Sunday, July 30, 2017

the Right Side of History

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The term 'being on the right side of history' has become very commonly used in the last number of years. It is employed, for example, by those advocating various social changes in Western society with monotonous regularity. It expresses the idea that those changes are inevitable, unstoppable, and those who oppose them will appear foolish in the eyes of those who come later; but it is, in fact, the idea itself that is foolish, both arrogant in the way it presumes that a certain course of action is unquestionably correct, particularly in the way it condemns the former way of doing things, and ignorant in the way it understands history as some kind of a force moving humanity towards some kind an ever better future. Empires may rise, but they also fall; sometimes undermined from within, for example because they have let their seemingly invincible power erode their moral centre; sometimes from without, for example because there are barbarians outside their borders who want what they have or hate what they are; or sometimes both. And their fall should teach us that there is nothing inevitable about human systems, plans, or ambitions.

However, in our Gospel reading today we learn that there is something that is inevitable when it comes to history; and that is that God's Will will be done; and his kingdom will come. This is made very clear in the first two of the series of short parables that we read today - the ones concerning the mustard seed and the yeast that was used to leaven the bread. Both speak of the inevitability of the kingdom. Just as a small seed can become an enormous tree or a small amount of yeast cause a great batch of dough to rise, so will God's Kingdom grow, despite the fact that in human eyes its beginning on earth was humble and small. The truth first spoken by a carpenter born in a stable in an obscure corner of the world could not be stopped from spreading to all the corners of the earth.

The next two parables, that of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price, explain to us why it is that we should wish to do our utmost to do our part to help usher in God's Kingdom - because there is nothing in this life as more important than to be in right relationship with God and being part of his kingdom on earth – not only living our lives in the light of its truth but helping to share that truth with others. Because the message of these parables is not about how we can shrewdly make a profit on a transaction, but about understanding that the things of this life are of limited value – limited because they are transitory – while the things of the kingdom are of infinite value, because they are eternal. As our Lord says elsewhere, what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?

And that brings us to our final parable, that of the fishermen; and our Lord leaves us in no doubt whatsoever as to how we are to understand this parable, for he explains it to us in no uncertain terms. And in his explanation he makes he clear that at the end of the ages there will be a great sorting of the good from the bad, of the righteous and the evil. And just as the fisherman cast away the bad fish, so will God's angels cast out the unrighteous – and those unfortunate souls, our Lord tells us, will be cast into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

A stark warning; which is made all the more stark when we think carefully about what is meant by those who are evil. For it has been made abundantly clear to us, both in Sacred Scripture and in teaching of the Church down through the ages, that evil here is not mean simply those who rob, murder, rape, or otherwise cause great suffering to others. It is perfectly possible to be what the world calls a 'nice person' and be among the unrighteous. For Christ did not come to suffer and die on the cross so that we might be nice, but that we might be Holy.

When the end of the ages shall come and history itself shall cease there is only one way to be found to be on the 'right side of it' – by being someone who loves God with every fibre of their being; and being someone who shows that love by obeying God's commandments in thought, word, and deed – even if that love should cost them their life. They are the ones who will surely be found to be righteous by God's angels on that great and terrible day – and I pray that all here will be found to be among them: in the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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