Sunday, November 14, 2010

To Be Prepared for the End, Strive to Remain in the Middle!

This weekend's readings for Mass and next weekend's bring to a conclusion the Roman Catholic "liturgical calendar" and, therefore, appropriately focuses on the "end" of our lives and even the end of all things. This weekend's Gospel has Jesus making a prediction regarding the demise of the Jerusalem Temple (destroyed by the Romans in 70 a.d.) and than addressing the question of the disciple's concerning when this event would happen. This question seems to be a fairly "loaded one" given the length and breadth of Jesus' response and therefore we can speculate that the disciples were also asking about how history itself would come to a close.

Jesus' response to the disciple's question about the end is as follows: "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! 
Then he said to them,
"Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
 from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. Before all this happens, however, 
they will seize and persecute you,
 they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
 and they will have you led before kings and governors 
because of my name. 
It will lead to your giving testimony. 
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
 for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking 
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. 
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, 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 on your head will be destroyed."

What is Jesus really talking about here? While a number of interpretations may be warranted, one general theme might be, "if you want to be prepared for the end, strive to remain in the middle." First, by "end" I mean the end that is one's personal life or the end which is the close of history (whichever comes first). By being prepared for the "end", I'm referring to the idea of "going before the light" of God's truth, goodness, and beauty in good conscience and hearing the words, "good and faithful servant, receive the Kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world." Now let's consider the "crux" of the matter: remaining in the middle.

In so many words, Jesus is saying to the disciples, do not obsess about the end of all things. Rather, this is how you are to live: do not take sides with one "worldly" Kingdom or nation over-and-against another; do not follow after the many quasi-saviors or "cults of personality" that promise they have the answers or they can bring salvation. If and when you do take sides, be on the side of the Gospel, the values of the Kingdom of God, and bear witness only to my life and my legacy of love.

To be a person who places the values of the Kingdom of God and witness to the legacy of Jesus Christ above everything else means to be a person "in the middle." Now, by "middle", please understand I don't mean "neutral"! The middle is the place of greatest tension. The middle is occupied by persons concerned with addressing the issues of our day and being a part of movements that seek to bring real reform and even transformation for the sake of the life of the world. Because such persons are so focused on addressing and solving issues through the application of Gospel values, they don't over-identify with any one nation, person, or party and therefore aren't likely to be duped by empty rhetoric and facile solutions to very complex problems.

Jim Wallis, director of Sojourners, a Christian social action organization, has this to say about the need for "Gospel-minded", "middle-of-the-road types": "Instead of just sitting back and watching how things go, an empowered new electorate must push the country deeper into our best shared values, understand the need for social movements in making social change, and act to hold both political sides accountable in trying to actually solve the country's greatest challenges, instead of just winning and keeping power.

We have to focus on the spiritual and moral values that bring us together; that choose the common good over private gain, inclusiveness over intolerance, civility over shouting, long term over short term, integrity over celebrity, justice over excuses, morality over expediency, stewardship over consumption, truth over spin, patient persistence over immediate results, and finally, right over wrong. 

These are the values that work for our personal lives, for teaching our children, for leading our congregations, for changing our communities, for holding politicians accountable, and for creating the social movements that make a difference."

Ultimately, those who will make a difference are those who meet in the middle, where the "crux of commitment" to bring about real and lasting change truly lies. Pat, TOR