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HOW NEAR IS THE END?

          Reflection for the 33RD Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

                                                 Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

During the heights of the speculations about three days of darkness coming upon the world, I was chatting with one of my aunties about the stories going around. She confirmed the anxiety among her friends in the Church and how some brought boxes of candles to the parish priest to bless because only blessed candles can light during the three days of absolute darkness.

Seeing how worried she was telling the story, I asked her if she had kept blessed candles, too. She smiled and said, “I just got a pack.” Responding to her, I said, “whether you got more or less doesn’t matter, you are in, but did you remember to get blessed matchboxes or lighters? The candles would need to be lit, and you must always have a matchbox or lighter as no one knows when or where.” She was stunned at my response and exclaimed, “only God can save us then!” Only God, surely.  

The anxiety about the end is very real, and we see it reflected in many end-of-time predictions running through the history of the world. If you listen to some preachers now, you will hear them repeatedly saying that these are the last days or end times, but how near is the end?

There is no doubt that anything that has a beginning would necessarily have an end. We were not there when God began the world and the resultant birth of human life, so should we worry about its end? Our Reflection would attempt to address the end-time puzzle from a different perspective.

The Gospel of the End

Our Lord Jesus Christ got into the end-of-time discourse by default. Responding to some people admiring the temple alongside the adornment and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here— the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Jesus was reading their minds and saw how the perishable work of human hands absorbed them.

From the statement, Jesus was trying to tell them not to be carried away by the beauty around them because nothing in this world would last forever; it is not really about what we see here but what lies beyond.

Hearing that everything would undergo destruction; in other words, there would be an end to everything, the people inquired to know when and the signs that would indicate the happenings.

Remember that our Lord introduced the idea of “when” in the discourse, which indicates time. Now anything that happens must necessarily fit into the economy of time; without time, there is no event. So, the people were right to inquire about the time, and signs precede important events.

In responding to them, our Lord mentioned the signs but was not specific about the time, and we shall see the reason later. Let us first focus on the signs.

Deception: In the narrative, Jesus said: “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, I am he’, and the time has come, do not follow them!” Here, Jesus was giving a powerful instruction that many seem to neglect  

Deception is a major weapon of the devil, and it is our responsibility to be watchful. The devil deceived the woman to disobey God alongside the man (Genesis 3:1-6). The vision of John (Revelation 12:9) recounts the defeat of the ancient serpent, known as the devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world.

Warfare: Some of those who predicted the end of the world referenced the First and the Second world wars as indicators that the end was near since Jesus mentioned warfare between nations and kingdoms. The question is, “was Jesus talking merely about world wars as indicators of the end? Let’s find out.

While we may not dismiss the impact of wars, they are not always physical. St. Paul told the Ephesians (6:12) that we do not war against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and rulers of the darkness of this world. Also, he told the Corinthians that though we live in the world, we do not war as the world does because the weapon of our warfare is not carnal (2 Cor. 10:3-4).

What we should understand here is that Jesus was not talking about international or inter-kingdom warfare but, more profoundly, spiritual warfare, which is ongoing for those who understand the spiritual rules of engagement.

Persecution: Every attentive student of church history would attest that Christianity as we know it grew amid a series of persecution against the apostles and their missionary collaborators. It became more widespread after Christianity entered Rome with the historic Ten Great Persecutions that started with Emperor Nero.

Persecution was one of the testimonials of the Christian life that our Lord Jesus Christ predicted in the sermon on the mount (Matt. 511): “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

One thing we should understand clearly about persecution is that the real victims are not the Christians punished or killed but Jesus Christ himself. Remember what Saul heard from the ascended Lord on his way to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).

Moving Forward: Should We Bother About the End-of-Time?

We have already established that our Lord Jesus Christ did not specify the exact time of the end. In the Gospel of Matthew (24:36), Jesus concluded the same teaching by adding that no one knows the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven or the Son, but only the Father. So, why should we bother about when the world will end?

We should be more concerned about winning over the challenges that come with the signs the Lord graciously gave us. The deceiver is still deceiving the whole world using every available arsenal. We should focus on winning the spiritual battles and submitting to the Lord in our challenges because he is persecuted when we face persecution, and He promised to be with us all the way.   

We should not just wait for the end but prepare ourselves for it. To be more practical, each person’s world ends at death, as the letter to the Hebrews (9:27) tells us that judgment comes immediately after death.

We are like students at the university of life. We should focus on preparing for our final examination, not the graduation ceremony. God will end His world when He chooses, and He is at liberty to change the time if He chooses. Instead of worrying and fretting about the end, use the same energy to prepare your soul for the end of its journey in life.

Fr. Bonnie.

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