Conversion, not catastrophe, brings the kingdom

by Sharon K. Perkins 

“Wars and insurrections… powerful earthquakes, famines and plagues.”

Sound familiar?

Jesus’ words in this week’s Gospel depict a scenario that could just as accurately describe many of the contemporary phenomena portrayed on our television screens and in our newspapers. The destruction of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, and the Haitian earthquake in January 2010 are but two examples of these kinds of events. And Hollywood films — I’m thinking of one I saw recently about the total destruction of the earth in 2012 — use fan- tastic special effects to illustrate these phenomena at their most extreme.

By connecting the Gospel with present-day news reports, some people perceive these events and natural disasters to be a warning that the biblical “day of the Lord” must be very near indeed. They focus on doomsday prophecies with emotions ranging from anticipation to fear to panic, yet overlook the biblical promise of the “sun of justice with its healing rays” to those who fear the name of the Lord.

Jesus warns us not to be easily deceived by speculation but to seek the wisdom that comes from trusting in God.

Many Christians in the late first century had a similar problem. They expected the Lord to return any day. Based on this assumption, some even stopped working for their living and instead became “busybodies,” causing unrest in the community and setting a bad example. The second reading reminds them — and us — that followers of Jesus are to persevere in works of justice and peace, even when it is difficult or unpopular to do so.

The practice of peace and justice in our relationships and our daily occupations doesn’t lend itself to Hollywood special effects. It’s hard, often unglamorous work that doesn’t register on the Richter scale. But this — and not a major earthquake — is the unmistakable sign that the Lord has come.

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