The end tells the means. The beginning and end times are always greeted with anxiety, suspense and emotional upheavals. At the concluding end of a long race the athletes are highly tensed up on what the end will be like. The farmer is always anxious at the harvesting time on what becomes his harvest. A student is also so worried when the end time comes-exam time. As we draw near to the end of the liturgical year – next Sunday is the last Sunday of the year: Christ the king – the Church is putting this question to each of us:
“What do you see as the purpose of your life, of your existence in this world? How seriously should we take the predictions of today’s gospel about the end of this world and the day of judgment?” To help us reflect on this, we should keep ever before our minds this one great certainty, that death puts an end, absolutely and beyond recall, to all our works, all our plans, all the seemingly vital concerns which lend a certain purpose to our daily involvement. Thus it would not be so surprising today to see the Disciples of Christ so worried and startled by Jesus’ tell of the end time. Nevertheless, a thought of the end time elicits two expectations-either despair or hopefulness. This is confirmed in today’s readings.
‘Anthropine Gap’ was the first divine law given to man directly from God at creation, that is to ‘conquer and subdue the earth’ (Gen. 1:28). Today, as Jesus speaks of the end time, St. Paul reminds us of this first divine law given to man. Thus he says: ‘if any man would not work, may he not eat’ (2Thess. 3:10). Jesus, in today’s Gospel corroborates this Pauline statement saying: ‘your endurance will win your lives’ (Lk.21:10). By Anthropine Gap I refer to the Greek word-anthropos which means: man.
This implies the gap God has supposefully left in his art of creation for man to fill in. At creation, God the Father made man a co-creator. Thus he has given man a share in the art of creation such that man becomes a co-creator with God; “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen.1.28). It is therefore the design of God from creation that we go on working and eschewing laziness (2Thess. 3:7-12). Hence it is by obedience to this first divine command of healthy human labour that we gain our salvation. Little wonder the scripture says ‘work out your salvation in fear and trembling’ (Philppians 2:12-13).
Christ, while on earth, made two distinct prophecies, one about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the other about the second coming of the Son of God at the end of time – what the early Christians referred to as the “parousia,” meaning presence or arrival. In the minds of the disciples these two prophecies became fused into one, for to a pious Jew such a catastrophe as the destruction of the Temple could only signify the end of the world. Nevertheless, after the destruction of the temple the nascent church still awaited the second coming so much so that very many of them refrained from work and public life awaiting Christ’s return.
It was for such persons St. Paul addressed in Thessalonica to go about their works. Jesus relativizes wars and earthquakes and persecution and humiliation and loss of life as things that must happen before the great moment of his appearing. He exhorts us to keep this carefully in mind because he himself will give us all that will be necessary at that time. For those who believe physical safety, self-preservation, is the greatest goal of human life, the greatest enemy will be volcanoes and earthquakes, famines and floods. He rather expects of us to go on with our normal Christian living deriving joy and fulfillment in our work whereupon we receive divine blessings.
This does not define a particular work rather any work done for the good of the society and the church is a continuation of God’s work of creation. We are therefore privileged among all creatures for being co-creators with God. It also raises a question for all of us; ‘does my work here on earth add to or destroy God’s creation’?
The readings in the liturgy of these final Sundays of the Church calendar year are meant to bring home to us the necessity of looking beyond our own immediate preoccupations, worries, troubles, interests, that are largely of selfish concern. And they do this by confronting us in a striking manner with the thought of the four last things, namely, death, judgment, heaven, and hell. People who never look beyond this life criticise the Church for asking its members to reflect seriously on these. For if we are exiles on this earth, then as we progress through life, we are drawing ever nearer to our true home, which is heaven, a consideration which should fill us, not with sorrow, but, as St Paul pointed out, a heightened longing “to be dissolved and to be with Christ.”
We ought to avoid the escapism of constantly dreaming about the future. Day-dreaming about the world to come, or the person I fancy I am going to be, is out of touch with the reality that is the world as it is here and now. There comes a point when we have to get off of the merry-go-round and look at where we are in relation to the past that has brought us to this point and look to the future that calls us to act the way we do today.
There will be an end of time. To many people the end of the world is tragic. Christianity, however, thinks otherwise. It is not an end but rather a beginning – an event not to be afraid of. Our fear is natural because of the unknown but our fear could also portray a lack of firm belief in the resurrection. The Gospel tells us that we are to get ready for that day when God will call us to himself. Our faith tells us that there is no need to live in fear and anxiety regarding the future. Rather, we are to focus on the present time, on today, the here and now: going about our work. Jesus promises his followers abundant sufferings and persecutions. If they bear the sufferings for Christ’s name they will earn the true life, the eternal life of heaven. For this reason the Church wants us to examine ourselves today regarding the response we have to such circumstances. We are therefore invited to derive joy in hard work as a fulfillment of the divine design for us, good of the society and church and to win salvation for ourselves. Amen.