Paul on Paul – 15th November 2020

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year A
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’, since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it. But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober.

I would not, I expect, have to point out the relevance of the phrase “It is when people are saying “How quiet and peaceful it is” that the worst suddenly happens” in this weekend’s second reading. When considering the passage that line jumps out and is obvious to consider given the kind of year it has been. But more insightful, I think, are Paul’s words around it.

Take that line out and consider the passage without it.

Paul reminds the Thessalonians that the truth has been shared with them – that God’s plan and time is known to God alone, not calculable by man. That the “Day of the Lord”, which here means the End of the World, will come ‘all of a sudden’. We can take succour in the fact that we know that we do not – indeed, cannot – know. The best we can do is trust in God, who knows, and do as he asks us.

This can often be a big ask! How many times does something happen with seemingly no reason? We will all know someone, if we haven’t been through it ourselves, who has experienced a crisis of faith brought on by a terrible event. I think of the moment in my favourite TV series, “The West Wing”. The President, practicing Catholic Jed Bartlett, is dealing with crises in both his presidency and his personal life and then experiences a very profound crisis in faith.

But he’s angry at God – not losing faith in him. He doesn’t turn against God – he trusts that God is able to give him the answer…albeit in time. He trusts – with difficulty, sure, but certainty – in God as a Father.

Now add that line back in. When the “worst suddenly happens” in life, how have we reacted? When we’re asked to trust doctors, leaders, stewards, how have we reacted – indeed, how have our doctors, leaders and stewards? We can have people provide us advice and help – but the responsibility relies on us to follow it.

To take us back to The West Wing again, sometimes people look for an explicit unambiguous explanation or sign from God, and ignore what He has already given us. He provided us with signs, with scripture and with his Son – what more can we offer us? We must stay awake to notice this and remain sober enough to act on them.

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