| Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
|| Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
|| 1 Thes 5:1-6
|| Mt 25:14-30
On this final Sunday of Ordinary time, the readings’ themes focus on the end times and Jesus’ second coming. This week’s readings outline again what God requires of disciples who wish to enter the kingdom.
The first reading, from the book of Wisdom, presents an ideal woman serving her family and community. This woman is also Wisdom personified; a person’s reward for seeking Wisdom is a worthy spouse and children, a great household, and renown in the community. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because it mentions “receiving a reward for labors,” which echoes the gospel’s theme.
The second reading, from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian ekklesia, contains Paul’s response to concerns about the “time and season” of Jesus’ return. Seeking to calm the community he founded, Paul points out that no one knows when the end is coming. As children of the light and of the day, they shouldn’t worry about the coming judgement. Rather, they should rejoice, because the parousia marks their day of salvation. They need only to stay alert and awake.
Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ eschatological sermon (Mt 24:1-25:46), which includes the parable of the talents. Matthew has adapted Jesus’ parable to emphasize its end-time themes.
- The master’s charge. A man who is going on a long journey entrusts three slaves with varying amounts of money. He expects them to manage what they’ve been given.
- The slaves’ actions. In the master’s absence, the first and second slaves work and trade the master’s money and double its value. The third slave, out of fear, buries the money he had been given, doing nothing.
- The surprise. When the master returns, he demands an accounting. The master is pleased with the first two slaves’ work and results and invites them “to share in his joy.” Unsurprisingly, the master calls the third slave “useless” because he did nothing with his master’s money. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised that the master not only punishes the third slave, but disowns him (like the bridegroom disowned his teenage cousins in last week’s gospel). The master has the useless slave thrown into the outer darkness, where he is no longer a slave, but a non-person. The “outer darkness” is Matthew’s codeword for “denied entrance to God’s kingdom.” Matthew’s hearers understand that Jesus holds his disciples to a high standard: they must live the gospel to enter God’s kingdom.
The readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to examine God’s entry requirements for the kingdom. The first reading highlights actions. The second reading focuses on watchfulness. The gospel describes the consequences of discipleship. At the parousia, disciples will be called to account for what they have done with the good news God entrusted to them. Only those who grow the gospel by their words and actions will enter the kingdom. Are we faithful and productive stewards who promote and live Jesus’ message? Or are our choices and actions ruled by our own fear or laziness?
||Ps 98:5-6, 7-8, 9
||2 Thes 3:7-12
The end of the world: a time of fear or faith?
On this last Sunday in Ordinary time, the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on the end times and Jesus’ return. This week’s readings invite us to consider the coming kingdom.
In the first reading, Malachi (the name means “my messenger”) describes the coming “day of the Lord.” The prophets use this phrase to signal the hoped-for messiah’s appearance: God will establish God’s kingdom, save those who remained faithful to the covenant, and punish the unfaithful ones. The Lectionary editors chose this reading with its apocalyptic images to match today’s gospel theme.
In the second reading, from the second letter to the Thessalonians, the author addresses a specific problem: some members, believing that Jesus had already returned, stopped working. These members were now were living off the work of the rest of the community. The letter’s author states clearly: everyone works together to support the believing community.
Luke’s gospel presents part of Jesus’ “eschatological discourse.” Eschatology is “the study of the last things:” the end times, God’s judgement, and the establishment of God’s kingdom. Jesus (and Luke) want us to know the following:
- Destruction of the Jerusalem temple: As Jesus is teaching in the temple, he hears some people ooh and aah about the temple’s expensive decoration. Jesus tells them that “the days are coming” when all this will be destroyed. When Luke writes his gospel (mid 80s AD), Jesus’ prophecy is already fulfilled: the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. Luke offers Jesus’ fulfilled prophecy as evidence of who Jesus is.
- Signs of the end times: Like Malachi in the first reading, Jesus uses apocalyptic images (wars, famines, earthquakes, signs in the sky) of the end times that precede God’s bringing forth the kingdom. Apocalyptic (meaning “to unveil” or “to reveal”) language developed in Jewish culture to describe the fulfillment of prophecies, especially of the end times. Jesus’ apocalyptic words place him in the Jewish prophetic tradition.
- Persecutions: Jesus tells his disciples that they will be persecuted, but that these persecutions will allow them to “give testimony” or “bear witness” to Jesus. When Luke writes his gospel, the emperor Nero (mid 60s AD) has already executed Peter, Paul, and other disciples; and local leaders sporadically threaten Christians. Jesus’ fulfilled prophecy again shows who Jesus is.
- Do not be afraid: Jesus tells current (and future) disciples, “by your perseverance (in faith) you will secure your lives.” Jesus comforts his disciples, reminding us that we are saved from destruction and persecution through faith in him.
On this last Sunday in Ordinary time, the readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about God’s coming kingdom. We pray in the Our Father, “let your kingdom come.” We don’t need to wait for the world to end to join God’s kingdom–we’ll join at the end of our earthly lives. As faithful Christians, we look forward to letting God’s kingdom come with hope, not fear. Our faith saves us.
||Ps 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11
||Heb 10:11-14, 18
Shining like stars in the firmament
On this last Sunday in Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with apocalyptic visions and teachings. These readings are an appropriate close to the liturgical year, encouraging us to find our places in the final age of salvation history.
The first reading is from the book of Daniel. An unknown author composed this work about 150 years before Jesus’ time, when the Syrian Greeks were persecuting the Jews. The author’s message is optimistic and comforting: the just who “lead many to justice” will be spared from the end-time distress and live forever. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match the “little apocalypse” of today’s gospel.
The second reading is our final reading from Hebrews. In this summary section, the author compares priests and their offerings. Human high priests offer the same sacrifices over and over, but their sacrifices never take away sin; Christ offered one sacrifice that removed all sin forever. Christ’s one, perfect offering freed everyone; as a result the human priests’ sin-offerings are no longer needed.
The gospel is from Jesus’ eschatological discourse, also called Mark’s little apocalypse. This “final things” discourse includes prophetic warnings (the destruction of the temple, persecution of the disciples, and the need to be watchful) and apocalyptic signs (deceivers, wars, the abomination, signs in the sky). Mark presents Jesus’ words and actions in three contexts: in the past, as fulfillment of the prophets (especially Daniel, Amos, and Zechariah); in the present (Jesus’ own teachings), and in the future (the coming Paschal event, the day of the Lord, and the Second Coming). Because Mark uses the temple as a type for Jesus–the dwelling place of God among the people–we can see many meanings in Jesus’ discourse:
- The earthly temple in Jerusalem: The Jewish people believed the temple stood at the actural center of the universe. The temple veil contained embroidered images of stars and constellations, and the menorah’s seven branches stood for the sun, moon, and five known planets. When the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, the Jewish people believed that the world had ended and a new age began.
- The heavenly temple and Jesus: The apocalyptic discourse also prefigures Jesus’ death. In Mark’s gospel the temple prefigures the mystery of Jesus–where God dwells among God’s people. At Jesus’ death, the sun darkens (Mk 15: 33) and the embroidered temple veil is torn in two (Mk 15: 38). Jesus’ death portends the destruction of the temple, and opens the final age of salvation history–the age in which all disciples (including us) live. The “day and hour” of this culmination of salvation history belongs to the Father alone.
This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how we should live in this final age. The Lectionary readings close with the hope discipleship brings: we, the elect, will be gathered from the ends of the earth, to live forever and to shine brightly. Are our names written in the book? Are we leading many to justice?