The day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evil-doers will be like stubble. The day that is coming is going to burn them up, says the Lord of Hosts, leaving them neither root nor stalk. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays.
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
You know how you are supposed to imitate us: now we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we ever have our meals at anyone’s table without paying for them; no, we worked night and day, slaving and straining, so as not to be a burden on any of you. This was not because we had no right to be, but in order to make ourselves an example for you to follow.
We gave you a rule when we were with you: do not let anyone have any food if he refuses to do any work. Now we hear that there are some of you who are living in idleness, doing no work themselves but interfering with everyone else’s. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we order and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat.
When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’
‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.
There are some difficult lessons in today’s readings. Indeed, Jesus warns us of the hard times, persecution and even imprisonment that we can expect to face. As we look at the world around us now, with many nations gripped in the throes of natural calamities, strife and warfare; as we see our fellow Christians persecuted and even killed in the Middle East, it is not that hard to picture the signs and events that Jesus tells us about.
However, to focus on these worldly events is also to ignore a more important and spiritual lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us. For these calamities and disasters that Jesus talks about can also often occur within ourselves.
The earthquakes we feel in our broken hearts in times of sadness, the spiritual famine that grips souls that have found nourishment not in God but in material possession, the daily plagues of work and survival that distract our minds in our daily lives, the wars raging in our conscience as our stubborn human will threatens to take charge of our entire being, and perhaps worse of all, the spiritual ennui of giving in to all these and saying, “there is nothing I can do to save myself”.
That is a fallacy. Worse yet, it is a sin, for we are blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. As Jesus tells us in the gospel, “not a hair on your head will be destroyed”, and that “I myself shall give you wisdom in speaking”. Through all these hard times, whether in the world out there or within the depths of our broken hearts and souls, Jesus is saying that He will guide and protect us. All we need to do is to live in His way.
The first and second readings give some indication of how to do that. For instance, “to work quietly and to eat their own food”, or “for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays”. In other words, to live honest and God-fearing lives. Of course, we also know that the ‘fear of the Lord’ does not refer to the regular ‘fear’ that we know in our secular world. Rather, this is a fear of being far from God, a fear of not loving Him enough, or a fear of disappointing Him.
Yes, it is much toil and hard work to be good Christians. But clearly, and as the readings show, the alternative is much worse. Furthermore, Jesus assures us that “by your perseverance you will secure your lives”. Not simply our lives on this earth, for that would be too lowly a prize from our Heavenly Father. No, the prize is our eternal lives with God. As St Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have finished the race; I have kept the faith”. We therefore need to keep our eyes on the prize and through calamity and hard times, run the good race.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)
Prayer: Lord, help us to always be able to stand up for our faith. Be with us when we face challenges, especially when we are called upon to stand up for You.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for the gift of community; through which You give us strength to walk our lives in faith. Thank you for not giving us more than what we can bear. Praise you Jesus!