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