2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
As we come closer to the end of the Church liturgical year, our readings have more and more to do with the end times. And so, in Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke (21:5-19), Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and when the people ask about when and what signs will there be, Jesus tells then that there will be news of war and insurrection, but they are not to be afraid. 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. Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you. … You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives."
As we hear Jesus speak of "wars and insurrections," of "earthquakes, famines, and plagues," it’s only natural to think of the vast devastation that Typhoon Haiyan wrought as it swept through the Philippines a few days ago. It’s only natural to think about the wars that are still going on, and the violence that is too often a part of people’s lives. Here in Detroit we have seen a shooting of a young girl not long after the death of a promising young graduate student.
In the light of all this suffering, we remember Jesus’ words at the end of our Gospel reading: "By your perseverance you will secure your lives." How do we, how can we persevere? By the grace of God in the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We persevere with the help of others. And we are to help others persevere. And so, aid is enlisted for the victims of the typhoon; supplies are sent to refugees from war and terror; and comfort is given to mourning families.
Giving aid and comfort is what we are called to do in times like these. At the same time we should look for ways to work for peace and justice. In the midst of tragedy and upheaval, we’re called to do the same that we’re called to do at other times: to love God and love our neighbor. Very often the temptation is to seek to put blame somewhere, or find a convenient scapegoat. I think this is akin to St. Paul’s words from our second reading in 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." In good times or bad, we need to keep busy about doing what Jesus demands of us. The ultimate commandment remains the same – to love.
So far we have been talking about what happens to people from something outside themselves, but often there is upheaval within as well. Sometimes that is for the good. Sometimes our perceptions, attitudes, or ways of doing things need to be dismantled "stone" by "stone" so that God can come in and guide us in the way we should go. At other times it’s harder to understand how God may be working in what is going on. In either case we need to persevere, knowing God’s love for us, and willing to surrender to His will.
Jesus promises us that perseverance will secure our lives. In our first reading the prophet Malachi (3:19-20a) tells us that those who fear the Lord will see the "sun of justice with its healing rays." If we stay busy about the work we’ve been given to do, we need not fear the coming of the Lord.
May God continue to bless us all, and may we persevere in His grace.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.