Stay focused on the big picture
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday, November 15
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
There's more to us than what we do. If a kid turns out a disappointing report card, you know there's more to the kid than the grades. If you mess up a job at work one day, you know there's more to your competence than that day's work. If you cannot pay your bills this month, you know there's more to your family than debt.
Events do not define the big picture. Events happen within the big picture. In next Sunday's Gospel (Luke 21:5-19) Jesus shows this contrast between negative events and the positive big picture.
Luke has set the scene most impressively. We find ourselves inside the temple with Jesus, listening to the last great discourse of this Gospel. All through Ordinary Time this year we've been hearing from Luke, and now we near the end of his story. Luke took us to the temple several times early on in the Gospel. In the very first scene, Zechariah was in the temple when he learned about the upcoming birth of his son, John the Baptist (1:13). The parents of Jesus brought the newborn there for his presentation (2:27). The child Jesus was discovered there confounding the teachers (2:46). As Jesus entered the temple at the beginning of his ministry, so he returns to the temple at the end. Having just entered the city amidst hosannas on the week before his death, (19:38), Jesus went into the temple to teach (20:1) This foreshadows his entry into the great Temple of God, the resurrection, out of which he will reign for all ages.
The liturgy next Sunday underscores the temple setting by its choice of the first reading. This brief passage from Malachi prophesies the coming of the Lord into the temple with the fury of a refiner's fire. (G. F. Handel set this passage to music as part of his great oratorio, "Messiah.") With that dire message ringing in our ears, we then hear Jesus right inside the temple warning about incendiary times.
People marveled at the stately stones of the temple, and Jesus warned about coming events which would reduce them to rubble. (Roman forces did indeed destroy the temple about the year 70.) Jesus seized this opportunity to distinguish between events that will occur and the big picture they may obscure.
Jesus predicts the temple will be destroyed, international wars will escalate, earthquakes will ravage the earth, plagues and famines will incapacitate people, and the sky will look menacing. If you've ever lived through war, fire, tornado, or flood, you know how those terrifying events can change your life. Even the fear of such happenings haunts the most secure of homes.
However, Jesus argues that such catastrophes are events. They do not define the big picture.
Although his examples pertain to groups of peoples and nations, often what upsets the patterns of our lives is a more personal, individual loss. Accidents happen, thieves steal what we've purchased, death robs us of someone we loved and expected to have for a longer time. Although such calamities may not happen on the scale of natural disaster or terrorism, they still affect the balanced lives of real people.
The same argument applies. These events do not define the big picture.
It appears that the big picture has two contrasting components: suffering and protection. Jesus warns people that discipleship will demand suffering. Friends and family will betray us, and we will be hated, assaulted, arrested, put on trial, imprisoned, and put to death because of what we believe. Those aren't just "events" that will happen from time to time. Suffering is constitutive of the Christian life.
The other component, though, is protection. Jesus protects his disciples. That protection will overcome all the odds, even death. All we need is patient endurance. That's the big picture.
The events of life may mislead us. Some people ignore signs, like those who admired the stones of the temple and assumed it would last forever, or like people who ignore the risks of drug and alcohol abuse and assume they will live safely forever. Others over-scrutinize signs: They hear prophecies and learn of disasters and assume that soon nothing will last into the millennium.
Both extremes mislead us from the truth. Events aren't all that important. We don't need warning about when they will occur if we have the patient endurance the big picture entails. Then the greatest catastrophes that life hands us will seem like mere inconveniences, for they stand under the protection of Jesus Christ.
Father Paul Turner is pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish, Kansas City.
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday, November 8
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalms 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
2 Thessalonians 2:16 - 3:5
Monday, November 9
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Psalms 84:3-6, 8, 11
1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17
Tuesday, November 10
Titus 2:1-8, 11-14
Psalms 37:3-4, 18, 23, 27, 29
Wednesday, November 11
Thursday, November 12
Friday, November 13
2 John 4-9
Psalms 119:1-2, 10-11, 17-18
Saturday, November 14
3 John 5-8
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday, November 15
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12