The Florida recount has riveted people's attention for a simple reason. Like the O.J. Simpson trial it is a drama. As such it has four parts: a conflict between two sides, the unpredictability of human choice, a resolution and lasting consequences. Even fictional dramas like Hamlet or Dallas require those elements.
In today's Gospel Jesus makes it clear human history is a drama. It's not just that it will come to an end - with the sun burning out and stars collapsing into one another. (see Mk 13:24-25) This cosmic dissolution provides the backdrop for a resolution involving not inanimate objects, but a person: "Then they will see the 'Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory." (v.26) As in a courtroom the instant of judgment will arrive.
Many find difficulty with Jesus' teaching about final judgment. Even thoug something deep draws us to a genuine drama, still we shrink from its implications. We do not want finality. We hope for a series of appeals till we get a favorable verdict. We desire yet another recount. But the cosmic drama in which we each play a part will have a resolution with enduring consequences.
When does that moment come? An anonymous second century priest left a homily with this striking image:
"We should repent of our sins while we are still on earth. When a potter is making a vessel and it becomes misshapen or breaks in his hands, he shapes it again; but once placed in the oven, it is beyond repair." (Funk 1, 152)
The point of no return ("beyond repair") is the moment of death. "When we have left this world" he continues, "we shall no longer be able to repent and confess our sins." The homilist tells his listeners to "keep (their) bodies pure and observe the commandments of the Lord." But he is not so idealistic as to think a Christian will inevitably obey God's will. Therefore he concludes:
"While we can still be healed, let us surrender ourselves into the hands of the divine physician and give him his recompense - the recompense of true sorrow for our sins. Since he who knows all things sees what is in our hearts, let us praise him with our hearts as well as our lips."
I have quoted at length from this early Christian writer because some have fallen into a dreary philosophy - the view that our choices make no ultimate difference. Our culture's naturalism holds that humans are just one more part of a world of cause and effect which interlock like a chain. We appear to decide, but if we really understood everything influencing us, we would recognize it as an illusion.
A different view asserts we can make real choices, but if we blow it, we will somehow have unlimited opportunities to eventually get it right. That wishful idea is contain in, but not limited to, the theory of reincarnation. Both views go against what Jesus tells us about this life being a true drama, namely: a conflict between two sides in which we have genuine choice. It may not be so clear in the moment of decision because Satan offers us things which appear good. But when we bite, we taste the bitterness. Unfortunately, unless grace intervenes, we keep coming back. Little by little we lose our power of choice.*
Unlike our imperfect court system (and the perhaps even more imperfect Florida recount) the final result will be not only be irrevocable, but thoroughly just. And it will be open for all to see, even the machinations employed to avoid it.
I have used the electoral drama in Florida to help illustrate today's Gospel, but the comparison is risky. Not that those results will not have long term consequences, but they pale in relation to the decision you are making at this moment. Whoever is elected will hold office for four, maybe eight years. One day the Presidency, even the United States will fade like a morning dream. "Heaven and earth will pass away..." (Mk 13:31) But Jesus and his word for you will not pass away.
*This happens for example with the sin of gossip (Catechism 2477). At first it appears right, even necessary to discuss that other person's failings. But the pleasure is delicious and it seems to join the gossipers so intimately. However the foundation is shakey because we sense that as he criticizes someone else, he will do to us. Everyone has witnessed the sad spectacle of a compulsive gossip - so lonely but always trying to draw others into his web of pseudo-intimacy.
From Archives (Homilies for 33rd Sunday, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Pictures from Peru
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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