SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Wis 13:1-9
; Ps 19:2-5
; Lk 17:26-37
The gospel is a continuation of yesterday’s gospel when the Pharisees asked the Lord when the Kingdom of God would come. As we approach the end of the year, our thoughts are on the final days of our lives on earth. When will the final judgement happen? Such questions are speculative. The answer of Jesus is clear, “Where the body is, there too will the vultures gather.” In other words, when the conditions are present, there the kingdom of God will appear. Like the vultures that are drawn by a carcass, so too when the situation is appropriate, the Lord will appear. What, then, are these conditions for the Kingdom of God to come?
Right from the outset, we must affirm that God’s kingdom is already present in creation. The psalmist declares, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands. Day unto day takes up the story and night unto night makes known the message. No speech, no word, no voice is heard yet their span extends through all the earth, their words to the utmost bounds of the world.” Indeed, the whole of creation speaks of the glory, the power and the reign of God.
Unfortunately, three groups of people fail to recognize the presence of God’s rule in His creation. The book of wisdom speaks firstly about those who are proud and arrogant. “Naturally stupid are all men who have not known God and who, from the good things that are seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is, or, by studying the works, have failed to recognize the Artificer.” St Paul wrote the same judgement against them. He said, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Rom 1:18-20)
The second group of people are those who are bewitched by the beauty of this world. Instead of going deeper into the source and origin of creation, they remain on the level of creation. Some are so taken up at the awesomeness of creation that they turn them into gods. “Fire however, or wind, or the swift air, the sphere of the stars, impetuous water, heaven’s lamps, are what they have held to be the gods who govern the world.” What they should do is to go beyond the gifts of creation and direct their thoughts on the one who created them. “Small blame, however, attaches to these men, for perhaps they only go astray in their search for God and their eagerness to find him; living among his works, they strive to comprehend them and fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty. Even so, they are not to be excused: if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge to be able to investigate the world, how have they been so slow to find its Master?” This is reiterated by St Paul, “So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” (Rom 1:20-23)
There is the third group of people who miss out the presence of God. They are so engrossed in the mundane things of this world that they have become slaves of this passing world. In the gospel, Jesus warned the Jews how the kingdom of God would come; “It will be the same as it was in Lot’s day: people were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but the day Lot left Sodom, God rained fire and brimstone from heaven and it destroyed them all. It will be the same when the day comes for the Son of Man to be revealed.” The people of Sodom were eating, merry making, living a licentious life, slaves of their passion to the things of this world especially the sin of the flesh, that they were consumed by them. When the things of this world possess us, we lose our focus and we live the life of an animal, without meaning, purpose and direction.
How then can we find the presence of God in our lives? It is to be conscious that we are already in God’s kingdom. The author of wisdom encourages us to go beyond the things of this world to look for the author of creation. “If, charmed by their beauty, they have taken things for gods, let them know how much the Lord of these excels them, since the very Author of beauty has created them. And if they have been impressed by their power and energy, let them deduce from these how much mightier is he that has formed them, since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.” Indeed, there are so many atheists and non-believers who have visited our great and majestic churches and basilicas in many parts of the world, especially in Europe. But they just get caught up with the beauty and the architecture, failing to go beyond the beauty of human hands to the author of all beauty, God Himself.
Secondly, God can be found in daily life if we are attentive to what we are doing. Jesus said, “As it was in Noah’s day, so will it also be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating and drinking, marrying wives and husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and the Flood came and destroyed them all.” God comes to us where we are, whether we are eating, drinking, working or celebrating. If we open our eyes, we will be grateful to God for the food we have, the work that gives us meaning and purpose; and the joy of celebrating love with others. We just have to be fully attentive and available to God who comes to us through our daily events. Unfortunately, many of us enjoy these gifts without being grateful, working without focus and passion; and celebrating without appreciating the presence of others.
Thirdly, God can be found also in intimacy and friendship. “I tell you, on that night two women will be grinding corn together: one will be taken, the other left.” Being with our loved ones and friends, working and celebrating together help us to discover God in and through each other. Our loved ones can give us much joy and mediate to us the presence of God in our lives. Indeed, it is in giving and receiving that God’s presence and joy is felt. This is why the Lord told His people, “When that day comes, anyone on the housetop, with his possessions in the house, must not come down to collect them, nor must anyone in the fields turn back either. Remember Lot’s wife. Anyone who tries to preserve his life will lose it; and anyone who loses it will keep it safe.” We must not allow our possessions to hinder us from loving and giving ourselves to each other. Only when we are ready to surrender our lives and our things for the good of others, will we be able to preserve them. This is the irony of life. We retain what we give away. By giving away our possessions, we find love and joy.
However, in the final analysis, Jesus warns us that all these are just the foretaste of the kingdom. Nothing on this earth can last. Not our possessions, neither even earthly ties. When the day comes, we have to leave our worldly possessions behind; even our loved ones. We cannot cling to the things of this world, not even earthly friendships. Unless we let go, we will not be able to develop a stronger and more intense spiritual relationship with our loved ones whom we will leave behind in this world when it is our time to return to the Father. However, in letting go, we will find a greater capacity to love them not just with a human, possessive and self-centered love but with the unconditional, total and inclusive love of God. So it does not matter when the end of the world would come. On one hand, the kingdom is already here as a budding seed. On the other hand, it is arriving at its fullness, which will come at the end of time. But this final coming is dependent on whether we are already living as fully as the Lord invites us in anticipation of the final coming of Christ.