Gospel Lectio Divina, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 14, 2021
“In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened … the powers in the heavens will be shaken. ”
There is a great deal of symbolism in the Bible. But, lest we forget, the Bible is literal as well. The allegorical sense of Scripture does not eliminate its literal sense. The sun has been darkened and will be darkened. This happened when Jesus died on the cross. Astronomical charts can affirm that an eclipse did in fact occur at the time of Jesus’ death. The powers in the heavens will be shaken. Likewise, there was an earthquake when Jesus died. We can go on to explain all of the phenomena that Jesus is talking about which came true, but it’s all really just part of the story. Jesus is not just talking about what was about to happen at his crucifixion. As God often does with his word, the Bible, he is foreshadowing events that will occur if we do not heed his warnings and accept his mercy. The astronomical phenomena that occurred at Jesus’ death, as significant as it all was, still was simply a foreshadowing of the Second Coming and Final Judgment. Jesus’ death was God’s offer of divine mercy that echoes through the ages, reaching us thanks to the constant prayers of the saints and all the faithful. Mary has appeared to us several times as well, reminding us of her son’s mercy, but also of his judgment if we do not accept his mercy.
“when you see these things happening, know that he is near,”
Every year these words strike me as all too appropriate for the times we are currently going through. The Bible is full of symbolism, so every year I ask myself, “are the signs Jesus describes symbols for what is happening in our world now?” Are the stars the leaders of the world, and is their falling symbolized by their falling from grace in the eyes of the public? These words of Christ are not just meant for the end times, but for all times. Perhaps they seem true every year because they depict the precariousness of our fallen, ephemeral human existence, which is very real to us all every year.
“this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”
What is Jesus talking about here? Many generations have passed away, and all he spoke of has not taken place. The Son of Man has not come in the clouds. Some say Jesus’ depiction of the “end times” here was referring to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and/or the persecution of Christians in the first century. One could imagine Christ’s words feeling very relevant when the Roman soldiers conquered Jerusalem in 70 AD, pretty much within a generation of Jesus’ words here. But the Son of Man didn’t come in the clouds, and Christianity lived on long past that conquest--as did the rest of the world. Was Jesus actually making a prophecy, or was he warning us of something a little different than we may have first supposed?
"But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
It’s difficult for a Christian to imagine Jesus not knowing something. After all, to the Christian he is God and therefore omniscient. Here is one of the places where the mystery of the Trinity proves to be a mystery . For some, it’s just enough to accept that mystery and question no more, while relying on faith alone. But God did not give us an intellect for us to forego its use. We can have faith and still question God out of curiosity. A young musician can sit in the presence of his favorite guitarist, and be content to just listen and enjoy the music. Or, he can ask the guitarist to teach him how to play better. In a similar way, those who ask God questions have faith, but they just want to know him better.
So, with a healthy curiosity, we can ask, “How is it that Jesus does not know when all these things will happen?” In the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus says, “Not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). So, right there we can observe that there is a difference between Jesus’ will and God the Father’s. Jesus was not an automaton who just automatically did the will of the Father. The fact that their wills were separate was not an imperfection on Jesus’ part, though. It was the will of the Father for the Son to have his own free will.
And it is the concept of free will that leaves the Second Coming of Christ shrouded in mystery even for Christ himself. While God knows everything, there are things he cannot do. He cannot go against his nature, because he is already perfect and to go against his nature would make him less than perfect--and if he were less than perfect he would not be God. It is his nature to love us, and love can only be given and received freely. So Jesus’ Second Coming is contingent upon our free gift of love for God.
Lord of the universe,
You are all-powerful, and your most-defining attributes are love and mercy. I cannot praise you enough for that. You choose to embrace us despite our imperfections. I only ask that when my time comes, I embrace you as you have always embraced me. I pray for the faith and grace to accept your mercy, so that I may live in paradise with you forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
In reality, Christ’s words in this Sunday’s Gospel are constantly coming true all around us. They will all come true in all the ways we imagine they will as well in a day of Final Judgment, because Christ is not trying to deceive us. But science has shown us how all of Jesus’ warnings take place upon occasion. Stars do fall from the sky. We call them shooting stars. The sun and moon do become darkened. We call them eclipses. Instead of seeing these astronomical events as just pretty shows in the sky, lets heed them as signs from God. He is telling us that everything we thought was constant and stable, he can alter at his will. It will all pass away, but his word will remain. When we listen to him, we start to see the many layers of truth in his Word.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report