Homily – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

As the year draws to a close the biblical readings draw more and more on the end time imagery.  There is a challenge for us to make some sense of this.

Those who are disposed to read the world in apocalyptic ways make much of the pandemic, the recent earthquake, the high winds and storms and other natural disasters.  Some seem to be waiting for the plague of locusts to arrive! These natural disasters, these fantastic occurrences which we have seen and which have had an impact equal to the spectacular Biblical stories do call for some response.

Punishment Response

There is always the temptation to run to the ‘victim’ interpretation of these events.  This explanation claims that God is not happy with the behavior of some or many of humanity and therefore needs to send a wakeup call or a warning with a promise of punishment for those who do not heed the call.  This style of interpretation has its own dangers.  It raises questions.  It is not satisfactory to many.  It is not fair to God or to human beings.  How can a loving God wreck such havoc on human persons and on God’s own creation?  How can we accept that punishment is the best teacher?  Surely parents and teachers (if not our own experience) will tell us that punishment is not the supreme teacher and the way to elicit true obedience (in the fullest meaning of the word – to listen well; obidere) respect and adherence to God and the human family.  In the end the ‘punishment’ interpretation is not adequate, not satisfactory and not a fair interpretation of these events.  Ultimately the punishment interpretation makes victims of human beings.  We become victims to a vengeful God.

Observer Response

What other alternatives are there?  There is the ‘it’s a mystery’ interpretation of events.  Rather than being a victim we become passive observers and analysts of the world around us. We just have to accept that these things happen and that there can be no meaning attached to them.  Scientists can explain that there are shifts in the earths surfaces, that there are climate changes, that movements and quakes are part of the patterns and movements of the earth within the solar system.  But we shouldn’t try to give any meaning beyond the physical phenomena we see and experience.  This explanation acknowledges that there are physical reasons and scientific models used to interpret, explain and predict physical changes in the earth.  The development of sophisticated tsunami warning systems, weather predictions through observations and cyclone resistant building techniques are indicative of the great contribution that scientific and technological developments have made to our lives.  But even scientific models are challenged at times and need refining.  And beyond science there is room for the theological art of interpretation, the art of meaning making.  It is a mystery doesn’t suffice.  Human beings are more than observers.

Participation Response

It is possible to offer a further approach.   As Christians we believe firmly in the incarnation – that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  This calls us to what I have named the participation response.  We hold that Jesus Christ as the Word of God takes an active and vital interest in human life and the wellbeing of the earth.  Just as he was called to action and interaction so are we called to be his body today – here and now.  And in doing that we know that the fullness of that work lies in the future.  The Biblical stories and apocalyptic language remind us of that.  The tradition of Catholic Social teaching reminds us of that.

As we approach the end of the year (and the liturgical year) we are reminded once again that we are people of hope with a continued mission and work to be done.  As the year draws to a close the biblical readings will draw more and more on the end of time imagery.  Our challenge is to understand that literature for what it is.  Not that we are being punished, not that we are hopeless observers but that we are those who are called to active and urgent participation.  The challenge for us this week is to commit ourselves to some kind of participation.  Authentic Christianity is not a victim response or an observer response.  We are people of participation and transformation.

Let’s pray that can be our response to the events of our world.

By Fr Brendan Reed


Homily Parish Priest


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