33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Tanned or Toasted
Picture: cc mecredis
Sisters and brothers, do you like to go out under the sun? What happens to you when you do? I know some of us may very quickly turn red all over, like a boiled lobster. Their skin burns easily under the sun. Some others may tend to break out in freckles. Then again there are those of us who just develop a nice tan. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how the very same sun can cause such very different reactions?
But the scientists tell us that, especially these days, because the ozone layer is being eroded by pollution, more of the sun’s rays are getting through. So whatever our skin type -- even if we have a naturally dark complexion -- it’s not advisable to be exposed to the sun for too long. Otherwise, the doctors tell us, in addition to sunburn, there is also a risk that we might develop skin cancer.
Still, whether we like it or not, we all need sunshine. Not only do our bodies require it to manufacture essential vitamins, but even our emotional health is connected to sunlight. We all know that in the fall and winter months, for example, when the days are short and the nights are long, people are more prone to depression. And, of course, many people think that having beautifully tanned skin can make us look healthy and attractive. All of which means that these days one thing is becoming ever more important: sunscreen. Whether or not we use sunscreen can mean the difference between a tan and a burn, between healthy skin and cancer.
Which may be a useful thing for us to keep in mind while we meditate on our readings today. As you know, we’re approaching the end of the Church’s liturgical year. Next week is the last Sunday. Today our readings invite us to reflect upon the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time. The first reading gives us a striking image of what this will be like. The day is coming, we are told, when a new Sun will rise. And, like the one that we see everyday, this new rising Sun will cause different reactions in different people. For some, this Sun will be like a blazing oven. It will set them on fire. They will be burnt to a crisp. In contrast, others will find healing in the Sun’s rays. Instead of getting toasted, they will develop a nice tan. And there is a reason for this difference.
The first reading tells us that those who will become like burnt toast are the proud and the evildoers, while those who will be nicely tanned are those who fear the Lord’s name. But what does it mean to be proud, or evil, or to fear the Lord’s name? To answer this question it’s important to notice that the Sun in the first reading is not just any kind of sun, but the Sun of Justice. This is the same justice that we sang about in the responsorial psalm: The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice. More than just a keeping of rules and regulations, this justice involves people being in right relationship with God and with one another. This is the justice by which empty stomachs will be filled, hungry hearts satisfied, tear-stained cheeks wiped dry, and the weapons of war put away. So that at its coming the people will sing joyfully before the King, the Lord. And not just the people, but also the plants and the animals, and even the land and the sea. All of creation will rejoice. Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy before the rising Sun, the Lord who comes to rule the earth with justice.
And this then is also what separates those who will be burnt from those who will be tanned. The first group are considered proud and evil because they live lives contrary to God’s justice. Like those whom St. Paul criticizes in the second reading, these people consistently act in a disorderly way. They care only for their own comfort and their own satisfaction. They neglect and even oppress the poor. They promote conflict. In our day, they may be polluters of the environment.
In contrast, the second group, those who will find healing, have applied the sunscreen that is the name of the Lord. Only this is no ordinary sunscreen. It’s not just a lotion that one applies to the skin. Instead, like what we heard in our opening prayer, this protection is the truth that the Lord gives to us all to drink. More than shielding their skins, it also expands their hearts with the joy of his promises. It strengthens them to live according to the justice of the Lord. Not only do they care for those in need, but they also live according to what is written in the Prayer of St. Francis: where there is hatred, they sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
In other words, when the Sun of Justice rises, those will enjoy healing who are presently doing what Jesus tells us to do in the gospel. In an often cold and hostile world, they consistently give testimony, they bear witness, to the love and justice of the Lord. And they do this even at great cost to themselves. As Jesus tells us: they will seize and persecute you... because of my name. But the good news is that, when the Sun of Justice finally rises, their fidelity to the name of the Lord will protect them like sunscreen. Not a hair on their heads will be destroyed. Their perseverance will secure their lives.
Sisters and brothers, these at once consoling and challenging words are especially relevant for us today. As you know, on October 31, just two weeks ago, the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, Iraq was attacked by terrorists during Mass. 51 parishioners were killed, including two priests. Since then, other churches around the country have also been attacked. More Christians have spilled their blood. Some have lost their lives. And all this simply because they bear the name of Christ.
And what about you and I? Even if we may not be experiencing persecution to the same dramatic degree as our sisters and brothers in Iraq, we too are being called to continue bearing witness to the Lord’s name. We too are being invited to find ways in which, in our own lives, we can bear witness to the justice of the Lord. And not only does our world need our witness but, as our readings tell us, how we respond to this call will also determine what happens to us when the Lord comes again.
Sisters and brothers, when the Sun of Justice finally rises upon us, what would you rather be, tanned or toasted?