Homily on the readings for September 24, Friday of the XXV week in OT
Without Christ, our life on earth is futile.
The first readings for today and yesterday emphasize the fact that everything in life comes and goes; nothing in this world lasts forever. Practically everything we do, everything we build, will eventually end, be destroyed, or be forgotten. All of human history is a tiny fraction of the age of the earth; the longest human lives last less than a thousandth part of the time the human race is thought to have existed. As the psalm reads today, “Man is like a breath; his days, like a passing shadow.” Entire epochs have passed before us, and all we have left are some rocks, bones and ruins to give us hints of what went before. If God allows nature to take it’s course, our planet and solar system will eventually face a fiery finale that will forever efface every trace of our existence from the universe.
In the words of the first reading, “What advantage has the worker from his toil?” All the worldly achievements and pleasures of our lifetimes are lost to us when we die, and within a generation or two after our death, we are mostly forgotten. For someone who believes that this world is all there is, it’s a pretty depressing prospect. The best we can hope for is to enjoy this world as much as we can now within the limits of our possibilities. Even in the Old Testament, in fact, there was not a very clear and consistent understanding of what follows death. In Jesus’ own time, the Pharisees and Sadducees were at loggerheads over the afterlife; the Pharisees believed in life after death and the resurrection, whereas the Sadducees did not. And yet, we all have a yearning for permanence and eternity, which God has placed in our hearts.
Jesus Christ is God’s answer to this confusion. As is clear from today’s Gospel, he is the Son of God, come to be one of us and share in the vicissitudes of life on earth. He experienced birth and growth, toil and rest, joy and sorrow. He willingly suffered death for our our sake, completing the normal cycle of life and death that rules all of human history. But then, he broke the cycle: he rose from the dead, proving that death is not the end, but rather a transition to a more permanent existence. In Christ we are promised new life. Our transitory and fleeting passage through human history is just preparation for life everlasting with God, and the way we live now conditions the way we will spend all eternity.
It is this hope that gives meaning to our joys and sufferings. We can enjoy the good things of this life and not be devastated by their loss, knowing that they are but a foreshadowing of the joys of heaven. Pain and sorrow lose the worst of their sting knowing that they too will end forever if we love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves. By the same token, the reality of eternity is sobering. If we do not die close to God we will face an eternity of punishment in hell. It’s not something we like to think about or talk about much, but Jesus talks about it quite a bit. It’s a reality we have to keep in mind.
Ultimately, we can only do our best, and trust in God, praying with the Psalmist: “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, my mercy and my fortress, my stronghold, my deliverer, My shield, in whom I trust.”