Sr. Joyce Rupp is a member of the Servants of Mary. Her most recent book is Fragments of Your Ancient Name: Glimpses of the Divine for Daily Meditation. Visit www.joycerupp.com for more about her publications, or email her at email@example.com for a free monthly e-newsletter on spirituality.
Here, Sr. Joyce shares some reflections on the apocalyptic images in the Scriptures during these final weeks of the liturgical year.
As we complete the church year, we hear startling descriptions of world catastrophes in the Scripture readings. What are we to make of these apocalyptic visions with their doomsday tone? Are they really about an impending Armageddon as some predict for 2012?
A culture of violence and fear
The word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek, meaning “revelation.” Prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah used symbolic visions of the end-times to jolt people’s attention about the need for repentance, while the Book of Revelation sees the early Christian Church under siege from its enemies.
We come to these apocalyptic texts influenced by a current culture that cries out to avenge wrong-doers, a culture drawn toward violence in its films and literature. Ours is a society greatly influenced by fear of enemies and destruction, whether that be the annihilating tactics of terrorism, financial adversity, or natural disasters.
Given this fear-filled milieu certain preachers and writers approach the symbolism in apocalyptic readings literally, using them as a rationale for hatred of enemies and self-righteousness.
Be motivated by love, not fear!
Fear is a poor motivation for a love relationship. Jesus did not use scare tactics. Although he refers to the end times in Matthew (chapters 24-25) and Mark (chapter 13), this is not the central focus of his message. Rather, Jesus continually urges his followers to be in a loving relationship with a God who cares immensely about them.
As he hung on the cross, Jesus did not promote violence. Instead of a diatribe of anger urging his followers to wage battle against his enemies, he asked forgiveness for them.
When anyone attempts to scare us with a wrathful, vengeful God, we are being shoved away from the gospel. It is true that Jesus does not let us off the hook when it comes to sinfulness and repentance. But he does not promote fear. Rather, Jesus approaches with kindness and understanding—think of Zacchaeus or the woman caught in adultery.
We do need to be spiritually prepared for the end of our earthly life. But our motivation for being alert ought to be grounded in love, not terror.
At the end of the Church year, let us remember the compassionate welcome Jesus gave to those who were wounded and in need of forgiveness. If we focus our spirituality on this, we need not be afraid of what lies ahead. How much more worthwhile to spend our spiritual energy on giving our best selves to the life and work God has envisioned for us than to spend it on useless fear.