As we continue toward the end of the liturgical year, our Scripture readings for today speak about the end times. In our first reading from the book of Malachi (3:19-20a), the prophet speaks about the coming day of the Lord, and what will happen to the "proud and all evildoers." In our Gospel reading from Luke (21:5-19), Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and then some people ask Him "And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?" And so, Jesus first warns them not to listen to false prophets. Then He says, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky."
For some time now, in fact, throughout much of history, some people have looked at the turmoil and suffering of their time, and have wondered whether their time was THE time; if the things they were seeing were the signs that Jesus was talking about. It’s an understandable question. Certainly in recent years, we have seen all the things that Jesus mentions as signs in our reading.
While it is important to knowing what is going on in the world, we need to be careful about getting too caught up in speculating whether these are the end times or not. When we find ourselves spending a lot of time wondering if we are near the apocalypse, we may need to listen to what St. Paul tells the "busybodies" in our second reading from 2 Thessalonians (3:7-12): "We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others. Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food." In the context of our Gospel reading, it seems to me that our time is better spent by "keeping busy" in following Jesus.
In following Jesus, we may meet with hostility, but more likely indifference. In the Gospel reading, Jesus warns His disciples that they will be persecuted, and put in prison, and "led before kings and governors" because of His name: "It will lead to your giving testimony." In the U.S., we will not be led before kings and governors because of our faith. But we will be confronted by a culture of death. We will be face-to-face with greed and injustice and violence.
This, too, will lead us to "giving testimony." In the Gospel, Jesus says, "Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute." Perhaps the "wisdom in speaking" to which Jesus refers is the testimony of our lives. If we live our lives in such a way that the Gospel is proclaimed through us, no one can refute our testimony because we are striving to "walk the walk," as well as "talk the talk." We will be seeking to share the love and grace we have in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
In the midst of turmoil and upheaval, we are called to remain faithful in our testimony; living in hope, knowing (in a paraphrase of the words of Malachi) that the Son of justice has arisen with His "healing rays." Jesus promises that we will be given what we need to proclaim the Good News in our lives. If we remain faithful, it will not matter whether these are the end times or not. We will be ready. As Jesus says, "By your perseverance you will secure your lives." May we persevere in hope and love.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.