Saturday, November 27, 2010

To "Stand Before The Son of Man" in Eternal Life Means to "Stand Beside Him" in This Life

In today's Gospel for Mass from Luke (Luke 21:31-46), Jesus is issuing general, "broad-strokes" (meaning not overly-specific) prognostications to his disciples about what his Second Coming will be like. He states in very dramatic fashion, "For that day will assault everyone on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times, and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."

"That day" refers to the "day of the Lord," a theme that has deep roots in the Old Testament scriptures. It implies the full, final, and definitive reckoning or accounting of human history in the societal, interpersonal, and personal sense. The notion of the day of the Lord "assaulting" people speaks not to it's "forcefulness" so much as to it's "inevitability" and the utter impossibility of escaping it.

What may be of particular value to discerning the meaning of this Gospel passage for our own day is the fact that Jesus is not using the second person singular "you" in addressing the disciples, but, rather, is using the third person plural "you" (meaning, "all of you"). The importance of this is namely that it implies that salvation is not an individual or personal affair but is only worked out practically and meaningfully in the context of relationship and a commitment to community. No one person "gains" eternal life in a vacuum! As a matter of fact, some have defined "hell" as utter isolation and alienation from others; it is, in essence, the eternal state of existing "as an island unto one's self" - or, the eternal state of a "navel-gazing-self-consumed-vacuum".

In a commentary that I was reading in preparation for this Sunday's Mass, it referred to a preacher who made the astute and provocative statement that, when we arrive in heaven, Christ's first question to us will be, "and where are all the others?" What this means, in so many words, is that to "stand before the Son of Man" in eternal life, we must supportively "stand beside the Son of Man" as he is present in each person, the body of believers as a whole, and those whom he most identified with on earth: the poor, marginated, and needy. Pat, TOR