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33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Malachi 3:19-20
Psalm 98:5-9
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Day of the Lord, The Divine Judge
The imminent coming of the "Day of the Lord" is a concept that is repeated often in Scripture. This event is described as a day of darkness and fear for humanity. There have been a number of days of divine judgment in salvation history, including the Flood judgment; the judgment on the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God's judgment of the ten plagues on Egypt, the judgment on the apostate, idol-worshipping people of Israel in 722 BC, and the same judgment on the people of Judah in 587 BC. However, the final "Day of Yahweh" or "Day of the Lord" is predicted to come at the end of the Age of Man. In the First Reading, God's messenger, the Prophet Malachi, proclaims a Day of Yahweh's judgment. The prophet writes that it will be a day of wrath and destruction for the wicked, but it will be a day of justice and salvation for the righteous.

In the Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist begins with an invitation to sing to the Lord God in celebration of all the great things He has done for His people. Then, he calls on all the earth to join in the song of praise: the sea, the rivers, the mountains and all who inhabit the earth to join in the acclamation of praise to God who one day will usher in an age truth and justice. It is Jesus Christ who has brought us the promise of an age of truth and justice in His Second Advent when he will return to create a new Heaven and earth.

In the New Testament, the "Day of the Lord" is connected with Jesus Christ's Second Advent when He will return to judge the living and the dead. St. Paul writes about his glorious event in the Second Reading. The Christian community at Thessalonica had the impression that the return of Jesus to judge the world was imminent. However, St. Paul wrote to them that since we do not know when Christ is coming, we must carry on with our ordinary lives, following the example Paul and others on his missionary team set for them while they were with the community. The confusion of the community at Thessalonica reminds us of the tension between knowing something will happen and waiting for the event. We know that Christ will return, but we don't know when He will return (Mt 24:36-42); therefore, we must remain in a state of vigilance. Like the ten virgins in Jesus' parable (Mt 25:1-13), we do not want to be like the five virgins who were unprepared and missed the coming of the Bridegroom. We want to be prepared like the other five and ready to present a purified soul in a state of grace for the coming of our divine Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus preaches about Yahweh's "Day of Judgment" that He predicts will fall upon Jesus' generation and the city of Jerusalem. The Gospel of Matthew records that Jesus warned the Jewish crowds of that day of war and destruction during His last week in Jerusalem when He said, Amen, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation (Mt 23:36). The judgment on Jesus' generation for their rejection of the Son of God and His Gospel of salvation was fulfilled historically forty years after Jesus' Resurrection, in the summer of 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and sent many thousands of Jews into exile across the Roman world. It is an event that should remind us to be vigilant in our faith despite unsettling and fearful times unfolding in human history. We must remain faithful to the teachings of our Savior and His Church so we will be ready for the promised return of Jesus Christ at the end of the age of man when He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead (Apostles' Creed) and to usher in an age of peace and justice.

As we approach the Advent season in the liturgical calendar, our readings will be turned toward this promised appointment with the Risen Christ's return as the Divine Judge. We are reminded to examine and to look after the condition of our souls and to be alert because no one knows the day when the Lord will return to usher in the Last Judgment and to rule the earth with justice.

The First Reading Malachi 3:19-20a ~ The Day of the LORD
19 Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts.  20a But for you who hear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.

Malachi was one of several old covenant prophets, including the prophets Daniel, Joel, and St. John the Baptist, who warned about the coming judgment on the "Day of the Lord" (Dan 7:10; Joel 3-4; Mt 3:7-12). The Book of the Prophet Malachi is the last of the books of the prophets in the Old Testament canon. He wrote his prophecy in c. 455 BC, shortly before Nehemiah's arrival in Jerusalem after the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile. The prophet takes the name "Malachi," which in Hebrew means "my messenger," but he keeps his identity a secret, probably because of his sharp reproaches against the religious and civil authorities of the people of Judah.

God has graciously forgiven the people of Judah their sins and has moved the heart of the Persian king Cyrus to allow them to return to their homeland.  However, the chosen people soon forget their gratitude for God's mercy.  The priests have dishonored God by offering blemished sacrifices, and the civil rulers do not administer justice (1:6-2:17).  Therefore, God's messenger calls a covenant lawsuit upon the people in proclaiming a coming day of judgment in fire for the wicked but "the sun of justice" and healing for the righteous. 

"Sun of justice" or "Sun of righteousness" is a title applied by Christians to Jesus in His Second Advent and is a concept expressed in the New Testament canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus):  ... because the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace (Lk 1:78-80).  Early Christian scholar Origen of Alexandria wrote: "The Lord came in the evening to a world in decline, when the course of life was almost run; but when the Sun of justice came, he gave new life and began a new day for those who believed in him" (Homiliae in Exodum, 7, 8).

Following in the path of the Old Testament prophets and in His role as God's supreme prophet, Jesus announced the Judgment Day of the Lord in His preaching when all secrets will be revealed and our attitude towards God, our neighbor, and the poor will be disclosed (i.e. Mt 12:38-40; 25:31-46; Lk 12:1-3; Jn 3:20-21).  Jesus gave a description of the Last Judgment in a discourse on His last teaching day in Jerusalem before His arrest (Mt 25:31-46).  We are told that at the Last Judgment Jesus the "just Judge." will pronounce His judgment to us, saying: "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).

Responsorial Psalm 98:5-9 ~  The LORD comes to Rule the Earth
The response is: "The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice."

5 Sing praise to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and melodious song.  6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn sing joyfully before the King, the LORD.
Response:
7 Let the sea and what fills it resound, the world and those who dwell in it; 8 let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy.
Response:
9 Before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to rule the earth; he will rule the world with justice and the peoples with equity.
Response:

The psalm begins with an invitation to sing to the Lord God in celebration of all the great things he has done for His people (verses 1-6).  Then in verses 7-8 he calls on all the earth to join in the song of praise: the sea, the rivers, the mountains and all who inhabit the earth to join in the acclamation of praise to God who is coming to rule and judge the earth with fairness.

It is in Jesus the Messiah, the Virgin Mary will sing in her Magnificat, that the Lord God will reveal His justice to all nations (Lk 1:46-55).  The Church will repeat this psalm in the liturgy of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

The Second Reading 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12 ~ Models for Imitation
7 You know how one must imitate us.  For we did not act in a disorderly way among you, 8 nor did we eat food received free from anyone.  On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you.  9 Not that we do not have the right.  Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.  10 In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.  11 We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.  12 Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.

Paul and his missionary team founded the Christian community in Thessalonica in Macedonia (Acts 17:1-9) in c. 51/52 AD.  In the meantime, other Christian teachers had visited the community and had taught them that the return of Jesus to judge the world was imminent.  The people had the impression that Christ's return was expected any day. As a result, some of the people in the community had stopped working and attending to daily needs, and yet they were taking advantage of other members by asking for food and causing trouble in the community.  In his letter, St. Paul is not correcting the teaching concerning Christ's return, but he is telling the community, since we do not know when Christ is coming we must carry on with our ordinary lives like the example Paul and others on his missionary team set for them while they were with the community.  They worked for their food and did not take advantage of the community.  Paul says there is a simple rule they should follow to avoid such abuses: if someone does not work, he does not eat.

The community at Thessalonica reminds us of the tension between knowing something will happen and the waiting for the event.  We know that Christ will return, but we don't know when He will return (Mt 24:36-42); therefore, we must remain in a state of vigilance.  Like the ten virgins in Jesus' parable (Mt 25:1-13), we do not want to be like the five virgins who were unprepared and missed the coming of the Bridegroom.  We want to be prepared like the other five and ready to present a purified soul in a state of grace for the coming of our divine Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Luke 21:5-19 ~ The Warning Signs for the Judgement of Jerusalem
5 While some people were speaking about how the Temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, he said, 6 "All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."  7 Then they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen?  And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?"  8 He answered, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,' and 'The time has come.'  Do not follow them!  9 When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end."  10 Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  11 There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. 12 "Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.  13 It will lead to your giving testimony.  14 Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, 15 for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.  16 You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.  17 You will be hated by all because of my name, 18 but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  19 By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

During Jesus' last week in Jerusalem, He gave a discourse on the future destruction of the holy city in Luke 21:5-36.  That this discourse concerns the historic destruction of Jerusalem and not His Second Advent is made clear by Jesus' statement in Luke 21:32: Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.  Jesus gave an eschatological discourse prophesying His Second Advent in Luke 17:22-37.

6 "All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."
The primary source for the historical event of the destruction of Jerusalem is the Jewish priest/historian, Flavius Josephus, who was an eyewitness to the siege and capture of Jerusalem by the Roman legions in 70 AD.  The Jerusalem Temple was one of the most beautiful buildings in antiquity. Josephus wrote that whatever was not overlaid with gold was purest white (The Jewish Wars, 5.5.6). 

In this passage, Jesus is pronouncing judgment on the Jews who reject their Messiah in the discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem that began in Matthew 23:34-39.  In that discourse, He said that Jerusalem was guilty of murdering God's prophets, and all the abuses against God's agents down through salvation history will fall upon Jesus' generation (Mt 23:36).  Jerusalem had not only killed the prophets, but she offered sacrifices for the Roman Emperor and the Roman people twice daily in the sacred Temple (Josephus: The Jewish Wars, 2.10.4; Against Apion, 2.5), and now Jerusalem rejects the Messiah who has offered her mercy, redemption and the invitation to sin no more.  

God gave the Jewish people who resisted the Messiah forty years to come to the New Covenant as a new generation in Christ, just as He gave Israel forty years in the wilderness to fully embrace the Sinai Covenant.  But judgment finally came in 70 AD when the Roman army utterly destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple by fire.  After the fire had died down, the Roman soldiers poured water on the hot rocks to extract the gold that had melted into the cracks of the rocks from the gold ornamentation that decorated the Temple walls and the golden fence that topped the Sanctuary. The rocks broke apart and, as Jesus prophesied, "not one stone was left upon another."  The Temple was never rebuilt—it was the house Jesus spoke of when He said: "Look! Your house will be deserted" (Mt 23:38).

8He answered, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,' and 'The time has come.'  Do not follow them! 
Jesus gave a similar warning about false prophets claiming to be the Messiah in His eschatological discourse in Luke 17:23.  In his description of the Jewish revolt against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem, Josephus reports the appearance of many false prophets. These false prophets led many people astray.(The Jewish Wars, 6.5.2 [285-87; 300-309]).

9When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end."  10 Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  11 There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky."
Wars are always occurring somewhere in the world.  But in the late 50's and into the 60's AD the Roman Empire, led by an evil and ineffective Emperor Nero, faced a number of insurrections in the provinces, beginning with Queen Boudicca's revolt in Brittan in c. 60/61 AD.  Encouraged by these revolts challenging the power of Rome, the Jews began a revolt by massacring the Roman garrison in Caesarea in 66 AD. 

As for the natural disasters and signs in the sky in verse 11, there was a worldwide famine predicted by Agabus in Acts 11:28 which occurred from 44 to 48 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius.  This is a historical event attested by extra-biblical sources (i.e., Tacitus, Annals, 12:43).  There was also a number of significant earthquakes in the Italian Peninsula and the Middle East, and there may have been a sighting of Halle's comet.  Josephus records that there were strange sightings in the sky before the Roman siege of Jerusalem, including a star resembling a sword which stood over the city and a comet that continued a whole year (The Jewish Wars, 6.5.3 [288-300]).

In Luke 21:12-19, Jesus speaks of the coming persecution.  Between Jesus' Ascension in the late spring of 30 AD and the Jewish Revolt that began in 66 AD and reached its climax in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the people of Judah and Jerusalem experienced all the persecutions prophesied by Jesus.  For example, St. Peter and John were arrested, imprisoned, and tried by the Sanhedrin.  St. Stephen, St. James Zebedee and St. James Bishop of Jerusalem were martyred, and St. Paul and other disciples were beaten and imprisoned.  St. Paul was arrested by the Romans, imprisoned, and spoke the Gospel before two Roman governors (Felix and Festus), a Jewish King (Herod Antipas II) and two Jewish princesses (Drusilla and Bernice), before being taken as a prisoner to Rome.  All spoke eloquently before their enemies, and everything that the early Christians suffered that was recorded in Acts was prophesied by Jesus in Luke 21:12 (see examples in Acts 3:11-22; 5:19; 6:8-15; 7:58-60; 8:3; 9:2; 12:1-5; 16:23; 18:12-17; 21:30-33; 22:30; 23:12, 24, 26, 31-35; 24:10-27; 25:1-26:32; 27:1; 28:17-19, 30-31).  For the persecution of Christians "because of my name" (Lk 21:12) see the fulfillment in Acts 4:7, 10, 7-18; 5:28, 40; "lead to your giving testimony" (Lk 21:13) is fulfilled in Acts 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 20:26; 26:22.

17You will be hated by all because of my name, 18 but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  19 By your perseverance you will secure your lives."
It is unclear if this prophecy is fulfilled figuratively in that their eternal lives are not endangered, or if the prophecy is fulfilled for the Christians of Judea literally as well as figuratively.  Jewish persecution of Christians began immediately after Jesus' Ascension, but Roman persecution didn't begin until 64 AD.  Prior to the Emperor Nero's organized persecution of Christians, the Romans had been fairly ambivalent to Christians.  St. Paul was even saved several times from Jewish crowds by the Romans (i.e., Acts 18:12-15; 21:30-36).  In his 4th century Church History, Bishop Eusebius records that the Christians recognized the signs Jesus gave them. Warned by a revelation, the faithful left Jerusalem just before the Jewish Revolt and traveled across the Jordan River into Perea, saving all the members of the Christian faith community (Church History, III.5.3).  Indeed, there are not any records of Christians perishing during Rome's suppression of the revolt.

Jesus' prophecies in this passage were fulfilled historically, but are you prepared to experience what early Christians endured and what Christians facing persecution down through the centuries have faced for the sake of their faith in Christ Jesus?  A tenth of those victims of Nazi persecution who died in the consecration camp at Auschwitz in Poland were Catholic priests and nuns. Would you have the conviction of faith to give up your life for another person like Fr. Maximilian Kolbe knowing that another life was waiting for you with Christ in eternity?

Catechism References:
Malachi 3:19-20 (CCC 678)
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12 (CCC 2427, 2830)
Luke 21:12 (CCC 675)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013