“IF ANYONE WILL NOT WORK, LET HIM NOT EAT!”
Mal 3:19-20a; 2Thess 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19
The end of this liturgical year is near. After next Sunday, the feast of Christ the King, a new liturgical year will begin. Therefore, the readings of this Sunday signal this end. All the three of them point to the idea of an expectation an “end”.
In the Gospel reading of today, Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. For the Jews at Jesus’ time, the Temple was the most precious thing they could imagine. They built this for fifty years through King Herod the Great. It was the most beautiful edifice at that time, and it was full of adornments. So, when Christ predicts its destruction by saying: “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 away”, it shocks and scares his Jewish listeners. They asked Him: “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” This was because, for the Jews, the Temples was not only precious because of its beauty and adornments, it was also associated with the presence of God, the centre of their lives. Therefore, if this temple was destroyed, they thought, that would mean the end of the world. The idea of losing the Temple brought panic among the people. Historically, it is known that this prediction happened forty years after. The Roman armies attacked and destroyed Jerusalem and tore down the Temple completely in the year 70 A.D.
- THE MESSAGE IN JESUS’ PREDICTION OF THE “END”
There are four things Jesus tells us in today’s gospel which is about the end of the world:
- a) Do not be attracted and attached to your personal temple. The people were admiring the Temple because for them, it was the centre of religious and cultural life. Sometimes we admire the temples of our times like: famous personalities or political figures or those close to us. But Jesus’ message today calls us to pay attention to God’s standards for success. By admiring worldly success, we skew our true values, creating unrest and dissatisfaction in my heart. The end of the Temple will not be the end of religion. Jesus himself will remain with us, as he does to this day, in the Eucharist. Likewise, no matter what else passes away — our house, our office, our school — Christ remains. Does that belief fill us with confidence?
- b) Do not be deceived. Jesus does not directly answer the question about when the Temple will be destroyed. Rather, he tries to get his listeners to focus on what is really important: their faith. Our Lord warns them not to listen to the wrong people. Every one of us would like to know what the future holds. If we had some “insider” knowledge of what the stock or commodities market was going to do, we could become rich. In an effort to find the future, people often turn to horoscopes, fortune tellers and psychics. People would like to know how long they are going to live so that we could better plan for our retirement or forget about retirement and spend all our money now. This craving for knowledge of what the future holds has given rise the many “false prophets” in our time to claim to predict the exact date and time of the “end” of the world, thus generating panic. (Name some of these pseudo prophets.) Their countless prediction have never happen. It is because Jesus said: “Take care not to be misled. Many will come in my name…”
- c) Do not be terrified. Tsunamis, floods, terrorist attacks, wars, abductions and kidnappings, senseless killings, abortion, euthanasia are happening now. Our Lord was no stranger to such bad news. He knew about the tower in Siloam that killed 18 people (see Luke 13:4) and he knew what awaited him on Good Friday. Yet He always remained hopeful and encouraged the best in people. As His followers, He calls on us to also be witnesses to hope. We need to brighten the lives of those around us. More importantly we need to remind others that God will win in the end. “Good, not evil, has the last word,” Pope Saint John Paul II told the general audience of Oct. 17, 2001, “God triumphs over the hostile powers, even when they seem great and invincible.”
In fact, these words of the Pope have their full backing from scripture:
v When you say, ‘It’s impossible,’ God says, ‘All things are possible,’ (Lk 18:27).
v When you say, ‘I am tired,’ God says, ‘I will give you rest,’ (Mtt 11:28).
v When you say, ‘Nobody loves me,’ God says, ‘I love you,’ (Jn 3:16).
v When you say, ‘I can’t do it,’ God says, ‘I can do all things,’ (Phil 4:13).
v When you say, ‘I feel all alone,’ God says, ‘I will never leave nor forsake you,’ (Heb 13:5).
v When you say, ‘I’m afraid,’ God says, ‘I have not given you a spirit of fear,’ (2Tm 1:7).
- d) Do not worry. “By your perseverance you will secure your lives,” Jesus says. In other words, we should be faithful until the end so that we will be able to secure the life to come or eternal life. Jesus invites us to reflect on the end of the world, not in an atmosphere of panic or fear but in an atmosphere of Christian commitment and Christian confidence by using our talents and resources not for selfish purposes but for the purpose of building God’s kingdom on earth. These same themes of encouragement is reflected in the 1st and 2nd readings of today.
- THE PROPHET MALACHI SPEAKS TO US IN THE FIRST READING
In the 1st Reading, the Prophet Malachi meets some Israelites, still not settled in their return from exile. They wonder, of what use it is continuing in the way of faith when they are clearly surrounded by at evil-doers who seem to be winning the day. Malachi meets their objection head on: “See, 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. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays” (Malachi 3:19-20a). In other words, Malachi is saying, go about your good work and do not be overawed by the success of evil-doers. In the long run you will succeed and they will not. Your work will pay off eternally.
- ST. PAUL SPEAKS TO US IN THE SECOND READING
The second reading from Paul takes up this theme as well, but from a different angle. There, Paul handles the effect of this concept of “the end of time.” In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul addresses people who think that since the end-time is just around the corner, it is useless to keep working. They believed that Jesus was going to come back in their own day to take them with him in what is now known as the RAPTURE in “the rapture-believing Christian communities”. They occupied their time with small talk, rumours, hearsay, slander and all of those things leading to disharmony and division. Paul does not know when the end-time will come, but he is sure that until it comes, the followers of Christ must earn their daily bread.
Paul is a very realistic person. As far as he was concerned, the idea of religion does not preclude human labour or work. In other words, he was candid enough to recognize that the Christian person is also the human worker. Additionally, Paul recognized that the Christian is also made up of body and soul. In this regard, if the Christian needs to be spiritually nourished, he/she needs also to be physically sustained. He goes forward to express his worry about members of the Thessalonian community, who were no longer working as a result of the delayed the Second Coming of Christ. (In a sense, this text is also an anticipation of the season of Advent that begins in two weeks-time).
- SOME CONSEQUENCES OF BELIEF IN THE “END” TIMES
Throughout history, false teachings about the day of the Lord have often crept into the church. These have had negative consequences on believers, in several ways. Some Christians are known to have quitted their jobs in order to await the Lord’s return. In Thessalonica, idleness began to take its toll on the Church. This began to make resources for human subsistence meagre with its concomitant social malaise. The parousia-teaching was producing unintended social and unethical consequences in the community. Hence, Paul rushed this “SOS” letter to the Thessalonians to attempt a rescue mission and stop the bleeding. He issued his “apostolic decree” in these words: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2Thessalonians 3:6). In this way, he directed the Thessalonian church on how to approach the problem of laziness in the community. Paul condemned the idle practice in question and ordered the offenders to be corrected. Of course, his solution was quite drastic on offenders. It was practically the same as an excommunication decree. The church was to keep away from all those abandoning work and abdicating their social responsibilities because they are waiting for the Parousia or end-time.
Furthermore, Paul used his own personal experience and example to reinforce his order. He argued as follows: “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate” (2Thess 3:7-9). Here, Paul taught by example. He proposed himself as a model to be imitated. He he reminded the readers of the letter that he ate no one’s food without paying for it. He also advised the church in these words: “such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing” (2Thessalonians 3:12-13). Again, to show the seriousness of what he is saying, he concluded in this way: “If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2Thessalonians 3:14-15). Accordingly, he urged all of them to adhere to his teachings, whether these were given orally or in writing.
- THE URGE TO EAT WITHOUT WORKING IN TODAY’S SOCIETY
The problem, which Paul seeks to rectify today, is now real in our own Cameroonian/African context. Many of relatives of people living abroad no longer want to consider seriously working because it is a lot easier for them to go to the Western Union or Moneygram office to cash out money without sweat, without labor, and without work. A major boast of a good number of Cameroonian/African families is “my brother/sister is overseas” which is a generally coded allusion to easy money. This effortless way of getting income is creating a false welfare system within many families, making people to live a superficial life anchored on waiting for hand-outs. In very clear terms, people seem to enjoy being given fish, instead of learning how to catch fish and earn the fish they eat. The worst part is that whenever the donor (bush-faller) stops giving, he/she is in trouble. He/she creates a nightmare for him/herself.
This situation we are taking about reminds one of what happened in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”. At that time, only slaves were sent to school, while the “free born” children stayed at home. School was regarded as some burden and punishment deserving only of slaves. This mentality and practice eventually boomeranged on the “free born”. They soon found themselves left out during the sharing of the booty brought about by the knowledge gained from the “white-man’s school”. In like manner, this culture of Western Union, or money-wiring services is a two-way sword. We could be doing a legitimate charitable work or we could be abating laziness and lack of incentive to work. The danger is that the relatives of the charitable donors may be disadvantaged, when it dawns on them to struggle like any other Cameroonian or African. A best way forward may be to give money to help them to create their own wealth, to create the infrastructures of work and the means of working, instead of dishing out money for free meals. This culture of money-for-free is inadvertently encouraging many idle recipients to learn how to manufacture and tells lies just to get their donors moved with pity to send them easy money. It one tells even an old, illiterate, village woman that he/she will send money to her when someone is visiting home from abroad, she will tell him/her to send it through the western union. Indeed, everyone seems to know about this “industry without sweat.” Because they do not know the value of work, any amount of money sent to them is usually considered “too small”. They seem to be operating with a fictitious limitless income. This is certainly why St. Paul linked eating and working together. But we now have a situation in which people simply want to eat without working. Money-the-easy-way is now the answer to almost everything.
There is also the tradition of people sending their children to richer relatives in the cities so that they are brought up for them. They give birth without counting, but they want others to bring their children up! In Marriage counselling, the advice to the generous sponsors of this sort is that if they must, then they should give assistance to that child while he/she lives with his/her parents, so that the child grows up in his/her natural environment. Otherwise, they may be also looking for cheap, unpaid labour from that child.
Today, we are reminded that while waiting for the great moment to come which is the end of time, where God will reign as Lord, we must adjust to a long period of waiting. We must persevere in our living faith by taking our crosses and carrying them as Jesus did so that we too may arrive to our eternal glory. Through St. Paul, we are called to make a resolution to finance effort, instead of supporting laziness. We must move on with our lives, be fruitful in the work of the Holy Spirit, and while awaiting the final return of Christ that will precede the Judgment Day and the resurrection of our bodies.