One Sunday before the end of the liturgical year, when we ready ourselves to receive Christ the Eternal King, the Church invites us, through the readings of today, to reflect on our preparedness for the coming of the king. Even as she does so, the Church does not expect that we will only gaze into the future. Rather, she expects that we will realize that it is our present that determines our future. On the one hand, this Sunday’s readings focus on the future coming of the Lord and the end times. On the other hand, the readings point out that our future is in the present and we must live that present fully so that we will do the same with our future.
The expectation of something that is unknown can bring up two kinds of feelings in the hearts of the ones expecting. For those who expect that the coming event will result in some reward, the feelings will be of joy, hope, and expectation. For those who expect that the coming event will bring judgement and maybe punishment, the feelings will be of fear, trepidation, and apprehension.
These are the feelings that Malachi speaks about in the first reading of today. He states that the day that is coming will bring, for the arrogant and the evildoers, judgement and punishment. It will be a day that will burn them. However, for the righteous, he states that it will be a day of joy and hope. It will be a day of healing and elation.
These are also the feelings that Jesus addresses in the Gospel text of today which is part of Luke’s Eschatological Discourse. The disciples might tend to get frightened, even terrified, when they hear about the last things. They might tend to fear when calamities befall them, but they are not to do so. They must remain unfazed by the events that signal what might seem like the end time. What is required from them is endurance and perseverance. What is required of them is fearlessness and courage. The reason for this is that the end time will be for them, a day of vindication and victory. It will be a day of triumph and accomplishment. Even in the face of all odds and evidence to the contrary, they are called to believe.
Through these instructions, Jesus offers his disciples, not a way of predicting the end of the world, but a strategy to use so that whenever that day comes, they will be ready. Consequently, the disciples have to focus, not so much on what is to come and when it will come but, on what they have to accomplish at the present moment, in the here and now.
Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians in the second reading of today says just this. Paul sets himself up an example of what it means to do what one has to do in the here and now. Paul worked night and day, doing what he was called to do. He was not a burden to anyone. He did not engage in idle speculation about the future and what it might bring. He lived and worked in the present moment.
The challenge to live fully the teachings of Jesus and to bear the consequences of such a life continues to confront us today. It is easy to speculate about the future or to project a “pie-in-the sky-when-you-die” to those who are undergoing adversity. However, to face these challenges squarely is another matter.
Is there a plausible response that the readings’ of today give to those for whom life seems, at most times, a burden? Do the readings of today address the problems of how we must handle difficulties when they come our way? Do the readings of today give us an insight into how we are to prepare for the Lord’s coming? The answer to all these questions is a resounding “yes”.
First, life is only as burdensome as we want it to be. One important reason why life becomes burdensome is because we often live in the future rather than in the present. We keep thinking about what we could have rather than what we do have. We fret about wanting more rather than using what we have joyfully. This is why Jesus tells his disciples not to be led astray and look for salvation in this or that fad or this or that thing. Salvation comes only from the Lord.
Difficulties in life are only difficulties if they are seen as such. We can instead look on them as opportunities to show that we can persevere. We can look on them to show that, no matter what the difficulty might be, our response will be one of courage and fearlessness. We can look on them and know that, even in the face of the most severe persecution which may even result in death, not a hair of our head will perish.
Thus, as we get ready to welcome Christ our eternal King, the readings of today invite us to see that it is Christ, present in the here and now, not Christ who is expected in the future who continues to shape and inspire our lives. He is not a king of the morrow or of later, but a king of today, a king of now.