November 17, 2019 • 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Malachi 3:19–20a
Psalm: Psalm 98:5–6, 7–8, 9 (cf. 9)
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:7–12
Gospel Acclamation: Luke 21:28
Gospel: Luke 21:5–19
The readings for this Sunday are about the coming of God with judgement of the unrighteous and healing and reward for those who love Him and whom He finds faithfully doing His will at His coming. In this world, it often seems that the unrighteous prosper while the righteous suffer, but God tells His people to be patient and faithful, the tables will be turned and their time of rejoicing is coming.
The first reading comes to us from the Book of the Prophet Malachi. It should be noted that some translations, such as the New American Bible, have this passage as Malachi 3:19–20a while others, such as the Revised Standard Version 2nd Catholic Edition, have it as Malachi 4:1–2a, which can probably be attributed the sources these versions are based upon. I am not going to take time to address items of curiosity.
The context of the reading is that God through the Prophet Malachi is answering a series of charges against Him by faithless Israel. It begins in 1:2 with “I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, how have you loved us?” In effect, Israel is saying, “Prove it.” As you read the book, you will see this back and forth. Do we not make some of these same charges ourselves, when God isn’t living up to our expectations, in our moments of doubt and faithlessness? God answers them, reiterating His promises, pointing out their faithlessness and encouraging them to repent and return before it is too late.
The Israel’s charge immediately preceding our reading is contained in verses 13 and 14 in Chapter 3: You have said, “It is useless to serve God; what do we gain by observing God’s requirements and by going about as mourners before the LORD of hosts? But we call the arrogant blessed; for evildoers not only prosper but even test God and escape.”
The Lord’s answer is our reading, “For the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts” (verse 19). The day, according to the Haydock Commentary, can be understood as the day of judgement generally, as well as specifically referring to the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, that Jesus refers to in this Sunday’s Gospel reading.
What about those who are faithfully trusting and serving Him? The Lord answers in verse 20b: “But for you who fear my name, the sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings.” Haydock says this is the appearance of the Lord to His people and the Didache Bible notes that the Canticle of Zechariah in Luke 1:78 uses a similar term referring to the coming of Jesus, of whom Zechariah’s son, John, will be the herald.
As with many prophecies, there are multiple and progressive fulfillments, so this prophecy also can apply to the final day of judgment, the second coming of Jesus with His healing ministry, and our ultimate healing in eternity with God.
The Psalmist fittingly exhorts all people and all creation to celebrate God’s coming rule of justice.
The Apostle Paul has been addressing questions and issues surrounding the second coming of Christ in 2 Thessalonians. Now he turns to how to live while we wait for our Lord to come, which will be at a time we don’t expect. And he provides himself and his coworkers as examples. Their examples are a corrective to two misconceptions or problems.
The first is a misconception among God’s people that ministry is for “professional” Christians, those who devote their entire lives to it and make their living totally from it. But Saint Paul could be considered the patron saint of “tentmakers.” The Apostle Paul was a lay tentmaker and worked in toil and drudgery, night and day to support himself. His ministry associates did the same as they ministered to the Thessalonians. Many of the ordained, consecrated and missionaries today work on the side or full time to support themselves as they minister, as do some of the laity, like myself. However, most priests and pastors will tell you that the work of the ministry in the Church and the community is carried on by a minority of church attenders. Full time work to support oneself does not preclude ministry involvement in prayer and the corporal or spiritual works of mercy. We can usually find something that can fit with our schedule and life situation. Parents have their own domestic churches to tend and disciple, but as the kids grow older, they too can become involved in works of mercy with their parents, and most will find it exciting and faith building.
The second and primary problem that is addressed in the reading is that some of the Thessalonians apparently expected the Lord to come back so soon that they figured they could just wait around for that to happen, not work, become busybodies in other people’s business, and mooch off the fruits of their labors. Paul basically tells them to knock it off, get back to work or don’t eat. Again, the Apostle Paul and his coworkers are the example. There is a difference between feeding/helping people who are truly unable to work or who are not paid a living wage for their work because of prevailing market conditions and those who won’t work. During the Jesus Movement in California in the 60’s and 70’s, I observed this problem first-hand, as some immature believers got excited about the dispensational prophetic teaching and expectation at the time, as well as the generosity of the joyful, caring mature believers, and they were quite happy not to work and to live off others until they were lovingly confronted.
The Lord expects to find us on task and in mission at His coming.
“Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” This acclamation is always true because our Redeemer is always with us unto the end of the age.
Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple in verses 5 and 6 of the reading. This event occurred in 70 AD when the Roman army, under Titus, besieged, conquered and destroyed Jerusalem in the midst of the Jewish war with Rome, from 66 to 73 AD.
Naturally people wanted to know how to recognize when this catastrophe was approaching and so He gives them some signs: false messiahs arising, wars and revolutions, powerful earthquakes, famines and plagues from place to place, and signs in the heavens, which can also allude to political turmoil and upheaval. These signs are laid out in verses 7 to 11. Jesus tells them not to be terrified by these things, because they must happen for the end to come.
However, Jesus then lays out more immediate concerns, in order to prepare and warn them in verses 12 through 19, the coming persecution. We see these things happen with the Apostles and the Church in Acts and the rest of the New Testament. These events will lead to boldness and their giving testimony sometimes even before kings and governors. They need not worry, because the Lord will be with them through these things, even giving them the words to say. Their very families and friends may reject and betray them. All they need to focus on is remaining faithful and persevering to the end. In this way, they will secure their lives for all eternity with Jesus in the Father’s house.
The same is true for us today. Indeed, many of us in this community have experienced some of these things by becoming first Christians and then Catholic Christians. And it is important to note that we may even be persecuted by people within the Church if we remain faithful to the Holy Trinity and the Faith. The Enemy has his agents even inside the Church. Many of the Saints were persecuted and betrayed by their fellow Catholics, but they remained within the Church and faithfully followed in the steps of their Lord by the way of the Cross.
May the God of all grace, and Mary, and all the Angels and Saints assist us on our journey.