November 14, 2021
Do you remember the 1922 story of Henny Penny, called Chicken Little, who believes the world is coming to end? “The sky is falling!” The phrase features prominently in the story. Actually, the sky is not falling but Chicken Little gets so worked up and believes that it is. So the story ends: “And just as Foxy Loxy was about to lead them into his den to eat them, the sky fell on him.”
The sky will not fall today! Apocalyptic language is an imagination-charged language that razzle-dazzles and engenders a fear of the unknown and the destructive.
What apocalyptic language and expressions do is to call us to stand up and look through the confusion of what is not working and/or falling apart. Whatever may be happening has only the power to induce fear. Today’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus is standing near at the gates — with us, alongside us.
What is happening today that should frighten us?
- The climate calamities — rain, floods, drought, hurricanes, burning carbons
- Explosion of information and disinformation. Everybody’s truth is not the Truth. The truth is the truth. We seem to have lost the central virtue of integrity.
- Varied and new interpretations of what it means to be human, which has nothing to do with the color of skin, the sound of a language, the amount of money we possess, or the disparity of opportunities.
- The categories of gender, race, class, and nationality have been broken open and so has political, social and moral chaos.
So, the Gospel began in the 70’s of the first century: “In those days after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
What was the tribulation in Palestine 40 years after Jesus died and rose? The Roman armies had come to suppress a political rebellion. They destroyed the Temple, pulling stones apart and burning everything. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that 1.1 million people were murdered and 97,000 Jewish people were sold as slaves.
Did all of those people who had come to celebrate the Feast of the Passover see Jesus standing at the city gates? There must have been some followers of Jesus in the city also. Did they escape? No one knows.
To match the Gospel, the Church has selected the apocalypse story from the Prophet Daniel. It is not clear who he was, but there is a reference 150 years or so before the Fall of Jerusalem, another “time of unsurpassed distress.”
The Greek Seleucid dynasty plundered Palestine and Egypt and placed a statue of Zeus on the altar of the Holy of Holies — a sacrilege. It was the time of the Maccabee family fighting for civil and religious freedom. The Jewish Hasmoneans finally won.
They praised those who were steadfast and relentless against the Greek overlords.
We have in this first reading today, the emerging insight in the Hebrew tradition of the Resurrection: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever… The wise shall shine brightly… Those who lead the many to justice, shall be like the stars forever.”
So, what does this mean?
- We need to look around, to observe what is going on, to get on top of it and not be crushed by it. Remember that story of Jesus, in Nazareth (Luke 4:30), Jesus had just told them who he was; they were upset then by his claims. The crowd hustled Jesus to the brow of the hill, yelling and screaming to push him over the cliff. In their blind confusion and hatred, he just walked right through them. We can walk right through what is happening today.
- In the middle of difficulties — personal, family, work, relationships, we need to be clear-eyed, as calm as possible, praying for wisdom and calm.
- Jesus is always present in the apocalypse, in what seems a failure, in what looks like hell before us. How does the letter to the Hebrews describe Jesus? “He took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool.” Our enemies, our negative realities are God’s enemies.
- Maybe we need to be introduced once again to St. Michael the Archangel. Our first reading calls him “the great prince, the guardian of God’s people.” He is always the first one on the scene of anything disruptive and destructive, and he will help us to escape any peril.
- Remember that what may appear to be adrift or a victim of pure chance, God is the creator and the One who sustains. God once described Himself “like a mother hen.” That is where the frightened chicks go to hide.
- There is a good and possible way always to get out of or move through everything that seems to be impossible. God is ready to move into action and accompany us.
- It may not happen with a snap of our finger but by including God always, we move slowly out of darkness into light, out of depression toward the new possibility, out of being paralyzed to finding our way. Usually, we make the complexity of life, and Jesus will help us to simplify it once again.
- Finally, it is important to seek solutions that incorporate the richness of different peoples, art, poetry, an interior life and a living spirituality. Times of great confusion are not the time to separate ourselves from one another, but the time to come together.
Jesus is the one and final constant. His last words to us today: “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”