Sunday, November 19, 2006

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Spiritual Insurance

Readings: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32

Sisters and brothers, isn’t it true that life is full of uncertainty? In fact, some people say that we can only be sure of two things in life: death and taxes. Everything else is uncertain.

I’m reminded of someone I knew who had just retired and was looking forward to spending his retirement doing the things that he didn’t have time to do before. He planned to exercise regularly. He even bought some exercise equipment to help him to keep fit. But nobody expected that shortly after his retirement he would be diagnosed with stomach cancer. He fought his illness bravely. He went for an operation to remove the tumour. He underwent chemotherapy. For a short while the doctor even said that he was in remission, and advised him to go for a holiday. But the cancer had already spread to his bones, and he passed away only about one year after the cancer was discovered.

Yes, if there is one sure thing for all of us, it is death. We just don’t know when.

Then, of course, there are taxes. I was watching Today in Parliament a few evenings ago. The coming 2% increase in the Goods and Services Tax had just been announced. The health minister was answering questions from MPs concerned about how the GST increase will affect health-care costs. You probably remember what he said. The minister confessed that he himself was worried, because you never know for sure when and how seriously you are going to fall ill. What was his advice? Apart from more government subsidies, he encouraged everyone to look after themselves, to keep fit, to live a healthy life-style, and finally to buy insurance. Yes, buy insurance, for ourselves, our spouses, and our children. When the only things you can be sure of in life are death and taxes, it seems the best anyone can do is to advise you to buy insurance.

There’s something similar going on in our readings today. In the spiritual life too there is both uncertainty and certainty.

As we approach the end of our church year – this is the second-last weekend – our readings remind us of something very important, something that we can all be sure of in the spiritual life, but something that we easily forget. The world as we know it is coming to an end. We can look around us at this beloved church building of ours. We can think of the great and prosperous city of Singapore that we have built for ourselves, the skyscrapers in the CBD, the shopping malls along Orchard Road, the housing estates in the heartland, the condominiums, even the IRs that will soon be built. We can think of our cars, our careers, our bank and CPF accounts… All of this is coming to an end. There will be a time of great distress, says the first reading from the book of Daniel, unparalleled since nations first came into existence. And after that, the gospel tells us, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

As much as we can be sure of death, we can also be sure of the end of the world. It will come. This may sound frightening. What might make it even more frightening for some people is that we don’t know when all this is going to happen. In fact, Jesus says that nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.

Still, as Christians, we should not let this uncertainty worry us. Why? Because the readings tell us of one more thing that we can all be sure of. Christ has already offered one single sacrifice for sins. And he has achieved the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying. By his life, his suffering, his dying on the cross and his resurrection, Christ has already won for us a great victory over sin and death. So that when he does come again with great power and glory at the end of time, he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds. And they will enjoy everlasting life, even as the enemies of Christ will be condemned to everlasting disgrace.

This is our great consolation and our great hope – more reliable than any government subsidy, more dependable than any insurance policy, however large the amount: As long as we remain faithful, as long as we maintain our membership among the chosen people of God, we will be spared. But how do we do this? How do we maintain this heavenly insurance policy?

Recall what we prayed at the beginning of Mass. We asked God our Father to keep us faithful in serving you, for to serve you is our lasting joy. And in the responsorial psalm we proclaimed that it is God alone who is our portion and cup, it is the Lord alone who is our prize. Isn’t this what is expected of us, the premium that we need to pay? We need to let these prayers of ours come true in our lives. We need to allow God to truly be the One that we desire most, more than anything else in this world. We need to serve God faithfully in all that we think, say and do each day. And, with God’s help, as long as we do this, we can be confident of what we proclaimed in the responsorial psalm: that God will show us the path of life, the fullness of joy in His presence, at His right hand happiness for ever. Of this too, we can be sure.

My sisters and brothers, more than the 2% increase in the GST, we can be sure that the world as we know it is coming to an end. We just don’t know when it’s going to happen.

Have you bought your insurance?

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