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Thought for the week - 13 November

“And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.”

As befits the pre-Advent and Advent season, the readings tend to be centred on the end of time, the last days, or “the day of the Lord” to use a biblical expression.

So we have the prophet Malachi saying:

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.

It is fairly strong stuff. The Day of the Lord is to be day of judgement when the evildoers will be rooted out and burned, whereas the righteous will see the coming of the Lord with healing. For the righteous, or perhaps for the self-righteous, it is a wonderful vision. The righteous will be healed, and the wicked will perish – there seems to be a certain sense of justice about that – but only, of course, if we count ourselves among the righteous. If we are the righteous, then we can take delight in the destruction of the unrighteous. Really – I am not sure I want to take a delight in the destruction of any of God’s creatures whether righteous or unrighteous. But, of course at the end of the day it is not for us to decide who are the righteous or the unrighteous. The present world is in peril precisely because there are those who presume to do the work of God for him, taking upon themselves the divine right of judgement.

The theme of the Day of the Lord is taken up in the gospel reading for today. The context for the discussion is the admiration the new Temple, Herod’s Temple, that is rising in Jerusalem. “Some of Jesus’ disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God.” Then comes Jesus’ startling remark: “But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” This leads into a discussion as to when the end will come: “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

Jesus warns them not get carried away by those who would claim to predict the end, the last days, the Day of the Lord. “He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.” He tells them: When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them:

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”

As I said last week, passages like these are the happy hunting ground for all sorts of religious fanatics who search for what are called the “signs of the times” - signs that the last days are indeed upon us. And indeed, wars, revolutions, strife and violence are an ever-present reality in today’s world. But we need to be very careful before we start predicting the beginning of the end. There are, for example, a large number of American fundamentalists who are very much pro-Zionist, not because they see Israel as a safe haven for Jews after the horrors of the Holocaust, but who see the return of Jews to Israel as a pre-requisite for the coming of the Day of the Lord.

Because of this they are more than willing to ignore the plight of the Palestinians. When a fundamentalist preoccupation with biblical prophecy gets in the way of peace and justice something has somehow gone awry.

The time in which Jesus lived was a ferment of apocalyptic expectation. An expectation that God would intervene to free his people from foreign domination and occupation. There was in some circles a belief that the end was nigh.

And this was a problem that Paul had to face much later when writing to the Thessalonians. Time had elapsed and still the end had not me. But there were those in the Church at Thessalonica who were simply sitting back, doing nothing, in the certain expectation that the end was near, and the Day of the Lord was imminent.

This is the context for the idleness that Paul is referring to:” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busy bodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.”

Paul is realistic in his advice. Whilst the end might be near – who knows – we still have to continue to live in this world. And so, Paul tells the Thessalonians: "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

I suppose if I were to sum all this up in a simple fashion I would want to say this. Live this day as if it were the Last Day. But live it responsibly, carefully, and lovingly. Righteously and not self-righteously, leaving whatever judgement of others there might be to God. Or to put it as Paul puts it:

“And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.”


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