15 May 2011
“‘I came so that [you] might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’” (John 10:10b-11) In the name …
On Saturday I’m driving some of our ladies out to Central Falls, RI for the annual diocesan convention of the Adoration Society. It begins at 10AM, but I’m hoping it’s done by about 4PM. That’s because I just have to be back here in South Deerfield at 6PM. I want to make absolutely sure that God knows exactly where to find me at 6PM, because according to some very convinced people who are traveling all over the United States, that will be the day and the hour, at which God will destroy the earth. A world-wide, cataclysmic earthquake will strike at that moment unleashing unimaginable destruction and misery, so they say, and simultaneously 144,000 dead and living souls will visibly ascend up into the heavens in the Rapture.
The ones advocating this prophecy have sold homes and possessions, divorced un-believing spouses, and given all of their money to the cause of proclaiming this end-time message. They have caravans of RV’s crisscrossing the country with the date of May 21st and Judgment Day plastered all over them. There was even a segment about them on NPR this past Thursday (http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=136239062). They have paid for nationwide radio and television ads, and advertisements in national magazines and newspapers. I mentioned this to catechism students this week and they already knew all about it because of Twitter or whatever else they use to stay in constant contact with each other. This must cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or maybe even more. The ones out preaching this message are all volunteers though. They’re not receiving a cent for all their time and travel because why would they need money after the world comes to an end this Saturday?
Now before any of you go out and give away your houses, your cars and everything else that you own, I want you to know that we’re planning to have Mass right here next Sunday, the day after the world is supposedly going to come to an end. I absolutely do not believe that there is some hidden cipher that allows a person to discern God’s hidden message in the Bible. The Bible is about revelation, about bringing God out into the open. The Bible is not about keeping His will hidden. If you’ve read either of the last two articles in the parish newsletter, with a third one coming out next weekend if we’re still here, you can see that there is mystery in the Bible, but not mystery like a cop-shows on television trying to solve a crime from the hidden clues.
And there’s another reason I think these people will be awfully surprised when the sun rises next Sunday, and it has to do with today’s Gospel about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. There’s nothing hidden or secret in these words of our Lord. You don’t have to go looking between the lines trying desperately to figure out what God wants us to know because the analogy of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is intentionally as clear as day. Jesus explains who He is and what He’s about by pointing to the example of a shepherd because everyone around Jesus, when He spoke these words 2,000 years ago, knew all about shepherds. Jesus is explaining Himself as concretely as He possibly can. He wants to make sure that people get the point. It’s not about secret messages; it’s about discovery. Jesus comes into the world, says the Bible, so that we “‘might have life and have it more abundantly.’” Says Jesus about Himself: “‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’” (Jn. 10: 10, 11)
Think about what these doomsday prophets are telling us, on the other hand. Next Saturday, they say, an earthquake will open up the earth and the dead saints will arise. Then, they and the living saints, 144,000 all together, will ascend into the heavens, while all others will face unspeakable torments. The current world population is quickly approaching 7 billion people. There is no way to determine how many people have ever lived on the earth, but I’ve seen estimates of between 50 and 100 billion people. Now my math isn’t great. But take the lowest number of 50 billion people. That means for every person saved God is going to destroy nearly 350,000 other people. If the world’s population is closer to 100 billion people, that number doubles to 700,000 thrown away souls for each soul saved. And put even more starkly, the 144,000 come at the expense of nearly every living being ever born. It equals the torture and death of every living human being in history, except, for the purpose of an analogy, the current population of Springfield, Massachusetts. Does this sound at all like the straightforward, clear as day message of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the one who comes to bring us more abundant life, and who is even willing to lay down His own life for our sake?
I feel bad for these prophets of doom. There is going to be a terrible crash of faith for them next Sunday. But there’s an even larger issue here than these few misguided fundamentalists. Others won’t dare to be as specific about the date because of what’s going to happen to these guys next Sunday, but there seems to be so many in religion who dwell on the end of the world rather than on improving the world, who dwell on the judgment of God rather than the love of God. And when religion is depicted to the world so often in these terms, other people also must face the possibility of a crash of faith. Other people will turn away who cannot accept the inhumanity of destroying tens of billions of people as part of the equation of God’s saving just 144,000 souls. And if these prophets of doom were right, I myself would choose not to believe in such a god. These people of the May 21st movement gave up everything because of their belief that they would be spared the end-time torment. Jesus preaches of Himself as the Good Shepherd who is willing to face torment and death for the benefit of others. We people of faith need to start broadcasting as best we can this clear and unambiguous revelation of Christ. We church-people need to reach out and into the world not to tell them they’re damned, but to tell them they’re loved. This is our obligation as followers of the Good Shepherd. How do we do this better? Who will be our volunteers? When can we begin? These are the things we need to ask ourselves as church because the world will be here for a lot longer than just one more week and God needs for us to proclaim more than judgment and doom. And that the Good Shepherd may inspire us and help us in this work, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo