Time is an important part of any consideration in our personal reality. Clocks are usually present on our walls, many of us wear a watch on our wrist, and our cell phones are always keeping us aware of the time. Each of us schedules appointments with doctors. Children and parents are mindful of when the school bus will be passing. Even here at the convent, our days revolve around a schedule that includes prayer times and meal times and meeting times. So when the prophet calls out to us in the first reading that the Day of the Lord is coming and when Jesus tells the crowd that the Temple will someday be destroyed, the very natural question arises, “When?” When will the Day of the Lord be upon us? When will this happen?
Neither the prophet nor Jesus answers the question. The question simply hangs there and, for some, seems to bring about a fearful reaction. However, very rarely do we stop to consider the reason why there is no answer to the question, for the fact of the matter is that, with anything that has to do with God, time is not part of the equation. God simply is. While it is difficult for our human minds to grasp, God has no past and no future. God simply exists in the present, in the here and now. God is so immense that human history, the present and the future are all part of God’s present. Time as we humans experience it is completely absent in God’s realm. That is why we end most of our prayers with the words, “forever and ever. Amen.”
The tension that our concept of time causes makes it difficult for us to read and almost impossible to comprehend the apocalyptic literature of the Scriptures. Apocalyptic literature concerns itself with what we call “the End Times.” What we fail to understand is that the “End Times” began when Jesus returned to his Father. We live in the “End Times.” So all of our questions about “how long” and “when” and even “where” are really irrelevant. Hard as it may be to fathom, all we need to be concerned with is “Now.”
The Day of the Lord, an expression that figures prominently in the Scriptures especially in apocalyptic literature, must be understood as the day of fulfillment of all of God’s promises and the realization of the destiny of the world. It is the time when justice will be realized, when the scales of righteousness will be balanced, when the good will be rewarded and the evil punished. Initially, Israel believed that this would be a day of vindication for them; however the prophets are quite clear that Israel will also have to answer for its sins of injustice. Images that describe this reality usually involve conflagration, spontaneous combustion, which burns even the stubble and the chaff; at the same time the total opposite for the just – healing rays from the sun of justice. In his well-known Christmas hymn “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley applied these words to the birth of Christ: Risen with healing in his wings, light and life to all he brings. Hail, the Sun of Righteousness! Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
The Gospel is read properly if we keep certain things in mind: first, the Gospel of Luke was written some twenty years after the Temple was destroyed. Thus the events that Jesus “foretells” in today’s reading have already occurred for Luke’s first readers. Second, throughout his Gospel Luke presents Jesus as a “prophet mighty in word and deed”, particularly a healing prophet who preaches repentance and leads those whose lives have lost cultural meaning back to the proper purpose and direction in life. Third, Mediterranean culture, the culture of Jesus, is basically and primarily present-oriented. We are taught to pray “Give us today our daily bread” without concern for tomorrow. Fourth, the people of the Mediterranean world believed that only God knows the distant future and the distant past.
So what are we to take away from the readings for this Sunday? Only this: God’s promises will one day be fulfilled. As we wait for that day, we are constantly reminded that we are called to place our hope in God’s promises and to assume an attitude of being ready. It makes no difference when it will happen. We simply believe that God will prevail and that the Sun of Justice will rise for those who place their trust in God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator