We are nearing the end of Ordinary Time, called “ordinary” because of the “ordinal” numbers that we use to count the weeks outside of other liturgical seasons. As we approach the Solemnity of Christ the King and the end of the liturgical year, we hear biblical passages pointing us to the end times. If ever there were readings to cheer us up with a cozy, warm feeling about our faith, these certainly aren’t them.
“…it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.” writes the prophet Daniel.
“In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken,” are Jesus’s words from the gospel of Mark.
We may seem to have cause to despair. From the experience we have in our own lives, we probably know that we often fall short in justice: giving others the benefit of the doubt, giving others what they deserve, giving God the praise he is due, seeking forgiveness for our sins, and amending our will to avoid sins.
These are hard readings during what can be a hard time of year, with more darkness in our days, dropping temperatures, the harvest leaving desolate grounds, and dying leaves falling all around us. Yet as we slog through to get to the bright spot of holiday celebrations ahead, we might also find reasons for courage, and even hope.
What do we have to fear from the justice of God, either at the end times or at the end of our life? We live daily with so much injustice that causes enormous suffering and angst, whether for us personally, those we love, or strangers that we somehow know and care about. And our Church, moreover, devotes so much of its energy to fighting injustice. Surely we can’t protest the idea that God’s justice will come in the end. We long for it.
The words may seem harsh, but they are also softened:
“the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever,” ends the passage from Daniel.
“my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body too, abides in confidence; because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption,” we pray with Psalm 16.
“For by one offering, he has made perfect those who are being consecrated,” Paul writes in his letter to the Hebrews.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” says Jesus in the gospel of Mark.
The second reading from Hebrews is crucial in helping to take some of the pressure off of us and bring comfort to us in our failings; Jesus was the ultimate sin offering. And so, whether the end times or the end of our life on earth that comes in death, the end is about Jesus’s victory on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Jesus can make up whatever is lacking in us, with mercy that transcends, and thus affirms, the justice of God. While the words may shock us out of our slog, they should not cause fear or panic. Rather, they should increase our desire for God’s justice now, and at the end.