As we get closer to the end of the Church liturgical year, our readings deal more and more with the end times. We see this language in our first reading from Daniel (12:1-3), and in our Gospel reading from Mark (13:24-32). In our Gospel reading, Jesus says: “In those days after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out his angels and gather his elect…” And later on, He says, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Amid all the frightful imagery and the speculation that goes with it, I am drawn to the words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” What are Jesus’ words? We have them in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It seems to me that Jesus’ words, and the actions that confirm His words, speak more than anything about God’s love for us and how we are to love God and love our neighbor in return. This will often mean taking up the crosses that come our way, and being willing to give of ourselves for the sake of the Gospel and the good of others.
In these times, as well as all times, we are encouraged to hang on to these words! Hang on to His love for you! His love will not pass away, even though there may be times when you can’t see it or feel it. Know that God is there for you. Believe in what the Cross and the empty tomb say to you! Sin and death do not have the last word! As it says in our second reading from Hebrews: “Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God…”
And if we hang on to Jesus’ words, may we follow Him in our actions. May we show mercy and compassion. May we reach out to those in need. May we care for all of creation. As it says in our reading from Daniel: “…the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.” As I re-read this, I guess there are some who see that last line as a license for revenge and vigilantism, but I see it as a call to work for justice for all, leading to peace. I see Jesus’ words as speaking truth, in and out of season, but I do not see a call to violence in His words.
May we take to heart the words of Jesus, and through our following His words, may many be led to justice.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.