In these last few weeks of Ordinary Time before Advent begins, we hear Scripture calling our attention to the “end times.” I’m sure you’ll agree that these Scripture passages are difficult to understand and challenging to teach. Permit me to offer a few insights.
- Jesus was not predicting the end of the world but the end of an “age”—a paradigm shift, if you will. Jesus’ speaking of the end times can best be understood in relation to his cleansing of the Temple: he did not cleanse it because he was upset that there was economic activity going on in the vestibule. Rather, he did so to signal the end of an age—the end of Temple worship and its sacrifice of animals and the beginning of a new form of worship to be marked by the sacrifice of ourselves for the good of others and involving the worship of a new Temple: Jesus Christ, the Living God who resides within us all.
- Jesus was not predicting a date when the end will come. It is very narcissistic of us to think that Jesus gathered disciples around himself so that he could tell them about specific events that would happen in the year 2018! I doubt that his listeners would have been all that interested. On the other hand, Jesus was talking about something that is timeless: the fact that his coming into our lives—in any age—is often related to “earth-shattering” events. We most often discover God when we’ve experienced the loss of that which we thought fulfilled us, such as money, power, possessions, prestige, comfort, fame, good health, and so on.
- Jesus’ references to earthquakes and the sun being darkened are examples of apocalyptic imagery, not intended to be taken literally, but to be understood as events that are earth-shattering. All of us can recall times in our lives when it felt (or feels) as if the “sky is falling.” It may not literally be falling, however, the language captures the reality of what we’re experiencing. At moments such as these, we often discover God’s grace.
- Massive earthquakes and other natural disasters have and will continue to occur in earth’s history and are not indications that the world will end in the days immediately following. Those who survive such disasters wake up the next morning and wisely get on with their lives, putting the pieces back together rather than thinking that they should just stay put because the end of the world is coming. Likewise, those of us who witness such disasters from a distance are not called to hunker down and await some kind of “rapture” but rather are called to respond to the needs of those suffering from such disasters.
- The ultimate message in these passages is that we are called to be vigilant and not to miss the opportunity to encounter the Lord in the midst of our suffering—our earth-shattering events. When St. Ignatius talked about “finding God in all things,” he literally meant “all things”—not just in sunshine, butterflies, and rainbows, but also and especially in our daily trials and tribulations and in suffering.
So, yes, the end is near—thankfully. Why thankfully? Because the end that Jesus speaks of is the end of that which deceives us, that which plunders and robs the storehouse of graces that the Lord provides for us and that we too often leave unguarded. We should pray eagerly for the end of such times in our lives and even more eagerly greet the coming of the Son of Man, whose entrance into our lives can often be earth-shattering. But then again, that’s how “new creations” happen!
To help children understand the concept of the “end times” and the Scriptures of these last few weeks of Ordinary Time, consider the following.
- Invite young people to think of and share times when their lives or the life of someone they know was “turned upside down” because of a difficult situation (a fire, the loss of a job, a death in the family, a car crash, etc.).
- Draw attention to the phrase “turned upside down,” and point out that it is a use of figurative language. Brainstorm other figurative phrases that describe events that upset our lives, such as “earth-shattering,” “mind-blowing,” or “the sky is falling.”
- Point out that we often recognize God’s grace most clearly when we suffer loss. Consider showing a video such as this that reports on a family being thankful even after losing everything in a fire that destroyed their home.
- Talk about how Jesus warns us not to get complacent about our lives or to think that what we possess brings us happiness, because it can all vanish in the blink of an eye. Invite young people to share a litany of thanksgiving naming what they are most truly grateful for.
- Share prayer intentions for people who are experiencing or have recently experienced tragedy. Refer especially to current events in the news.
- Encourage young people to pray for the “end times”—for the end of anything and everything that deceives or misleads us—and to ask the Lord to lead us into a “new age” by entering into and reigning in our lives and making us a new creation!