3rd Sunday Ordinary Time
Fr. Peter Robinson
Preached: January 21, 2023
In the early 1000s AD, there arose a powerful ruler, a sultan, in what is today Iran. He conquered a great stretch of territory, reaching as far west as today’s country of Turkey, accumulating great wealth in the process. As soon as he died and was laid to rest, a myth began that he would one day rise from his tomb, mount his horse, and conquer new lands. It is claimed that, for some centuries that followed, the local people kept a warhorse (complete with saddle and groom) in readiness, every day, outside his tom… waiting for the dead conqueror to rise again.
We know from 1 Corinthians that the earliest Christians were very aware that the resurrection of Christ had ushered in the last period of this world’s history. That is because, with the fulfilment of God’s promises in Jesus’ death and resurrection, everything important has happened. The end is now imminent, and St Paul urged everyone to get ready. The world as we know it IS passing away.
Yet here we are, 2000 years later — still waiting for Christ to return at the end of the age. So, what should be our attitude these two thousand years later?
Let me suggest an important, biblical principle (on which you can build your life): It is urgent for every individual (including all of us here today) to respond to God’s call to salvation. There is no time to lose; today is the day of salvation. Every decision we make counts, either toward God or away from God. Every step along the path leads us in one direction or the other.
This means we have in St Paul’s teaching today an example, where the message of the Bible must be seen as a whole -> with one teaching balancing another. When the Bible tells us, “The Kingdom of God is upon you,” it does not mean that we know for certain the day that the world will end. It could be tomorrow … but we don’t know.
Meanwhile, as Mark’s Gospel makes clear, Jesus calls us to follow him. Now is time (before Christ returns at the Last Judgement) to practise good works, works like prayer and generosity. At the last supper, Jesus taught his disciples that they had a task to do in this world. And that they would be guided by the Holy Spirit, in order to do it. So, St Paul is not teaching in 1 Cor 7 that Christians should “drop tools,” and sit waiting for the end to arrive.
Sadly, Christians have been falsely guided into doing just that. In the 1830s and 40s in the New England states, a Protestant group arose, teaching that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. On the predicted day of Christ’s literal return, large and small groups gathered in various states across the US, in homes, on farms — some say even on rooftops. From one minute after midnight of the 22nd throughout the day, they waited breathlessly for the glorious moment. You can appreciate the devastation that members of this group experienced when our Lord did not return. Grown men wept like children. People were profoundly traumatized by their disappointment, questioning God’s existence, questioning the Bible’s validity, questioning their entire sense of self.
Well then, how would the Catholic Church have us understand St Paul’s prophecy of Christ’s Second Coming?
1st. It is true — there will be a day when our Lord visibly returns to Planet Earth.
2nd. Why live, then, as if the values of this world are the ONLY realities worth thinking about (and living for)? Why become absorbed by the values of those around us? Why live as if life consists ONLY of the shopping mall, the sports centre, the cottage up north, or the upcoming championship game on TV?
3rd. We, therefore, determine to live FOR Christ (whatever we are facing, even the loss of a job, the struggles of a marriage, the breakup of a relationship). In St Paul’s words, we are “to deal with the world” but not to “become engrossed in it.” “Our time [on this planet] is growing short.” “The world as we know it is passing away.”
Sisters and brothers, we determine, therefore, to make Christ our highest value, to make him our greatest good.