Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 33B
Often, when we think of the ‘end times’ or hear people trying to predict when the end of the world will be, we think of earthquakes and other natural disasters, wars and violence, great tribulation, and signs in the sky, but a lot of these things have been happening more or less often ever since the world’s beginning. Every period of history has had its own fair share of signs of the end. So, speculation about when the end of world was going to be was never a very compelling concern to me. God alone knows the day and the hour, and that’s just fine. What was always much more of a concern—as I was growing up in junior high and high school—was what would happen to me if anything were to happen to my parents.
Being the youngest of nine kids, my parents were in their fifties, and to a teenager, that seemed pretty old. I didn’t think about it too often, and it wasn’t really a source of anxiety, but I did always pray that my parents would survive at least until I was out of high school. I was confident that God would always take care of me, no matter what, but I didn’t want to feel like a burden to anyone else or have to move away from the friends I already knew. At that stage in my life, even more than my own death, the death of my parents represented for me the end of the world, when everything I knew could change.
At the time of Jesus, the Jews and the early Christians associated several different events with the end of the world, monumental events when everything could change, including the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Coming of their Messiah, the Christ of God. Now we also distinguish between the First Coming of Christ into the world at Christmas and His manifestation to Israel during His life, death, and Resurrection, and then the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time, to judge the living and the dead. But in the minds of Jesus’ contemporaries, all of these events were wrapped up together, in one concept of ‘the end of the world.’ So, in the Gospel, when we hear Jesus talking about the end times, we can often have trouble figuring out just which of these events He is specifically referring to.
The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, God’s chosen dwelling place, represented the end of a world for the Jews, when they would no longer be able to offer animal sacrifice to the one true God. Jesus Himself becomes God’s definitive Temple and dwelling among men. Jesus talks about His own death and Resurrection as the destruction of this Temple that he will raise up in three days. As we hear in our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus becomes the “one sacrifice for sins,” the “one offering” that “has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated,” making the animal sacrifices of the Jewish Temple obsolete, and changing the order of the world.
By his death and Resurrection, Jesus has made new heavens and a new earth. He himself becomes the New and Indestructible Temple. This is how he could say in the Gospel that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Just forty years after his own sacrifice on the Cross, the Jewish Temple was destroyed in the year 70. Instead of animal sacrifice, we are now called to put our faith in Jesus Christ, to depend upon His one perfect sacrifice, signified and made present to us at every Mass. “Heaven and earth”—as they were before the time of Jesus—have now passed away in a certain sense, but the Word of Christ will never pass away. We can depend upon it.
Now I should mention—in case anyone is still wondering—that both of my parents are still alive and well, and this is well after my finishing high school and going through eight years of seminary and three years in the priesthood. But a good question for us to reflect on today is, what are the things or the events that we associate with the end of our own world? What are the things that could happen to me, that—even if the rest of the world continues to go on around me—I would be shaken to my foundations? What do we fear, perhaps even more than our own death? In light of what we see so often on the news and even some aspects of our own culture that make it more and more difficult to live the truth in our daily lives, we might fear the end of many of the freedoms and securities that we have taken for granted, an end of independence and the free exchange of ideas.
For many of us, especially in our individualistic culture, independence is the main issue, the main thing that we have come to depend on, and we find it very difficult to have to depend on others. More than anything else, we fear feeling like a burden to those around us. My sense is that this is one of the most difficult aspects of aging or chronic illness, having to give up certain areas of our independence and rely on others for help. Independence can be a very good thing, but the reality is, at different stages of our life, we need to be able to depend on others, and we always depend upon God. Faith is fundamentally a surrender to our dependence on God, dependence upon His Truth and His love for us, so if we struggle with this and feel like a burden, God is inviting us to a deeper faith, a more profound surrender to His providence in our lives. A sudden illness or accident, or even the gradual effects of aging that leave us unable to do what we could once do on our own, can seem like the end of the world to us, but these can also be opportunities to deepen our relationships, to surrender in faith and in love.
The image of St. Peter refusing to let Jesus wash his feet is a good image for our pride and stubbornness at times. The Scriptures today invite us to a deeper faith, to have Christ as the unshakable foundation of our world and of our lives. To accept His one sacrifice for our sins, and to allow Jesus to bear us as His burden and to feed us with His own Flesh and Blood. As we surrender to a deeper communion with Christ in this Eucharist, he also draws us into greater communion with one another. Don’t be afraid of letting go and of letting others love you. We are all brothers and sisters. We are all the family of God. Receive the love of God through the people around you, so that you will be able to love in return.