Finding the Center

Giotto: The Kiss of Judas
Finding the Center
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, November 14, 2010
[Mal 3:19–20a.  Ps 98:5–6, 7–8, 9.  2 Thes 3:7–12.  Lk 21:5–19.]   

The great Bible scholar William Barkley once wrote,

“There are two great days in a person's life - the day we are born and the day we discover why.”

That’s a beautiful thought to help us begin to try and understand what Jesus is telling the people we encounter in today’s Gospel: people who are standing before the magnificence of the Second Jerusalem Temple.

It was the center of all worship to God.

And yet the true Temple is there, too – right in their midst – right in the center of things.

That Temple is Jesus.

The Gospel that we hear today is good news wrapped in the prophetic voice of Jesus who tells us about the signs of the times.

Every time I hear this Gospel, I worry for those who hear it with me, and I wonder how many people greet this Gospel with fear and anxiety. How many hear only the doom and gloom of Jesus’ prophetic message and fail to hear the joy and the hope and the call to continuing conversion.

Jesus speaks here in what we call “apocalyptic” terms. We hear that word, and naturally think about the end of the world.

The word apocalypse refers really not to the end, but to the “lifting of the veil” It is a combination of the word apo – “off” and kalyptein – “to cover.”

So Jesus’ words are an unveiling, a revelation of something – and here, it is a great truth.

The Gospel writer Luke is not so much revealing only the events of the end times, but also really telling us all about the time of crisis in which his community finds themselves.

After all, they are also seeing wars, earthquakes, and famines. They who hear the Gospel in the early days are being handed over - some of them by their own family members – and they are being persecuted even to death.

Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple – well, that happened in 70 A.D., when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem.

What is most difficult for us to determine in this Gospel is how the apocalyptic material and the descriptions of real history of the Gospel writer’s time are being interwoven so that the message is for us as well.

We don’t want to be scared into submission to God. That’s not God’s style.

A people who follow God because they are slaves to fear are not a people who are free.

A people who follow God because he is the bright morning sun of justice are the freest people of all.

God doesn’t call us into fear. He draws us with cords of love.  He calls us into a kingdom that is characterized by His justice, love, and peace. Remember that!

Hold that in your hearts today – do not be afraid.

We see or hear all too often that one or another doomsayer is predicting the end of the world – we see it in the proclamations of self-appointed prophets, or we are scared out of our wits by some movie or TV show.
There have been over 220 major predictions that the end of the world was immanent even to the date and time – the world is still here!

Two of those first gloom and doom predictors and messiah pretenders are even named in the Book of Acts (5:36–37).

Jesus tells his followers and us: don’t be deceived – don’t follow them!

I’ll let you in on a secret: No one knows about the end of time!

Jesus tells us, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32. Also Matt 24:36).

What Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel is: Don’t let yourselves be duped! Don’t be unprepared….

And we have heard that message time and again over the past year.

There are stories about the servant who begins to misbehave when his master is delayed; About waiting for the bridegroom who comes at an unexpected time; About masters of the house who don’t know when the house is going to be broken into.

But we still don’t know the time.

And we’ve heard about a shepherd who goes in search of his lost sheep and a father who welcomes back his prodigal son.

These stories tell us something about who God is!

And so, even in all the stuff of persecution and suffering that the world was subject to, and is subject to,

and will be subject to, we are not to be afraid.

We need to find our center, and we need to know that the center is God.

Fr. Robert Barron, who is a renown preacher, reminds us in a recent column about the beautiful Rose Windows and the “wheel of fortune” that are focal points in the Gothic cathedrals.

The middle point of these windows and wheels is Christ.

On all of the spokes – at the outer rim – are depictions of saints or scripture stories.

On the “wheel of fortune” at the top, is a king and the inscription “I am reigning.” At the three o’clock position and falling downward is another man with the inscription “I have reigned.” At the bottom is a poor man with the inscription “I am without power.” At the nine o’clock position and rising up is a man who looks toward the king: “I will reign.”

Four points: Man at his finest, man falling, man at his most powerless, and man ascending.

A wheel of fortune and misfortune.

Man at his best… Man at his worst…

But in the center of it all – there is Christ.

You know, there is a theoretical point in the center of any wheel that is static, is still, is unmoved.

And from that center point, everything makes sense, everything has order, everything has beauty.

The center – that’s the point we need to move toward.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are not the center.

We need to realize that we are often too far away from God because we have tried to make God in our image instead of trying to make ourselves conform to what God wants for us!

And God tells us again and again that He wants us to have a share in the divine life – in His divine life!

Will we try to be conformed to that?

God wants us to become holy as our father in heaven is holy.

And then, the hour? the day? the signs of the times? They will hold no fear.

We will be ever closer to finding out that second great day that William Barclay spoke about – the day when we discover the why we were born.

In the center, my dear friends, is that vision of hope and glory – a glimpse of the righteousness and life that we hope and yearn for without fear or terror.

Several verses later on in this Gospel, words we do not hear in today's reading, Jesus finishes his discourse, and he tells us this: 
"But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at     hand."

That second great day that William Barclay spoke about is there – the day when we find out why we were born – to be redeemed!

To be brought back, to be healed, to be welcomed in from our exile.

On that day, we will see what the prophet Malachi told us: we will see the glorious rising of the “sun of justice with its healing rays.”