33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Readings: Malachi 3:19‑20 2 Thessalonians 3:7‑12 Luke 21:2‑19
At the end of the Church year the liturgy focuses on our Christian hope for the coming of God's kingdom in the final judgment. This Sunday's readings call us to prepare for that judgment with lives of justice, fruitful work, and patient endurance. With fervent hope, we pray for the coming God's kingdom in the refrain for our responsorial psalm: "The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice" (Ps 98).
The prophecy in the Book of Malachi ("My messenger") is addressed to those who have lost faith in God's justice during the depressing years after Judah's return from exile (c. 450 B.C.). We hear of priests offering shoddy worship and neglecting their duty to instruct the people in Torah (Mal 1:6‑2:9). Many men have broken the marriage bond by divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying foreigners (2:10‑16). Finally, some, when they see the apparent prosperity of the wicked, have given up lives of justice and begun to ask “Where is the just God?” (Mal 2:17). In the midst of this moral malaise, the prophet proclaims that the fire of the Lord's justice will come. For the proud and wicked, it will be "blazing like an oven . . . leaving them neither root nor branch." But for those who fear the Lord, "there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays."
We saw last week that 2 Thessalonians is written to a community confused by the belief that "the day of the Lord is already here" (2 Thess 2:2). Apparently, some equated this event with baptism and reasoned that, because they already enjoyed the benefits of salvation, they were free to live lives of disorder and idleness. Today's selection reminds the Thessalonians of how Paul and his co‑workers lived among them. Rather than being parasites on the community, they "worked day and night, laboring to the point of exhaustion so as not to impose on any of you." To prod the idle to resume productive lives, the author recalls Paul’s rule "that anyone who would not work should not eat." Last of all, the "busybodies" are enjoined "to earn the food they eat by working quietly."
The Gospel is taken from Luke's version of Jesus' apocalyptic sermon predicting the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and his coming as the Son of Man with power and glory. In Luke's account, Jesus makes a clear distinction between the fall of the temple and the events associated with “the end.” His followers are not to be misled by false messiahs who say, ‘I am he,’ or ‘The time is at hand.’ The wars and insurrections associated with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 A.D. fired many with the expectation of Jesus' return, but in Luke Jesus warns: “These things are bound to happen first, but the end does not follow immediately.”
Jesus goes on to prepare his disciples for the trials they will experience before his final coming. As Luke recounts so dramatically in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus' disciples can expect to be persecuted and summoned for trial in both synagogues and before kings and governors. When they are called upon to give witness to Jesus' name, he tells them not to worry, “for I will give you words and a wisdom which none of your adversaries can take exception to or contradict.” They can expect to be hated and may even die because of their witness to the gospel, but Jesus assures them “not a hair of your head will be harmed.”
Although Jesus' followers will be persecuted by the world's powers and even family members, they will have his assistance in time of trial and will experience the ultimate triumph of God's justice. For all of us who wait and struggle for the coming of God's kingdom, Jesus' final words are a source of hope: “By patient endurance you will save your lives.”