All three of this Sunday’s readings put us in mind of the end, the eschaton in Greek.  So much of the speculation about the eschaton in the modern world comes from those who would like to tell us exactly when and how it will come.  Yet, the post-exilic prophets, the Gospels and the letters of Paul are more circumspect. There is a tension in all of these texts that the end is imminent, yet we do not know precisely when it will come. In some ways, then, the lesson is that to be prepared for the end, we must live well here and now.

Malachi 3:19-20a (in Catholic editions; in other editions, the verses are 4:1-2a) states directly the coming day of the Lord and the harvest imagery that so often accompanies it, in which the wicked will be burned up like stubble, while the righteous will be like calves emerging in the springtime from their stalls.  As we await the coming of the day of the Lord, how should we prepare? According to 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12, we cannot sit idly by awaiting this day. This eschatological context dominates 2 Thessalonians and it appears some of the members of the Church, believing that the day of the Lord had already arrived or awaiting it like a patron awaiting a curtain rising on a show, were sitting around and taking advantage of their fellow Church members. Paul warns them to get to work and to eat food they earn with the labor of their hands. This is not a social argument against aid for the poor, but a theological argument against thinking that the spiritual life is an indolent life in which one waits for the “end.”

The end, after all, will come to all of us, even if we are not on earth for the day of the Lord, since each of us will die. While our individual deaths are not the resurrection of the last days, it is the time at which we will receive our eternal rewards or punishments. Jesus warns us to be ready in this life to face whatever trials come our ways and he gives the exhortation of Luke 21:5-19 as a response to a question regarding when the end will come. Jesus states that the Temple will be cast down, but when his disciples ask when this will be, he does not answer directly. He answers that the coming end will try his followers and that perseverance is essential.  This is the necessary word, for the temptation is, like in Thessalonica, to consider oneself ready when really it is spiritual torpor that keeps us from moving forward. The end will come, our task is to prepare for it.

John W. Martens

Comments

Marie Rehbein | 11/16/2010 - 10:54pm
Well, John, I do see a purpose in cleverly prepared arguments, if only in that they do clarify issues that may be misunderstood.  However, I am not interested in pursuing that approach myself.  I tend to think "whore of Babylon" is a pretty funny label, actually, and my reaction to that is probably enough to dissuade someone from expressing anything further along those lines.

As you say, I think the passage may be taken as implying that getting all upset and coming up with defenses is rather irrelevant to what is or will be happening at the cosmic level, of which we only get glimpses of in this life.  The effective comment, after all, must be meaningful to the one who hears it, and knowing what that is is probably beyond our capabilities, particularly if we are under duress of some kind.

These weeks of liturgy referring to the "end times" do tend to make us wonder about what there might be that we do not fully grasp.  For example, your earlier article on bodily resurrection refers to something that is so puzzling to me that I do not think there is anything I can imagine or deduce that can make sense of it for me.  However, the idea that "I shall give you wisdom in speaking" is something that I feel I have been given personal experience to understand.
Marie Rehbein | 11/14/2010 - 2:23pm
I wonder if you would comment on one part of the following portion of the gospel reading, John:


"Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
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.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
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."

What do you make of the admonition to not prepare a defense beforehand.
Marie Rehbein | 11/16/2010 - 1:50pm
The idea that Jesus, himself, "shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute", would lead me to think that it has very little to do with apologetics.  It connects in my mind with the experience of saying something I considered random to someone I did not know (who was doing a job for me) and having that comment received as if it were the answer to a prayer. 

Furthermore, I do not see much in the way of apologetics that defends faith in Jesus as opposed to defending Catholic practices that other Christians find questionable.  I imagine that the kind of "wisdom" that would be coming out of someone's mouth would be something that is extremely compelling to the listener but might not be of any obvious importance to the speaker.

What I am thinking is that this in some way connects to being prepared for when the bridegroom comes.  I am thinking that the kind of prepartion that would be appropriate would involve learning to give up one's controlling ways and learning to trust rather than learning all the arguments and counter arguments.  For whatever reason, I have the impression that being prepared is generally understood to mean living according to the rules, but this might suggest that one needs to go somewhat further than that.