As we approach the end of the liturgical year, today’s readings paint a picture of the end time: nation rising against nation, plagues, famines, great signs, persecutions and trials. The biblical “day of the Lord” will be a time, as Malachi tells us, “when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire” (3: 19). But are these signs new? What age has been absent of these types of calamities? In reading these words, I cannot help but recall the R.E.M. tune “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” The song lyrics speak of earthquakes, hurricanes and the world serving its own needs. It paints a picture of chaos and disharmony, similar to that of the scriptures. Nearly two thousand years have passed since the writing of Luke’s Gospel, and we are still waiting for “the end.” So what are these texts trying to tell us?
Though the gospel speaks of catastrophes, disasters, wars and insurrections, these are not signs that the end of the world is coming, but rather signals of the end that is common in every age. Jesus tells us, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end” (Lk 21: 9). The wars and insurrections, false prophets and persecutions are challenges for the believer in every age who must face their own time with patient endurance. Jesus tells us, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Lk 21: 19).
Patient perseverance is our tool to weather whatever time we are in. We must persevere through the hatred and persecution we may encounter for the sake of witnessing to truth of the gospel. This is how we will secure our lives. God will be with us in those times and will give us the wisdom to know what to say and protect us from the harm. Jesus tells us “not a hair on your head will be destroyed” (Lk. 21: 18). Does this mean we will not die or succumb to these dangers of our age? No, but it does mean that God will be with us and supply with his life giving love on both sides of life and death. And it is within this life giving, saving love that we will be able to persevere.
As we come to the end of this liturgical year, we may be aware of calamities all around us with the discord in Hong Kong and Syria, wildfires in California, swelling oceans that have flooded Venice and impeachment hearings. It may feel like the end of the world as we know it. So we can ask ourselves, how do we steady ourselves against the calamities of our time? How do we listen, so that we might hear God’s wisdom speaking to us? How do we root ourselves in God’s love so that we might persevere?