When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and, `The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Our Lady of Martyrs Catholic Church has one of those signs out front where you can change the message each week. Cumberland Presbyterian Church, directly across the street from their Catholic brothers and sisters, also has a similar sign. Apparently this is true – the two signs got into a bit of a fight. Week one: the Catholic sign said, “All dogs go to heaven.” The following week the Presbyterian sign said, “Only humans go to heaven. Read the Bible.” The Catholics retorted the following week with, “God loves all his creatures, dogs included” and the Presbys fired back with, “Dogs do not have souls, this is not open for debate.” Apparently the Catholics thought it was for they responded. “Catholic dogs go to heaven. Presbyterian dogs can talk to their pastor.” Finding offense with this the Presbys shot back, “Converting to Catholicism does not magically grant your dog a soul.” Thinking this not true, the Catholics responded, “Free dog souls with conversion.” The Presbyterians tried to change the subject, “Dogs are animals. There aren’t any rocks in heaven either.” And it would seem that the Catholics just like to argue. Their final response, “All rocks go to heaven.”
I’m not sure about rocks, but all dogs go to heaven and even some cats. But, that bit of bantering demonstrates that we have not solved all the mysteries of our Christian faith. From whether dogs go to heaven, to the real presence in the Eucharist, to the very structure of the church; all of these things are constantly discussed. Today’s Gospel brings up another such issue: The second coming of Christ, the end of days.
Folks have been waiting for the end of the world for a long time.. and no one has ever predicted it correctly, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying and it has stopped others from even trying to profit off of it. Sure, there are all those books written on it, one particular item has caught my eye. In big bold letters its advertisement begins, BE PREPARED FOR THE END TIMES! It goes on to read, “Our Deluxe Survival Kit includes enough long-lasting, freeze-dried food to supply a family of four for three months, fifty gallons of pasteurized water, a completely stocked medical case, and a .357 magnum revolver in case your neighbors attempt to take advantage of your Christian foresight. — Tribulations Outfitters, Inc., Lawing, Utah.” My goodness, hopefully nobody will accidentally shoot the Lord with their brand new .357 Magnum when he returns.
All that sounds a bit crazy, but as a Christian people, we do believe that Christ will return and when he does he will set all things right. The old shall pass away and the Lord will create all things new. So, is the time really near? In our Gospel, Jesus gave us some very clear signs to watch for, so instead of speculating, let’s break these down a bit and see if we can come to a conclusion for ourselves.
First, Jesus speaks of the temple in Jerusalem where He and the all the other Jews came to worship. It was a magnificent structure with some of the stones of the walls weighing up to 360 tons. Jesus said that it will be destroyed. Today, all that remains is the western wall, known as the Wailing Wall. In the year 70 AD the Romans came in, wiped out Jerusalem, and completely destroyed the temple. Ok, so “check” on the first sign.
What are the other signs? False prophets will come in Jesus’ name declaring “I am he. I am the Messiah. I will save you.” My goodness can you believe they are already lining up possible presidential candidates, all of which will solve all the world problems, not to mention that they will wash your windows too? What about all the preachers promising happiness, health, and wealth? Watch TV and you will be bombarded with advertisements that will tell you all about how you can take this drug or that one and live forever (provided you don’t succumb to one of the side effects such as death).. I don’t know that the one drug that will make your eyelashes grow longer will make you live longer, but at least during your lifetime you won’t be put to shame for having short eyelashes. So “check” also on false prophets.
What about the wars? Afghanistan, Pakistan, Peru, Sudan. Presently there are over 40 active conflicts in the world with 12 of them being classified as “high intensity conflicts” because there are more than 1,000 causalities per year. Those 12 have cause more than 3.5 million deaths. Wars? Check.
There will be great earthquakes. Check. Famines. Plagues. Check. Check. Dreadful portents and great signs in the heavens? Well, toss in a good dose of global warming, increased sun spots, not to mention the occasional UFO and by golly we are batting a 1000!
As far as being arrested in Jesus name all I can say is don’t go preaching the gospel in too many foreign nations or you will find yourself in jail facing death. When we look at all that we have a complete fulfillment of the signs, so today we can say with 100% confidence, “The end is near!” Hope you are ready folks, because Jesus is coming back tomorrow!
Or is he? Hasn’t it been like this all along? Haven’t there been wars, plagues, earthquakes, all of it? Of course there have and this is just on a grand scale. How many folks can claim for their own lives, “the end is near.”
Think of the head of a household. Loses their job. Can’t find work. Bills adding up. Bank threatening to foreclose. Is the end near for them? What about the person who has just been given X number of days to live. Isn’t the end near for them? Or the person driving down the street listening to Kenny G on the radio, not knowing that at the next intersection some drunken jerk will plow through the red light doing 70 miles an hour and is going to hit them broadside. Is the end near for them? Have I depressed you yet today?
No, I’m not making light of the end of days. They will come and they will be dreadful. As we say every week, “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” And scripture tells us, “In those days – when he comes again – men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.” People read this and it’s no wonder that they run through the streets with their hair on fire screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” And in the process they miss the promise from God. They miss the message of hope for those who love the Lord their God. Following that litany of disasters in our gospel we read, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Not a hair of your head will perish.
Jesus says, “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” St. Peter says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”
When we consider the end of days, the second coming of Jesus, we are not to be focused on when it will occur; our focus, our daily concern should be – Am I prepared for it? If it comes today, will I be ready? If it comes in ten years, will I be ready? Am I bringing my children and grandchildren up in the knowledge and love of the Lord so that they too, will be prepared? Jesus says, “I will come like a thief in the night.” Our concern is, on that night will he find us prepared?
There is a wonderful George Iles quote, “Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.” Jesus says, When it seems the world is going to heck in a hand basket, when the darkness prevails, and the end of days are upon you, do not fear. I am with you always and will take your hand and guide you through.