Sunday, November 13, 2016

Resisting the Mood

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Picture: cc anthrospective

My dear friends, are you familiar with the Singlish expression ORD mood? Do you know what it means? I suspect that many of you do. But it’s okay if you don’t. It’s an expression used mainly by those who have done or are currently doing full-time National Service. O-R-D stands for Operationally Ready Date. Which is the date that marks the end of a Singaporean male’s full-time National Service liability. As such, the ORD is, as you may well imagine, a very happy day. A day that many soldiers look forward to with great anticipation.

Knowing what ORD stands for, it’s not too difficult for us to guess what it means to be in an ORD mood. This is a condition that afflicts many of those whose ORD is fast approaching. Let’s say in a few months, for instance. Realising that the end is near, many of these fortunate full-time soldiers begin to feel much less motivated to work. And having been in the service for some time, they know all too well how to get away with doing less. So that if another soldier were to suggest that some piece of work should be given to one of these privileged individuals, someone else might be moved to declare: Aiyah, don’t bother to ask him to do, lah. He’s already in ORD mood!

Of course, someone in an ORD mood hasn’t actually reached his ORD. He hasn’t quite completed his full-time service. He should really still be working hard. But he doesn’t. Simply because he anticipates the end. He acts as though the end is here even before it arrives. That’s essentially what this mood involves. Acting as though the end is here even before it arrives. To stop working before one’s work is actually done. And, by the way, there are also those notorious individuals who seem to get into an ORD mood right from the day of their enlistment.

To act as though the end is here even before it arrives. This is the kind of condition that Jesus is trying to help his disciples to resist in today’s gospel. Except that the end in question is not the ORD, but the end of time. And the reason why they have to resist this temptation is because of a certain traumatic event that will soon come to pass. The siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Roman forces in the year 70. A time of great suffering and tribulation for the Jewish people. A time that might lead some of them to think that the end of the world has arrived. But Jesus is quick to warn his disciples. Take care not to be deceived, he says. Refuse to join those who claim that the time is near at hand. And do not be frightened. For the end is not so soon.

Jesus’ purpose in telling his disciples these things is not just to protect them from anxiety and despair. It is also to encourage them to keep on working. To remind them not to slacken their efforts. Not to allow themselves to get drawn into a kind of end-of-the-world mood. Acting as though the end were here even before it actually arrives. Allowing fear and anxiety to distract them from the task at hand. And what is the task at hand? It is the duty that they are expected to perform not just in good times. When circumstances are in their favour. But also, and especially in bad times. When the tides turn against them. And they have to swim with all their might just to keep from being swept away.

Men will seize you and persecute you, the Lord says. They will hand you over to… imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name–and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. To bear witness to the name of the Lord. To live in his love and according to his values. To speak on his behalf and in the power of his Spirit. This is the important task that the Lord sets before his disciples. This is what they are supposed to do, even when they see the Holy City overrun. And their beloved Temple destroyed. Torn apart brick by brick and stone from stone. Still their courage must hold. And their work must continue. For the end is not yet. Their task is not complete.

What is more, the Lord promises them that if only they persevere, they will eventually be saved, when the end does finally arrive. Your endurance will win you your lives. For, as the first reading reminds us, at the coming of the Day of the Lord, at the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, only those who fear the Lord’s name, will find healing in its rays. Those who keep bearing witness right to the very end. On the other hand, the arrogant and the evil-doers, those who grow complacent, those who slacken their efforts, will find themselves completely burnt up.

To persevere in doing the work assigned to us. Even when it may seem inconvenient and unnecessary to continue doing so. Especially when it appears as though the end is fast approaching. And our work will make no difference one way or the other. To keep on working even when it’s so very tempting to remain idle. This is also the kind of advice that St. Paul offers the Thessalonians in the second reading. Except that here he refers to work of a more mundane sort. We hear, he says, that there are some of you who are living in idleness.… In the Lord Jesus Christ, we order and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat.

If it’s so important for Paul that we should keep working to earn a living in a world that will soon pass away. How much more important it must be to labour to secure a place in the kingdom of God, which will endure for all eternity? Isn’t this something that we too need to bear firmly in our minds? We who continue to live in between the destruction of the Temple and the second coming of Christ at the end of time? Like those first disciples to whom Jesus is speaking in the gospel. Like those Thessalonians to whom the second reading is addressed. We too are expected to keep on working. To continue diligently bearing witness to the Lord. Whether or not it suits us to do so. And not to allow ourselves to be distracted by other voices.

Voices that so often succeed in luring us either into a false confidence or a despairing anxiety. Either by telling us how terribly important it is first to accumulate wealth and status on this earth. Why worry about the end of the world? We can’t predict its coming anyway. Or by making us worry that the end is very near. Doesn’t global terrorism continue to endanger everyone’s safety? Haven’t the Brits already voted for Brexit? And the Americans for the Donald?

Complacency or despair. In either case, we find ourselves distracted from the crucial task at hand. Announcing the gospel of the Lord. Sharing the awesome all-important message of God’s self-emptying love for us, shown especially on the Cross of Christ. The same love that we are gathered here to remember. To celebrate. And to allow to reinvigorate us. So that we can go forth from this place with new energy to continue announcing the gospel to a world that needs so badly to hear it.

My dear sisters and brothers, whether it is the ORD or the end of the world, what is to come will come. Whether we want it to or not. The important thing is that we persevere in doing what is expected of us right till the very end.

My dear friends, even if the end is near, it hasn’t quite arrived yet. What must we do to keep resisting the ORD mood today?

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