Keep Your Nose Out of God's Business.
Lessons from cycle II of the feria, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
II John 4-9.
Psalm 119: 1-2, 10-11, 17-18.
Luke 17: 26-37.
The Thirty-Second Friday of Ordinary Time.
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9:24 AM 11/14/2014 — There are four or five instances in the Holy Gospel wherein our Lord seems to be in an odd humor, launching into a diatribe of sorts that leaves us dumbfounded as it must have the Pharisees with whom he's speaking, and today's Gospel lesson is perhaps one of the most extreme examples. What makes this one in particular so difficult is that it's both overly simplistic and extremely convoluted all at the same time.
The question was put to our Lord by the Pharisees in yesterday's Gospel lesson:—I chose to preach instead on the Apostolic lesson from Philemon—they ask him when the Kingdom of God will come. He answers them in two parts: yesterday's lesson is just a warning about allowing oneself to become too obsessed with these kinds of eschatological questions, and chasing after every prophet or preacher who comes around spouting off about it. He says, “Men will be saying to you, See, he is here, or See, he is there; do not turn aside and follow them…” (Luke 17: 23 Knox). We talked about this once before, when I told you about the woman I met here at the Shrine many years ago who was running bus trips out to Bayside, New York, because someone said she was seeing Jesus and Mary. There is a certain brand of Catholic who is drawn to that sort of thing like a mosquito to a light bulb, or, as our Lord puts it at the end of today's lesson, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather” (v. 37 NAB). Why are some people drawn to such things so fanatically? Because their faith is a fraud. The Christian sure in his faith shrugs his shoulders at such things; it's only the unbeliever cloaked in a façade of faith who is constantly chasing after any promise of proof.
But the real meat of our Lord's response to the Pharisees' question is contained in today's lesson, wherein our Lord actually gets around to answering their question ... or so they think, because, in reality, they've asked him one question but he answers another. Some years ago a priest friend of mine invited me to “lunch with him”—which is how they say it—at the Yale Club in New York of which he was a member; and, as we were sitting in the lounge sipping exotic beverages which I couldn't possibly pronounce, a rather distinguished looking gentleman walked up, recognizing us as priests, and started going on about how much he admired Pope John Paul II even though he himself was not what he called a “religionist,” and how a practical atheist like him could still find much merit in what this particular Pope had done for Western Civilization. And without any regard for where I was, I replied, much to the shock of my companion, that he couldn't have admired him that much if he couldn't bring himself to investigate the faith for which he stood. I haven't been invited back to the Yale Club since.
But our Lord does exactly this very same thing. The question they asked him, in yesterday's lesson, was simple, abstract and safe: when is the Kingdom of God going to come? He responds, in today's lesson, with these metaphors: two people in one bed, one being taken and the other left; two women grinding corn together, one taken the other left. In other words, what their asking him about is a theological concept; what he's telling them about is themselves. They want to know about the final judgment; what he's telling them about is the particular judgment. They want to know what's going to happen when the world comes to an end; he saying to them, Don't waste your time musing over when the world is going to come to an end; worry instead about what's going to happen when you come to an end, and that can happen at any time.
“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it” (v. 33 NAB). To you and me it's common sense, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't constantly remind ourselves that, so long as we keep our souls in the State of Grace through frequent confession and Communion, when the world comes to an end is God's business, not ours.