In the Gospel, Jesus challenges his listeners to not read every disaster and misfortune as a sign of the ultimate end of things. This is especially difficult for those who may be in the midst of great trial. Preoccupations with the end of all things can derail us from the work of justice that needs to be done for the building of God’s kingdom in the here and now. Why build a lasting hunger relief program if the end is upon us? Why work for the restoration of the rights of the unborn if the end is near? Why plan at all?
St. Paul was dealing with this problem in his letter to the Thessalonians. The earliest Christians had a very real sense of the second coming of Christ. Many were expecting him in their lifetime and some grew distressed when friends or family died without having experienced the second coming. The second coming was a belief that inspired hope, excitement and yearning.
The problem was that some in the Thessalonian church were so preoccupied with the return of Christ that they just stopped their daily routine. They were just waiting. Human weakness being what it is, they became gossips milling around and being overly involved in the affairs of others. They became a nuisance to the well-being of the community. One could say they became takers and no longer givers. They ate the food, but did nothing to replenish the stock. Paul challenged them to get back to work and live their lives. If they did not get back to work, he simply said that then they should not eat from the church’s pantry.
The truth of the second coming of Christ remains a fact for all of us, but we know neither the day nor the hour. We are challenged to have a living sense of the second coming of Christ, but to also have a very real sense of the need to do God’s work now. God has placed us here in this time to do work with him and we are to guard ourselves from prophecies, oracles and messages that would divert us from this long-term work and service. The work of justice must not be set aside on account of end-time prophecies. We are to leave the timeline of these things to God.
There is also a challenge for each of us to contribute to the common good by working. We hear a call to work if one is able and also logically the call for all us to make that participation in the dignity of work as possible for as many in society as we can. There is also a challenge to those who simply take and have grown sinfully idle and no longer strive to contribute back to society. It is all a matter of justice. The ideal works of justice contribute toward restoring persons to the dignity of work and participation in society. They challenge and encourage persons to keep striving, to not lose heart and to certainly not grow idle.
Questions for Prayer
1. What charities can I give to that advance the work of justice?
2. Where have I grown idle and no longer give in my relationships with others or with God?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.