Proper 28, 14 November 2021
Because of the pandemic and other disasters, some have thought it’s the end of the world. The first verse in the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created”; if there’s a beginning, there’s also an end.
Understand the signs
In the Daily Office reading a few days ago, the religious leaders asked Jesus for a sign; but He said the only sign would be the sign of Jonah. They knew Jonah was thrown into the belly of the fish and after three days he was spat out; this speaks of Christ’s death and resurrection. Signs point to something beyond themselves. When you travel, there are signs with the names of different places, but the sign isn’t the place – it points the way to go there. There’s one exception: not only is Jesus the sign to the Father – “If You have seen Me, You have seen the Father” – but as God, all signs point to Him.
Martin Luther King, Jnr. said, “Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see”. Dogs bark at their shadows, and they bark when they see themselves in the mirror – and some people bark at themselves. Our dog ran after his shadow until he realised it wasn’t real. If we look at life in the totality of its existence, there’s life greater than what we know. The things we see are real, but they’re a shadow of something bigger and greater.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about the signs that would take place, with allusions to the prophet Daniel. In the Old Testament, the Covenant established with Noah and Abraham, the creation of the Hebrew people through the Exodus, the establishment of David’s kingdom, and all the stories, point to what would happen in Jesus. Isaac was a prototype of Jesus, the Father offering His Son on the cross; Moses was a type of Jesus, leading His people out of slavery to sin and death into the Promised Land; David was a type of Jesus, and you’ll see Jesus in every Psalm if you read it properly. God isn’t detached from human history – He wants to be a part of it, to save and redeem a people for Himself to be with Him for eternity. The Eucharistic Prayer ends with the Great Doxology: “By Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory is Yours, Almighty Father now and forever”. It tells the story of salvation, accomplished by none other than God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As the Shema focuses on the word “hear” (“Hear, o Israel…”), today’s reading focuses on the word “see”. This means, “watch out” or “beware”. These are the things we should constantly be aware of:
- Many will come to deceive people and say they are the Christ. We can create our own saviour in whom we put our trust and confidence. “How can we get our country out of this difficult situation? Let’s vote for this political party.” It’s ok to have a political process, but we should never look to people or institutions to be our saviour – Jesus is our Saviour. The answer to climate change is Jesus; the answer to poverty in the Philippines isn’t another political figure – it’s Jesus. The answer to the pandemic and to hunger in the world is Jesus: He’s the Saviour.
- There will be wars and reports of wars – in the Bible, war usually speaks of “end-time” events – and calamities, earthquakes and famines in various places. There have been many of these the past year, with floods one after another and volcanoes. It would be easy to ask whether we’re at the end of the world. Jesus says no – the signs point to something that is yet to come. This is only the beginning of “labour pains”. Before your mother gave birth to you, she had labour pains; the pains pointed to your coming out as a baby, but it wasn’t yet. In Scripture, labour pains are something initial, pointing to something that will come. In the Old Testament, birth pangs are typically an image of something that would happen preceding the coming of the Messiah.
- Don’t be fearful about the end of the world. We don’t know what will happen, although Scripture gives us a few indications. We don’t know when it will happen, and we don’t need to worry about it. I say jokingly that if God were to announce the date, we would sin as much as possible, then confess the day before to make sure we go to heaven. Since He doesn’t tell us, we need to be ready all the time. If these readings and this subject cause fear in our hearts, we don’t know the God whom we serve and claim to know – He’s not a God of fear but of love. The end of the world will happen not in our time but in God’s time.
The Church will outlive the universe
C.S. Lewis said, “the Church will outlive the universe” – even if the universe comes to an end, the Church will continue – and every individual in it will outlive the universe. “Everything that is joined to its immortal Head will share His immortality”: if your life is in Jesus, and He lives forever, then even if the world ends, you’ll live forever because you’re in Him.
 C. S. Lewis, “Membership” in The Weight of Glory and other addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 171