33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Readings: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 15:5,8-11; Hebrews 10:11-14,18; Mark 13:24-32
Just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait.
You'll be sorry but your tears’ll be too late.
You'll be broke and I'll have money.
Will I help you? Don't be funny.
Just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait.
Sisters and brothers, I’m sure at least some of you still remember these words. They come from a song entitled Just You Wait. Sung by Eliza Doolittle. The lead character in the musical, My Fair Lady. Eliza sings this song at a time when she feels oppressed by Professor Henry Higgins. Who has been forcing her to recite her vowels. A, E, I, O, U… Again and again and again. Till she gets them right. Otherwise she is to be given no lunch, no dinner, and, more importantly, no chocolates. A, E, I, O, U…
Poor, helpless, and tormented, Eliza dreams of a time in the future when the tables will be turned. A day when she will become rich. And the professor will be made poor. An hour when she will finally find favour, with no less than the King himself. Who will declare a public holiday in her name: Eliza Doolittle Day. And who will punish the heartless professor for his misdeeds. Right before her eyes.
So this is what the song is about. More than just wishful thinking, it is actually a form of non-violent resistance. An expression of hope in the face of suffering. Hope for a time of freedom. For a day of vindication. For an hour of triumph over the enemy. Hope that gives Eliza the strength to endure abuse and mistreatment. Just you wait, Henry Higgins! Just you wait! A, E, I, O, U…
Believe it or not, my dear friends, our Mass readings, on this second last Sunday of our liturgical year, are actually quite similar. Like Eliza’s song, they too are meant to offer hope and assurance to the poor and oppressed. Encouragement to persevere in the the face of persecution. There’s a special name for this kind of biblical writing. It’s called apocalyptic. And both the first reading and the gospel are prime examples of apocalyptic literature.
Scholars say that the first reading probably originated in the 2nd century before Christ. Composed by a Jewish community oppressed by a foreign king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Who not only occupied their land. But also forced the Jews to worship a foreign god. And even converted their holy Temple into a shrine to this god. The book of Daniel is the community’s song of non-violent resistance. Its way of expressing its confidence in God. Its hope that God will not forsake them. And that, at some time in the future, God will send a heavenly warrior to save them. At that time Michael will stand up, the great prince who mounts guard over your people…
Also, at that time, the tables will be turned. The powerful will be rendered powerless. The oppressed will be set free. The oppressor made to regret his actions. The important thing is for the community to keep clinging to its hope in God. To keep resisting the enemy. To keep singing, in their hearts, just you wait! Just you wait! Even as they are forced to recite their vowels. A, E, I, O, U…
Similarly, the gospel too is addressed to people undergoing persecution. Not so much Jews this time. But Christians. Believers being pressured to renounce their faith. To worship foreign gods. These people are reminded of Jesus’ prediction that, some time in the future, the tables will be turned. In those days, the Lord says, they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory… The One to whom they are struggling to remain faithful. And at great cost to themselves. This same Lord is coming to save them. To rescue them. To vindicate them. To gather them from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.
But the Christians have even greater reason to be confident. To be hopeful. To keep resisting. For they believe that, through his Dying and Rising, Christ has already come. Already won the victory for us. Once and for all. As the second reading tells us, Christ… has offered one single sacrifice for sins…. has achieved the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying… The important thing is to keep doing what the Jews were encouraged to do. To keep clinging to the one true God. To keep resisting the enemy. To keep singing, just you wait! Just you wait! Even as they may be forced to recite their vowels. A, E, I, O, U…
But what has all this to do with us, sisters and brothers? Although we may have heard of Christians in other parts of the world being persecuted for their faith. Surely we ourselves are in a very different position, aren’t we? We enjoy the freedom to worship our God. To profess and to practice our faith. Nobody is forcing us to do things that we don’t want to do. Why do we have to resist?
And yet, there are ways of manipulating and putting pressure on people beyond open persecution. Ways that are more devious, because they are far less obvious. Much more subtle. Such that we don’t even realise we are being manipulated. Oppressed. Persecuted. Made to worship a foreign god. Isn’t advertising a good example? Recently, for instance, I saw a newspaper report, telling me that fitness trackers will be very much in fashion in 2016. You know those things that you strap onto your wrist to record your heart-rate. And count the calories you burn. And the number of steps you walk? Before I saw that report, I didn’t know that I actually cannot live a healthy life without one of those things. But now, having seen the report, I just have to go out and buy one. How ridiculous!
But even more important than the things we buy, are the attitudes we develop. Attitudes toward ourselves. Toward others. Toward our world. Toward life. Such as the attitude by which I make the whole world revolve around myself. My wishes. My comfort… Or the belief that to be happy is to be successful in everything. So that even a single experience of failure means the end of everything. Leaving nothing else to live for. Such that I must push myself to succeed. At all costs. And not just myself. But also my children. My family. Succeed at all costs. Or die trying.
From where do these attitudes spring, sisters and brothers, if not the unseen conditioning, to which we are subjected everyday, in this modern society of ours? And many of us succumb to this conditioning without even realising it. Without questioning or resisting it. Obediently we recite our vowels. A, E, I, O, U… As though it is something that comes naturally to us. Something that we enjoy doing. Even without being asked. Daily we recite our vowels. Forgetting that we are created for something greater. A higher calling. A loftier dignity. To receive and to live out of God’s love. To make our lives a return of love. To God and to others. Especially those most in need of our help. As well as those we may consider our enemies.
Which is why, even if we may not suffer the same forms of persecution that other Christians do elsewhere in the world, our readings remain highly relevant to us. For they remind us of who we are meant to be. They give us hope and confidence in our God. And, most importantly, they impart to us courage and strength to persevere in resisting idolatry. In insisting on worshipping God alone.
Just you wait, Henry Higgins! Just you wait!
My dear sisters and brothers, how are you being invited to keep singing this song today?