20 Nov 2016
“‘So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand) …’” (Matt. 24:15) In the name …
“Let the reader understand” is a phrase placed within parentheses in the biblical text. This means it’s an interruption to the train of thought, but it’s important enough to be that interruption. And it is. “Let the reader understand.” I mentioned at the beginning of Mass that I attended our annual clergy retreat this past week. I happened to see a book in the Mercy Center library entitled The Hand of God. It was a collection of photos from the Hubble Space Telescope and their descriptions, and these were linked with passages of spiritual insight, and thank God, mostly not from professional religious thinkers. People in the religion field can become too narrowly focused. Specialization is every-where. Think about all of the different kinds of doctors out there as an easy example. But what are the confines of religion? Isn’t God the creator of everything? Don’t we teach that God is everywhere? At the Last Supper Jesus promises to share the Holy Spirit with us because He has more to teach when we are ready. Doesn’t that mean that God is still speaking to us in all kinds of ways, through all kinds of experiences and through all kinds of people?
A thousand years before Jesus, the Psalmist wrote these words to be sung in the Jerusalem Temple as part of their worship of God: “The heavens are telling the glory of God … There is no speech, nor are there words; … yet their voice goes out through all the earth.” (Ps. 19) Galileo was brave enough to dare to say the same thing, that God reveals Himself through our study and wonderment at creation, but his words were banned and he was threatened by his church, and religion grew small. Galileo said, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” He challenged the teaching that the earth and humans were at the unmoving center of creation, that everything else danced in honour of us. But God’s creation reveals a more humble teaching, but also a more inspiring one. We are a part of creation. The stuff we are made of isn’t simply the dirt of Eden. We are literally made of stardust. When stars are in the process of dying, they build heavier and heavier elements. Then when those stars explode, those elements go out as seeds throughout the universe, and some of those seeds are in us. This fact alone should fill us with awe, but what’s even more amazing is that the debris from this billions-years-long process has endowed us with minds that are able to now look at the stuff of creation and understand and be awed, and I don’t know if that’s present anywhere else in the universe outside of God. We may well have become the consciousness of creation.
Consciousness. That’s “Let the reader understand.” God has granted us the privilege of minds and of choice. We can send machines to moving comets and hit them after millions of miles and years of travel because of our minds, but add the privilege of choice and prediction becomes almost impossible. Oscar Wilde, another writer not loved by religion, once made the same comparison and much more poetically concluded: “[But] who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?” There are religious poets who ask us to look around and wonder if God wanted creation to produce surprises that even He Himself could not foresee. They ask us to look inward and wonder if we are not creative beings ourselves, which is to say we are unpredictable and full of surprises. They see this as the effects of being made in the image and likeness of God. And if prediction is impossible, not because God isn’t smart enough to tell the future, but because God is creative enough to let our story unfold, then the end-time has not yet been written.
Take today’s Gospel, for example. Matthew’s community is one centered in Jerusalem and one which still counted the Temple and its worship as part of their faith-practice as early Christians. Only about 150 years earlier, the Temple had been profaned by the conquering Greeks. Now the Romans had done the same thing, but they did so by completely destroying the Temple. To the Jews and to the Jewish-Christians of Matthew’s community this was interpreted as the beginning of the end-time. How could God let this stand? How could He allow this to happen to His house? Because of what happened to the Temple creation would collapse. Matthew’s prophecy is “immediately” the sun will die, the stars will fall and heaven will be shaken, and Jesus will return. He got it wrong. None of this happened. He says to us today, “‘This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.’” They did, and they haven’t. What this tells me is there’s a revelation behind the revelation. It tells me that prediction doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work because God has given birth to a creative universe and we’re His most creative act of all. The future is not determined. The future depends on what we decide to do now.
And this is a Gospel message fully worthy of the final Sunday of the church year as we consider the end-time. The end-time doesn’t belong to future generations. It belongs to us and to every generation because each generation is building tomorrow’s world. What we do now will change the future. Wrong predictions like we’re the unmoving center of creation or that “the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place” means the end of time have proven that this is not how God works. They are no match for “Let the reader understand.” God has made us like Him. We have intelligence. Let’s not be afraid to use it. And He has given us the privilege of free will. Let’s use it responsibly. Let’s not focus on the future as inevitable destruction because of our failures. Let’s think of the future as the opportunity for our God-given creativity to make a difference. As people of faith, let us trust that God has given us the gifts necessary not to destroy ourselves, but instead to care for those in need, to care for creation, and to build a better world for everyone. May this be our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo