“Do not be terrified.” Such comforting and encouraging words from Jesus! For a number of weeks now, we have been reading Gospels which lead us to reflect on to prepare for the Second Coming. With this weekend’s Gospel, we finally get a picture of the Parousia (Second Coming) events from every perspective: cosmic (“earthquakes,” “awesome sights and signs will come from the sky”); social (“wars and insurrections,” “famines and plagues”); religious (“temple … there will not be left another stone that will not be thrown down”); and personal (“seize you and persecute you”). In the midst of these catastrophic events, Jesus invites His disciples, “do not be terrified.”
How in the world can we not be terrified of all of these natural and human-made catastrophes? There is so much destruction described in this Gospel. Our own experience of our world constantly tells of similar catastrophes from hurricanes and floods, from wars and collapsed economies, and from killings and bloodshed in our schools and on our streets. We lock and double lock our doors to try to keep the danger out. And still we live in fear. Truly, we need to hear Jesus’ words of comfort: “do not be terrified.” Jesus assures us that “not a hair on our head will be destroyed” and by our faithfulness we will “secure our lives.”
The readings for this weekend are really filled with hope … not doom or fear. Along with all of these terrifying things, good things happen. These things do not signal an immediate end, so we have time to prepare. These things give all of us an opportunity to testify to Jesus’ name and His reign. Jesus Himself will give each of us the wisdom we need to speak boldly. Most importantly, Jesus assures us that He will be the victor (“all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute”).
Catastrophes, disasters, wars, insurrections, etc. are not signs of the end of the world, but of how far we actually are from the end. We hasten the end not by being fearful of these events, but by being faithful to Jesus’ work of establishing God’s Kingdom. Preaching, teaching, and living in Jesus’ name is the one sure way of discipleship that hastens Jesus’ Second Coming and secures for us eternal life. We will know the end is near not by increased terror and hardship, by rampant evil and by lack of caring for one another, or by constant upset and loss. The end is near when goodness and love are abundant, when caring and sharing mark our daily living, and when all people are brothers and sisters. The end is marked by goodness, not by evil. When God’s reign of peace and justice is established throughout our world, the end will be here. There will be no more work of salvation to do.
Times of adversity, whether now or in the future, are opportunities in which the wisdom of Jesus Christ and His teachings embolden His followers to testify to Him and to strengthen them to persevere. The trials and tribulations we face now in our lives are preparation for the end times. Our faithfulness hastens the end times. As we grow in our readiness to be faithful to the Gospel in this life, we are already choosing our final destiny. Before new life, there must be dying to old life. We know that Jesus Christ is the victor. Those who persevere in their faithfulness will share in the glory of that victory. But the full victory is not yet revealed. We await. We hope.
May Saint Michael the Archangel defend, guide, protect, and intercede for us always!
~ Fr. Larry