Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

St. Martin De Porres

November 16, 2003

(Based on Daniel 12:1-3; Ps 16:5-11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32)

"The heavens and the earth will pass way, but my words will not."

We are entering into winter. The days grow shorter, the sky is darker. We near the end of the year, and the end of the church's year.

And in these final weeks the church give us readings that are very difficult to interpret and understand. They belong to a literary form that is not common ion our day. It's called apocalyptic. We are given the vision in the book of Daniel and Jesus' account of the last days from Mark

What are we to make of all this? What is God saying to us -- today?

One approach is to take it all very literally. As if it were a newspaper account. People have done it down through the centuries. Today we would call it 'fundamentalist.' People who approach the scriptures in that way are constantly pointing to present-day calamities as proofs of what had been 'predicted.' They hear of an earthquake or a tornado -- or the fires out in California -- and immediately they declare that the end of the world has come. (I can't help recalling the New Yorker cartoon I once saw: an old man with a beard is standing on the street corner with a scythe in his hand and a sign on his back that says, "We are doomed! The earth will not end. . .")

People down through the ages have looked for security in troubled times. They wanted certainty. Even predictability. You can face the future if you know the answer.

We see it in the predictions of Nostradamus that have intrigued people for centuries. (By the way, did you know the next pope will have green eyes?) And in our own day, we have best-sellers that appeal to this desire to know, to be in control. We had The Celestine Prophecies and the current rage, The DaVinci Code. People down through the ages have thought they could predict the future by watching the movements of the stars; or through numerology.

It's like looking for the answers to life in The National Enquirer.

Have you ever taken the time to really read their headlines in the checkout line at the supermarket? They are fascinated with things like Adam and Di and Jackie Kennedy appear regularly. Recently I saw that Hitler didn't die in that bunker; he survived in a cave and has just returned -- as Osama bin Laden.

If you know how to look at it, it's fun. (I really think the supermarkets should have to have an entertainment license or add a surcharge at the checkout register.)

But the disturbing thing is that people begin to think it's true. They make serious life decisions based on it. And then they're off seeing visions of Mary in the glass windows of a bank building in Florida.

That whole approach trivializes our God. It turns God into Cecil B DeMille or David Copperfield. It's magic: "Shazam!" and all is well.

In reality our God respects and values us much more highly than that. God gave us minds to wrestle with the mystery of life and creation. Our God doesn't give us pat answers. That's what Jesus' closest disciples wanted: tell us when and how it's going to be done. The exact day and hour. Jesus tells us that even he doesn't know that.

Paul speaks of "putting away the things of a child." He offers richer food, the food of maturity.

We live in disturbing times. There is terrorism, and war, threats to our civil liberties, and painful scandal in our church. These things make us uneasy or anxious. Where do we turn?

Our God does not give us that kind of certainty or predictability. God doesn't give us a script. If we knew 'the answers' it would take away our freedom, our dignity. Instead, our God -- and Jesus, the messenger -- gives us hope. And that is something quite different. Hope is not hope is we see the answer in the back of the book.

The one constant in Jesus' preaching was not the commandments. It was not the Law. It was "Fear not!" "Do not be afraid."

And what protects us from fear? What drives out the power of fear? Only perfect love.

The Lord remains near. As near as your spouse or your children. As near as the person sitting next to you in the pew. As near as our neighbor. As near as the orphan or the widow or the alien in our land. The outcast. Our flesh and blood. You and I have the power to shape this creation. As we read in Daniel: "Those who lead the many to justice shall be like stars forever."

As we receive the power of Jesus, let's ask that we come to know his heart and mind in the face of our disturbing world: "I have come that they may life -- and have it more abundantly."