33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON NOVEMBER 17, 2019 (R. Malachi 3: 19-20a; Psalm 98: 5-9; R. 2: 2 Thessalonians 3: 7-12; Gospel: Luke 21: 5-19)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
THE GIFT MUST NOT OVERSHADOW THE GIVER
Imagine that you buy the latest most expensive Christmas toy for your ten-year-old child, the next day, you return from work and your child is busy playing with the new toy without acknowledging your presence. You tell your child, “Can’t you see me, can’t you welcome me back home?” Your child ignores you and continues to play with the toy. A few minutes later, you tell your child to take out the trash, and your child yells at you, “Can’t you see that I am busy with my new toy?” How would you feel as a parent if you find yourself in this situation? Yet, that is what we do to God whenever we allow the gifts God gives us to overshadow the giver of the gifts. Why are many not in Church today? Some are busy making money; some are busy enjoying the money they have made, some are with friends watching the game of the week, some are watching movies, etc. These things, not bad in themselves, have overshadowed the giver of the gifts. And even when we come to worship God in the Church, we sometimes focus so much on the rules guiding worship that we forget the one we have come to worship.
As this Liturgical Year (C) is coming to an end, the Church is reminding us of the passing nature of the things that may be keeping us away from God. While God is eternal, every other thing we may be holding on to at the moment will pass away just like this year will soon pass away. The three scripture readings for today help us to reflect on the fact that there will be an end to things as we know them now. The first reading reminds us of the end not only in content but also in its positioning. Malachi is the last of the twelve Minor Prophets, and in some editions of the Bible, like the New American, the book of the Prophet Malachi comes as the last book of the Old Testament. In terms of content, the prophet Malachi was responding to the challenges of the Israelites during his time. They had already returned from the Babylonian exile, but things were not going well, the prophecies made to their ancestors about a brighter future were not fulfilled. They began to complain that it was useless to serve God since the evil doers seemed to prosper. Prophet Malachi responded by telling them in the first reading that “The day is coming, glowing like a furnace…,” so remain faithful, for on that day, the wicked will be punished, and the righteous will be blessed.
Discussions about the end of the world continue in the Gospel passage. The whole story began with some people inviting Jesus to admire the beauty of the Temple; then Jesus went on to predict the destruction of the same Temple. In Matthew’s account of the Gospel (24: 1), this prediction of the destruction of the Temple came right after Jesus left the Temple and departed from it. Jesus did not just leave the Temple; he departed from it and never returned to it. He did not depart on his own accord; they drove him out of the Temple; he did not reject them; they rejected him. They did not realize that it was the presence of God that was responsible for the holiness of the Temple. So, when Jesus departed from the Temple, the holiness of the Temple, the glory of the Temple, and the defense of the Temple departed from the Temple, and so the Temple was later destroyed.
Each one of us is God’s Temple. We are who we are because of the presence of God in us. It is always disastrous when God departs from anyone. Samson was a great warrior, but when the Spirit of the Lord departed from Samson, he was destroyed; when the Spirit of the Lord departed from the house of Eli, the priest, his family was destroyed; and when the Spirit of the Lord departed from the Ten Northern Tribes of Israel, they were lost. We must be careful as individuals, as families, and as nations that the Lord may not depart from us.
Now, since nothing is permanent in this world, what should be our attitude as Christians? Should we be idle while we wait for the end? Paul already answered this in the second reading. Strange and dangerous rumors were making their rounds among the Christians of Thessalonica. Some Christian fanatics went about telling people that the second coming of Christ was at hand, and so they stopped working, and they started interfering with others who were working. There was a lot of anxiety that the world was about ending. This situation was getting out of hand, and so Paul intervened and warned that anyone who does not work must not eat. So as Christians, we are called to be active and be at our best in all the good we do at all times, whether the end is near or not.
Recently, I visited a patient in the hospital. I saw the picture of a beautiful lady on the table by the patient; I went on to ask, “Is that your daughter?” In her pains, she smiled, shook her head, and replied, “No, not my daughter, that’s me. I took that picture three months ago.” I looked at the beauty queen in the picture, I looked at what was left of the same person in bed, and I fought back my tears, how three months could make such an undesirable difference in the life of a person! My dear friends, what is making you so happy and full of yourself today? Your beauty? Your credentials? Your large bank account? Your connections? It will all pass away. And what is depressing you at the moment? Your lack of money? False allegation? Broken relationships? Persecutions? It will not last forever. Jesus tells us at the end of the Gospel passage that only those who persevere will be saved. Perseverance does not mean passive submission to difficulties; it means making something glorious out of problems.
Let us go back to our initial story. Your child ignored you because of this year’s Christmas toy. But guess what, by next year, that same toy will be in the trash can, and the same child will be calling you sweet names and begging for next year’s latest toy. The gift does not last, the giver lasts, rather than clinging to the gift, hold onto the giver, and this time I mean hold on to God. As they say, “When the wise man points at the star for the foolish man to see, the foolish man will end up looking at the hand of the wise man, instead of the star.” As we approach the end of the year, let us pray in these words, “Lord God, grant us the wisdom to look beyond the gifts, to find you the giver of all good gifts through Christ our Lord. Amen.”