THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, B
In our first reading from the Book of Daniel, the writer told the people in a time of oppression and difficulty to read the signs of the times and know that the Lord is coming; the time of God is at hand. For Daniel’s time, those signs were very negative signs, spoken to a people experiencing religious and military oppression. As we heard in the first reading, the signs “… shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.”
In the gospel Jesus, who was very familiar with the Book of Daniel and its imagery of a brighter future in a time of distress, also told the people to read the signs of the times – to be watchful and be able to recognize the signs that the Kingdom of God was breaking into the world – a time of gathering “ … the elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” However, Jesus used the imagery of springtime breaking into summer in order to describe how the signs of the times would appear. Today, we are still being challenged to read the signs of the times, to be watchful for the in-breaking of God’s kingdom in our lives and times.
Two reflections of the contemporary signs of the times and their meaning for us as Christians. First, it seems that many look for the signs of our times in the evils around us, the decaying of society and moral behavior. So many find the evil in the world as predictive of the end of time and the coming of the Lord, just like in the Book of Daniel. Others, also building on the negative imagery of the Book of Daniel, look at the earth’s weather patterns, particularly earthquakes, hurricanes, unpredicted cold or hot spells, as signs of the times which will forebode the coming of the Kingdom of God at the end of time. Whatever, I suggest than most people seem to prefer the negative imagery of Daniel’s times to the more positive imagery which Jesus said to watch for – a soon-to-unfold summer of new life.
Second, as we all anticipate the coming of Christ anew into the world, we tend to believe that this new coming of Christ will be other-worldly, and sudden and dramatic, taking us out of this world. But, notice that in our gospel Jesus doesn’t teach that the time of his coming will be other-worldly, or that it will be sudden. What he does say is that the time is unknown, even to himself. In reality, the coming may not be sudden but may be gradual. In fact, it may be true that the coming of the Son of Man has begun already and, indeed, is even unfolding right now as we speak.
Now for an observation: It seems to me that people who reflect on the second coming of Christ are one of two types:
One type looks at all the evil and calamity around the world, and sees the coming of Christ as a time of overcoming, perhaps overthrowing, all the distress. For them the signs of the time to watch are, like in the Book of Daniel, the signs of distress and evil. For this person, the coming of Christ is a rather dramatic shift from a time of evil to a time of goodness. The event is sudden, cataclysmic, and massive.
Another type looks at the seeds of goodness in the world, and sees the coming of Christ as the blossoming and unfolding of the seeds of goodness in the world, as a time of a gradual springtime unfolding into a fertile summer of grace. For this person, the signs to watch are the seeds of goodness, peace, love and kindness that are being planted in the world. For this person the coming of the Son of Man is gradual, already underway, and awaiting the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
Now, let’s consider to which group each of us belongs. How do you envision the coming of Christ, the unfolding of God’s kingdom in its fullness?
- Is it cataclysmic and sudden? Or is it gradual and blossoming?
- Will it come all at once or be a gradual unfolding? Scripture tells us only that it will occur, and that the timing is unknown. It doesn’t answer these questions definitively. But, irrespective of how you answer these questions, consider what your answer tells you about yourself, in light of which signs of the times you watch, to monitor the world and its movement toward the coming of the Son of Man. Either you pay attention to the growing evil in the world, or you look for the seeds of goodness that are blossoming.
Whatever, where are you looking for these things? If you are looking around your environment, if you are looking at other people, perhaps you are missing the signs of the times, to which our readings refer. Perhaps the signs of the times, irrespective of whether you see them as growing evil or blossoming goodness, are best found by looking in our own hearts. Perhaps the indications of the coming of Christ in fullness are best found in the goodness or distress that is growing in each of our hearts.
Is it possible that we are a sign of the times and that the unfolding of Christ’s kingdom in the world is about our emptying ourselves of distress and evil, and of planting within ourselves the seeds of goodness and grace? Jesus asked us to say to God: Thy Kingdom come. If Jesus tells us to pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom into the world, it must be that we do have a role in unfolding God’s kingdom.
God’s kingdom will come, is coming, and we do not know when. But its coming depends on the signs of the times. And we can be, and are, those signs. When we stand here together in a few minutes and say “The Lord’s Prayer,” let us vow together that we accept our role in unfolding the Kingdom of God, that we will be signs of the times, the sprouting seeds of goodness and grace, that will bring the Kingdom of God to fullness.