Nov 18, 2012

33rd Sunday: Is the sky falling?

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not . . ."
 Dan 12: 1-3
Hb 10: 11-14
Mk 13: 24-32

The familiar fable of Chicken Little may have some parallel with this Sunday’s readings. Bear with me as I make a point.  Like all fables this simple story has a moral to it. The line tells of a little chicken that one day while minding her own business is struck on the head from a falling acorn. “My, oh ,my, the sky is falling!”, she cries. 

Thus she begins her frenzied cry as she runs from place to place and attempts to share the warning with various companions: a hen and a duck.  They need to go and inform the lion about this impending doom!

Along the way, they encounter a fox that eventually does what foxes do with a chicken, a hen and a duck. He lures then into his den with a promise of safety but “they never come out again.” Chicken Little’s cry of fear, clearly over exaggerated, has led her to an unfortunate end. How did she know the sky was falling?  “It hit me on the head and so I know,” says the na├»ve chicken.

This simple fable has an important moral to it.  It makes light of the dangers of a hysterical belief that disaster is imminent. Sometimes an acorn is just an acorn. Likewise, the gloom and doom images called apocalyptic may sound familiar to us in this Sunday’s readings.  You’ve seen such scenes in disaster movies, or at least the previews shown before a film. It seems that violence, darkness and impending disaster sell well at the box office. Such a message reminds us that indeed the “sky is falling” and we had better hang on tight.

From a faith perspective, however, the point is not to become so caught up in these ancient biblical images familiar to the people of Jesus’ time as part of their faith but rather to have hope in spite of them.

Hope?  How can one have hope in the face of a time of, “. . . unsurpassed distress . . . everlasting horror and disgrace . . .” as we hear in our first reading from the Book of Daniel?  Should we have hope in Jesus’ words from our Gospel that, “. . . the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky . . .” It sure sounds like the sky is falling and we had better get ready for the end because it won’t be pretty! Maybe Chicken Little is right?

Yet, consider these readings in the context of their time. That is the Catholic way of viewing such ancient biblical literature. 
Imagine a life with little hope and promise for the future.  A culture that essentially was more fatalistic than visionary.  A time in which one could only hope to survive childhood and if you did, you would not live past the age of 30 or not much beyond. Scholars tell us that Jesus, at the “old” age of 30, was in the top 10% of people of his time. His crowds, therefore, were most generally younger than he.

They lived in a place where disease was rampant and you had no defense in its contagion. A land where your own country was occupied by an oppressive government that lay heavy taxes upon you and authority was more feared than to be revered.  Any one of us would have felt more a victim than a citizen.  How much hope, if any, could we have that the future would be bright?  It appeared the sky was indeed falling and it would be easy to give in to such false perceptions and become chicken littles.

To such a life experience Jesus’ spoke words of hope and promise.  His mission was to gather such hopeless folks around him and assure them that God is in control of history and such warnings and signs as nature’s violence upon them or the reality of war’s devastations are not to be feared or perceived as "the end."  If they hold fast to his promise that the future will indeed be well because in the end, “my words will not pass away.” That’s indeed a promise we can take to the bank because the word of God is trustworthy and what he says, happens.

To read the signs of the time is to pay attention not so much to the chicken littles among us or to become overly concerned with things beyond our control but to recognize Jesus himself as the hope of all people.  

In light of today’s events of nature, politics, the economic "fiscal cliff," and our personal health don’t we too need a message of hope? As we come to the last weeks of our liturgical year these readings are here not to frighten us into submission or to run aimlessly as a prophet of doom but to rely on the power of our faith and the promise which that faith brings us.

What we are to do, then, it is to keep on as faithful disciples living as if this life is going somewhere beyond death and beyond history.  Yes, Christ will come again in the future.  Of that there is no doubt.  When?  Even he doesn’t know.  We can only imagine God the Father saying to his Son:  “Son, don’t ask me again!”  It is the great Divine Secret that only the Father knows. 

In the meantime, in the time we live in now, we keep on as faithful disciples of the Lord ready to meet him at any moment.  Our Eucharist is a constant reminder that although the Lord is yet to return to the earth, “. . .coming in the clouds . . .” he does come to us daily in our Eucharist and his Word; in our prayer and our life experience.

Are we so caught up in fear and doubt thinking the sky is falling that we never see the presence of the Lord in our midst? These readings are here to encourage our faith not to frighten us into submission.  They give us hope that if we are faithful, God will welcome us into eternity when “heaven and earth pass away” at the end of our lives here and at THE end of all time.

Father of history, 
help us to see you daily in our lives, 
and to never forget that you care for us
in all our worries and cares. 
Calm our troubled hearts, 
Settle our fears with the profound belief,
that you are Lord of our lives.   

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