Sunday, Nov. 13, is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Readings: Malachi 3:19-20, Psalm 98:5-9, 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12, Luke 21:5-19
“Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble.”
Today’s first reading puts our times in perspective, doesn’t it? All of the evil in the world — genocide, human trafficking, abortion, pornography, etc. — will disappear.
This is the hellfire and brimstone that preachers have dwelled on in the past, and not without reason. The second reading makes it clear that the evildoers who will be burned up are not just wicked rulers and notorious sinners, but bad Christians, too. St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way,” and he calls them to task.
The Gospel might actually seem to make a bleak picture bleaker.
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,” says Jesus. “There will be powerful earthquakes, famines and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”
No one will be spared from suffering, he adds. “They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.”
We shouldn’t fall into the trap of believing this is just a poetic way of speaking.
This is no metaphor. Sacred Scripture, the inspired word of God, is confidently telling us that Christians’ fate in the world will be dark.
But we should already know that. After all, we put a crucifix in the center of every church to remind us. And as Pope Francis constantly tells us, the cross is the only way forward for Christians.
“When we build without the cross, when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord,” he said. “We are worldly: We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”
But suffering with Christ leads to glory. Don’t miss the holy pivot these readings make.
“The Lord is coming to rule the earth with justice,” says the Psalm, and then follows with these intense phrases: “Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to rule the earth.”
It is hard to imagine a more intense expression of joy.
Jesus ends the Gospel on a note of hope, too: “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.”
The cross always brings hope.
“How I wish that all men and women of goodwill would look to the cross, if only for a moment!” said Pope Francis. “There, we can see God’s reply: Violence is not answered with violence; death is not answered with the language of death. … Reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue and peace is spoken.”
In the dwindling days of the liturgical year, this is the message the Church brings us. Christian life entails real sacrifice, difficult sacrifice and painful sacrifice. But it ends not in horror, but in hope.
“For you who fear my name,” says the Lord of hosts in the first reading, “there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
The Light is coming.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
He is the author of What Pope Francis Really Said.