As we approach the end of the church year, the readings at the Eucharist confront us with some difficult considerations of the four last things: heaven, hell, death and judgment. We usually shy away from these topics because we are afraid that we will be found wanting in the sight of the Lord.
Malachi, in this week’s first reading, speaks about the terrible day of the Lord when God will destroy all that is evil. It is natural to focus on the predicted disaster and feel that we will be among the wicked destroyed by fire. It is, however, important to pay attention to the final line of the reading, “for you who fear my name there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” On the one hand, because we know that we are sinners, we think that God will exact a terrible retribution for all our wrongdoing. On the other hand, if we have tried to live good and upright lives, as sloppy as they may be at times, we will experience the sun of justice with its healing rays in an abundance even greater than the predicted blazing fire.
The final sentence of the reading from Malachi speaks of all those who help the poor, who take care of children, and those who worship God in prayer and action. Such common, ordinary people go about their daily lives trying to live out the two great commandments: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
While the practice of evil is complex and burdensome, because there is always more money to be made, more prestige to acquire and more power to exert, the upright life centered on love of God and neighbor is quite simple. In its very simplicity the good life brings the healing rays of the sun of justice. On a recent Sunday we have heard the story of the Good Samaritan. The man binds up the wounds of the victim and cares for him. He shows us how to fear the name of God. The healing rays of the sun of justice certainly shine on him.
A similar positive sentiment comes at the end of the Gospel reading this week. Jesus speaks of the persecution that the wicked will inevitably inflict on those who live quiet lives. It is amazing how good people threaten evil doers. In dedicated obedience to the two great commandments good people manifest that there is more to life than wealth, honors and power. The wicked cannot abide such demonstrations of goodness; they attempt to destroy good people by persecution or even death. Just as in Malachi the last sentence of the prophecy is more important than the threat. In the Gospel, Jesus’ last sentences are more important than any threat of persecution. “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair of your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will save your lives.”
Jesuit Fr. Jack Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.