because we can literally destroy our planet through war or environmental neglect. A far cry from the garden in which our story began.
Whether from the ancient biblical prophecies of Daniel, the Book of Revelation, the Gospels or our movie storytelling, the fundamental question is, where is hope? That question of hope is crucial in our time. Today’s movies are our version if you will of the Books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation. But there is one major difference between the biblical texts and our entertainment world and its images. For in all those American movie stories, God is absent. Science, human ingenuity and secularism have banished the mystery and the power of God from the universe.
Where is hope?
Maybe we need to first ask, what is hope? What are we talking about? And what specifically is Christian hope? Christian hope does not mean living in the clouds, dreaming of a better life. It is not wishful thinking.
Christian hope leads us to discover seeds of a new world already present today, because of the identity of our God whose name is I AM. Expanded, God’s name as given to Moses at the burning bush was a promise: “I AM, I will be present to you as I AM.” [See Exodus 3:14] Christian hope leads us to discover seeds of a new world already present today, because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ whose final words also were a promise, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20]
Christian hope is rooted in a relationship, a confident expectation in promises made to us. And that is not in opposition to the gifts of science and medicine, human ingenuity and creativity. But it binds the two together so that present and future may walk together seeking in different ways to bring solace and comfort to the human situation.
Let’s come closer to home.
Where do you look for strength and comfort when your life is assailed by a time unsurpassed in distress?
Instability, insecurity, and substantial change cause us to retreat. Retreat often into a romanticized past that is perceived as better and more stable. Many people resort to denial or psychologically and physically absenting themselves from a situation, burying themselves in work, drowning themselves in alcohol or other drugs, expressing their fear by lashing out in anger, filling their life with “stuff”.
Where do you look for strength and comfort when your life is assailed by a time unsurpassed in distress? Maybe the question should be worded, to whom do you look for strength and comfort when your life is assailed by a time unsurpassed in distress?
Consider that in our parish there are people dealing with family members who have the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, parishioners dealing with cancer, loveless marriages, mental illness, debilitating disorders, spiritual crises, divorce, and loneliness.
If Christian hope leads us to discover seeds of a new world already present, then what and where are the seeds of a new world in these situations for our sisters and brothers? Seeds speak of a future about to burst forth with new life. But the search for seeds is never meant to be done alone: Even God calls forth a people; Jesus calls together disciples. Hope is found in the midst of the community of believers.
So, to whom do you look for strength and comfort when your life is assailed by a time unsurpassed in distress?