UPSET OR RESET? 33rd Sunday (Year C) | November 13, 2016 (English)
OF SET-UPS, UPSETS, AND RESETS
Last week, we alluded to the importance and necessity of having perspective. To have perspective is to have a frame on which to set a picture, a ground on which to locate a seemingly smaller reality. To have perspective is to be endowed with a point of view, to see the bigger picture, as it were, and not to miss the bigger forest for just a few trees.
The seven brothers and their heroic mother of last week’s first reading, definitely had perspective. That perspective of faith in the resurrection was what gave them the courage, the strength, and the endurance to withstand a painful and cruel – grisly – death. On that score, the Sadducees, disbelieving as they were, of the resurrection, lacked the necessary perspective to see beyond earthly existence. Their ridiculous – if, impossible – scenario in the impertinent question posed to the Lord, betrayed their utter lack of perspective.
This Sunday, we get to understand the concept a little more – and with a lot more graphic and concrete details to boot! That perspective takes the form of what Malachi and the apocalyptic writers call “the day of the Lord.” In a language that sounds as gruesome as the language of the seven brothers’ account of their martyrdom, the day of the Lord is presented like fire that razes “all evildoers” [who] will be set on fire, “leaving them neither root nor branch.” But Malachi makes sure that the bigger picture behind the grisly images is proclaimed: “for [those] who fear [God’s] name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
Although Marshall McLuhan quipped long ago that “the medium is the message,” in the case of today’s first reading from Malachi, the picturesque images used ought not to be mistaken for the message. The snapshot ought to be distinguished from the frame on which it is set. The frighteningly concrete images of fire and destruction ought not to obscure the bigger truth conveyed by the passage that “the Lord comes to rule the earth with justice” (Responsorial Psalm).
That big picture is summed up by the phrase “day of the Lord.”
The truth is couched in metaphor, in concrete images that sound frightening to modern ears. But the frame on which such images are set, the ground on which those metaphors are based, have to do with the certain truth that God is coming with both majesty and power to set everything aright, to reward the good, and to punish evildoers. And the only way this can be done is to “raze everything to the ground” and start anew on a clean slate. This basically means to transform the world as we know it, to renew all, and restore everything to its original state of utter blessedness.
In computer terminology, I would like to use the world “reset.” Perhaps a close analogy to explain this truth is the concept of “burning” rewritable DVDs or CDs. To renew the contents of a re-writable DVD or CD, ironically, even computer parlance calls it “burning.” One cannot put in new stuff to the disk unless one burns it, unless one very literally razes its contents and restores it to its pristine state. Only then can one hope to put in new data. For it to be renewed, it needs to be overhauled by passing through “Nero’s” hands, so to speak.
Sometimes, to continue on with my computer analogy, when one “resets,” one’s computer, one loses data. When one empties one’s “cache,” one loses even those data one doesn’t want to lose. One very literally starts out again, on a clean slate. One gets transformed. One gets cleansed of old “files” that encumber one’s CPU and slows down operations.
The “day of the Lord,” pictured thus, offers us a positive perspective. Instead of being razed, one is renewed. Instead of being emptied, one is made whole and rendered receptive to a fresh influx of grace. Instead of being encumbered by old data, and countless “cookies” that weigh the CPU down, one is cleansed and made whole once again. The UPSET that took place because of too many viruses of sin in our lives, is RESET, and the original SETUP is restored.
Our times call for focus. Our times call for perspective. We live dissipated lives, bombarded as we are with the so-called “info-flood.” As the gospel of Luke says, there are too many who come and speak like they were the true voice, who talk like they come in Christ’s name. Too many “pop ups” clutter the screen of our spiritual lives. Too many “worms” try to (pardon the tautology), worm themselves into the system and destroy us from within. “See that you be not deceived, for many will come in my name …”
It would do us good to see our lives in terms of what we are all too familiar with. Whether or not one is computer literate, one readily understands the concrete image of razing that figuratively refers to renewing, not destroying. In this sense, then, the apocalyptic language that, at first, frightens, really in the end, enlightens. It brings to the light, and to the fore the truth that stands behind our conviction of the resurrection of the dead. It brings into relief the frame on which is set the metaphorical images of fire and stubble that would all be consumed, the earthquakes, famines, and plagues. That frame which constitutes the bigger, more important reality is the second coming of the Lord, the so-called “last things” that constitute the essential tenets of Christian faith that is expressed succinctly thus: “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Lk 21:28)