DAILY SIGNS

We don’t need to look to the future to find signs of the end of our world. It’s happening every day before our very eyes.

When Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews’ world was destroyed along with it. We have the same sort of experiences in our lives. We experience the end of many things and the loss of many people in a lifetime. The physical world as we know it can be destroyed by flood, hurricane, fire or earthquake. The whole earth does not need to be destroyed, just our little part of it, for us to know what Jesus is talking about.

Our social world can be destroyed by final arguments ending in divorce, being disowned by family, shunned or treated as an outcast. Our political world can be destroyed by war. Our economic world can collapse due to depression, recession, or unemployment, not to mention famine, hunger, disease and epidemics. We live in many worlds or spheres of meaning, and any of them can collapse at any moment.

What Jesus is giving in today’s gospel is not a script for what will happen in some future era. It is a symbolic account of how all created things will come to a climax under the judgement of God. We’ve already seen stars falling from the sky, persecutions, famines, revolutions etc. They happen each day. The important thing is how each generation views these normal things and how we learn from them.

It is possible to become so wrapped up in transient things (like the people admiring the beauty of the Temple) that we forget the purpose of our existence and we lose sight of the daily signs. We are here to serve God by serving each other. This is what we will be judged on. Will we stop living, loving, caring and giving when the end of our own little world comes upon us? Will we see the wars, famines, earthquakes etc as a wake-up call for Christian action or just something to watch on our TV screens and then talk about the next day?

Disasters, whether personal or global, are opportunities for growth. They summon us to ask the deeper questions about why we are here and how God intends us to respond. We can join the doom-mongers and the armchair commentators, or we can show that our faith has endurance and can bring good out of evil.

DEAD OR ALIVE

Jesus had less than a week to live when the events of today’s gospel took place. So it’s perhaps not surprising for him to be talking about life after death and teaching against the Sadducees that there is a resurrection that all created flesh will share in.

Because the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection they tried to trick Jesus into giving a stupid answer to their farcical case of a woman who was the surviving widow of her husband and six brothers-in-law. Whose wife would she be in heaven?

Yet this is the sort of question that many people ask even today. Will my dog be with me in heaven? Will I recognise people I’ve known here on earth? What will happen if I come face to face with someone who’s been my sworn enemy? What about my best friend who doesn’t believe in God? And what if I don’t like it?!

Perhaps the first thing that we must say about heaven is that it’s the fulfilment of all our desires and yearnings for God. Jesus enticed his listeners by saying that no eye had seen nor ear heard what God has in store for us. It goes far beyond what we could ever imagine or hope for. We see God face to face and as we gaze on his glory we are moved to the profoundest level of love, a love which leaves no room for any kind of emptiness or regret.

The second thing that we need to remember is

that God is eternal, just like the life he offers us. We necessarily live in time but God’s eternal nature means that he experiences infinity at every moment; in fact “moment” is too restricting for a God who exists free from the boundaries of time. After our resurrection we share in that “instantaneousness” of God. We are caught up in the immediacy of God. There is no yesterday or tomorrow about heaven. It’s an eternal “now”.

When we view heaven in this way we realise that many of our questions and difficulties about it are simply man-made and woman-inspired. We naturally have a tendency to tie things down to our own experience of reality. Yet today Jesus tells us that the afterlife is radically different from some of the ways we conceive of it. That’s why he says that the Lord is God not of the dead but of the living: for to God all people are in fact alive.

MAKING THE FIRST MOVE

There was a sign outside a church that read, “Don’t let your funeral be the next time you come and visit us!” We can understand what it meant; it was encouraging people to think about the place of God in their lives and their response to God’s workings.

But, actually, the sign is fundamentally flawed. Why? Because it encourages people to think that they are the ones who must make the first move.

It gives the impression that God is sitting back waiting for them to decide to start doing something about their lives.

And that simply isn’t true!

The amazing thing about God’s dealings with us is that he always makes the first move.

Think of Zacchaeus in today’s gospel. He’d heard all the rumours about Jesus and wanted to see for himself. Being a small man he climbed up a sycamore tree to get a good view. But before he could say anything, before he could make his mind up, it was Jesus who made the first move and told him he was coming home with him to stay for a while. When Zacchaeus heard what Jesus had to say he was immediately moved to repent and give half his property to the poor. (He’d cheated people by charging them too much tax and then keeping most of the money himself.)

God never ceases reaching out to us. We find this hard to cope with because we think that God is so concerned with weighty global problems that he has no time for us and our particular situations. Yet the opposite is true.

When we feel drawn to God it is only because God’s grace has been offered us in the first place. Our lives are a response to Christ’s example of sacrifice and love; our response comes from hearing God’s word; our actions are inspired by God’s Spirit working in us, if only we take the time to discern it.

At the eucharist we thank God for never abandoning us and for continually offering us the chance to enjoy the life that Christ promised.

Amazingly, God never stops leading us on to deeper trust and love. And all he asks in return is that we respond.