105- A New Heaven and Earth

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Mary: Martha, Martha, come and hurry…! Martha, wake up!

Martha: Hmmm… what’s the matter, Mary?

Mary: Our neighbor Susa is having her baby!

Martha: This soon?

Mary: Can’t you hear? She’s screaming louder than Rachel in Ramah… c’mon, Martha, shake a leg!

Martha: That’s all right, Mary. Be calm… my goodness, you’re not the one having a baby!

Philip: Ahmmm…. What’s going on here, may I ask?…. What’s all the noise?

Mary: A neighbor is in labor and there’s no better midwife in the entire Bethany than my sister Martha!

Philip: Well, I don’t mean to brag, but I have helped in the birth of more than one calf… so, if you need some assistance….

Mary: You can be of help by staying here quietly in the inn. Let’s go, Martha and hurry up…! C’mon, Philip, go back to sleep with the rest…

Philip: With all the screaming, how can I?… Why can’t women learn to give birth in the daytime, huh?

Martha and Mary, Lazarus’ sisters, left the inn and went inside their neighbor’s house…. It was past midnight…. The house was poor and run-down, like the rest of the houses in Bethany. Its adobe walls had been smoke-stained by oil lamps. In one corner, beside the kitchen utensils and a mound of clothes, was a basin of water, together with a clean knife and towel. In the other corner, reclining on a straw mat was Susa, groaning and supporting her tummy with her two hands… while her husband waited beside her, not knowing what to do….

Mary: I guess she’ll have twins, why, she’s got a tummy as big as Mount Tabor!

Lucius: Pfff! Heaven forbid, neighbor! If I hardly make both ends meet feeding her, what more with two additional mouths to feed?

Martha: Don’t worry, good man. The Lord provides for every child that is born.

Lucius: Then my child will be born armless, I’m sure…!

Martha: C’mon, Lucius, you wait outside… We’ll inform you as soon as the baby is born….

While Martha was rolling up her sleeves, Susa’s husband sought company in the inn…

Philip: Blazes, Lucius, your wife screams like she was being skinned alive!

Lucius: What can we do, Philip? The babe’s got a head bigger than yours, so he can’t come out! She’s been in labor for four hours… yet, nothing happens.

Peter: And we’ve been trying hard for four hours to get some sleep! Hey, Lazarus, why don’t we light up the night with a couple of shots, huh? C’mon, don’t be stingy!

Lazarus: Well said, Peter. Let’s all look at the brighter side of things, okay?

Philip: Plus more faces appearing…. Look! Hey, James, don’t tell me you can’t sleep a wink?… Neither you nor Nathanael…?

Nathanael: With all that screaming, who can…?

Philip: Lazarus, make it four, instead of two!

We got up one by one from the mat and gathered on the patio… From there, we could hear Susa’s yelling which had everyone on edge….

Lazarus: Here’s wine and some squash seeds for you to munch! Hey guys, which do you prefer? To play dice, to engage in gossip or to pray for a healthy baby boy?

Nathanael: A boy with six fingers would still be okay, provided its over and done with soon! Blazes!

Philip: Don’t talk that way, Nat! It’s been difficult for the poor thing already… I wouldn’t want to be in his place!

Lucius: Why do you say that, Philip? What’s wrong with my child?

Philip: Nothing’s wrong with your child, Lucius, but…

Lucius: But what? Tell me!

Philip: We’re heading for the end, buddy. Poor child of yours, he came in this world too late! Before he get’s weaned from his mother’s breast, the final trumpet of judgment will have already sounded!

Peter: It’s you who should be weaned, Philip! Where did you ever get such an idea?

Philip: That’s what Jesus said the other day when we passed by the walls of Jerusalem. Don’t you remember anymore? I heard it with my own two ears.

Peter: Well, maybe they need a nice, good cleaning. That’ll make you hear better.

Philip: Jesus said the world is coming to an end soon and it will be worse than Noah’s flood! The heavens will tremble and the stars will fall right on our heads! Then that’s the end of it. The end of the world. Your poor child will see nothing but dust and ashes.

Nathanael: You’re a liar, Philip. Jesus never said that.

Philip: Oh, yeah, he did. He said he even knew the date of the end of the world!

Peter: Don’t tell me!

Philip: Well, I’m telling you!

While we were arguing, Jesus appeared at the door of the patio, yawning and stretching his arms… He was not able to sleep, either…

Lazarus: Ah, here’s the man! Hey, Moreno, come over here. Tell us loud and clear, how much time do we have left?!

Jesus: Ahmmm…. For what?

Philip: Before the end of the world!

Jesus: I thought it was the end already… what with that woman’s screaming and yours too….

Jesus sat down with us at the old table as Lazarus brought another jug of wine…

Lazarus: Guys, this thing of giving birth will take long! Come, Jesus, why don’t you have yourself a shot? Wipe the cobwebs from your eyes, and tell us straight: when exactly is the world going to end, huh?

Jesus: Whatever entered your heads to be discussing this at this time of the night?

Philip: ’Cause we’ve got to be forewarned, at least! We still have to buy wood and tar to build the ark! Didn’t you say a deluge worse than the first was to come?… Or you don’t remember that anymore?

Jesus: Did I say that, Philip?

Philip: Well, never mind, it doesn’t really matter. It’s written, anyway, and all the prophets have said it in the Holy Scriptures.

Jesus: What is written is that there will be no more floods. God promised that to Noah.

Philip: With or without floods, that’s okay with me. But there will be earthquakes and terrible things in the sky and here on earth when the final day comes. Is that right?

Jesus: I dunno, Philip, but that was what the prophet Elijah was thinking all along… and look at the surprise he got for himself….

Jesus: Elijah was crossing the vast desert of Negeb, on his way to Sinai, the mountain of God…. He was so exhausted, he threw himself under a broom bush, wishing he were dead, and fell asleep… But a messenger of God woke him up…

Messenger: Elijah, Elijah!… Wake up and eat something… You’ve got a long trip ahead…!

Elijah: How long? Tell me, please…

Messenger: Don’t ask how long. Go ahead. For every step you take, God takes another step toward you. You are going toward God who comes.

Elijah got up, ate something and started to walk through the desert, underneath the burning sun…. He walked forty days and forty nights, until finally, he reached Mount Sinai…

Elijah: Pfff!…. Now I shall see God… And the first thing that he saw was a hurricane…. It was blowing so hard, it gathered too much sand, and covered the sun. The moon lost its glow and all the lights in the sky, the big and small stars disappeared with the fury of the wind….

Elijah: My God, my God, finally I know you! You are the rumbling storm and the violent hurricane!

But he didn’t receive any answer, because God was not in the thunder nor in the gusty winds…

Then the earth began to tremble…. The earthquake was so strong, the pillars of the world shook, the mountains cracked and the rocks split into a thousand pieces…

Elijah: My God, finally I know you! You are the rumblings of an earthquake!

But no answer to his voice, because God was neither in the moanings of the earth nor in the avalanch of stones… Then, came a big fire…. A crackling bonfire emerged from the bowels of the earth, razing everything to the ground, leaving nothing but dust and ashes…

Elijah: Now I know Lord, you are a consuming fire!

The fire remained silent, since God was not in the burning flame either…

Finally, he heard the murmur of a gentle breeze…

It was like a refreshing breath, like a father’s breath on his son’s forehead, or a mother’s kiss on the cheek… And Elijah, who had a burning passion for Yahweh, the prophet of lightning, fire and earthquake, understood that God was there, in the gentle breeze.

Jesus: That was Elijah’s encounter with God. I guess that’s how we shall have our encounter with the Lord on the last day.

Lazarus: Fine, fine, Jesus, whether it will be through a hurricane or through the gentle breeze, I still want to ask: When is the world going to end?

Philip: That’s right. When will the trumpets blow, huh?

Jesus: I dunno. It’s up to God. Our concern is to be watchful and be ready like the good servants who stay awake until their master comes. The rest is left to God.

Peter: C’mon, Moreno, there shouldn’t be any secrets between friends. Maybe, the Lord winked at you and told you the date…

Jesus: Or perhaps, there’s no date at all, Peter, because the Kingdom of God is not like manna that falls from heaven. The Kingdom of God must be kneaded by everyone, like the dough that’s made into bread.

Peter: But we’ve been kneading it for three years, mind you! When will the Lord extend his hand and do something for us?

Jesus: We need a little more time, Peter. We still have to walk a good distance like Elijah, until he reached Mount Sinai.

Lazarus: Tell me, Jesus, shall we get to see the end?

Jesus: First there will be wars and disasters, because there is still too much egoism in this world. Those on top do not wish to loosen their hold and we won’t take it sitting down. There will be intense fighting and it will last long… We will be persecuted and we will be screaming louder than your wife, Lucius… And this will just be the start of more pain, until the poor rise up, clamoring for justice. The struggle will be bloody, the nations of the earth and the powerful of this world will tremble for what will befall them. All these things will have to happen first. These are the labor pains of a world that is beginning to give birth.

Lazarus: And… and then, what, Jesus?

Jesus: Then, when this old world has passed, a gentle breeze will blow: there will be a new heaven and a new earth without tears, nor wars, nor hunger, nor sorrow. Then above the clouds of heaven will appear a sign from God, the rainbow of peace. We, the children of God, all people of good will, will inherit the earth where we will all live in freedom and peace.

Philip: But, shall we live to see that day, Jesus?

Jesus: I dunno, Philip. Maybe yes… Or maybe our grandchildren, or our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Sooner or later we, the poor, will sing our victory. That’s God’s promise and God’s word never fails. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s word never does.

At this moment, Mary entered, shouting in great excitement…

Mary: Hurry up, all you bums! It’s a baby boy, the cutest little boy I’ve ever seen!

Everyone hurriedly went to Susa’s house. Susa, after having labored for hours, was sleeping quietly, while Martha washed the new born little creature…

Martha: What a nice little boy, Lucius! He looks exactly like you!

Mary: Of course not! He’s taken after his mother! Just look at those cute little eyes and nose!

Philip: Hey Lazarus, why don’t you bring more wine over here and let’s drink to this little Israelite who’s just claimed a place for himself in this world!

Peter: And to the father too! Can’t you see how happy he is?

Lazarus: And to the mother, who has done the best job of all!

Lazarus brought us the best wine from his inn and we stayed talking on the patio of Lucius’ house until the cocks announced the coming of another new day… Susa no longer remembered her ordeal that night as she felt the joy of holding her son to her breast….

*Comments*
In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke there are a series of discourses made by Jesus regarding the catastrophe awaiting the world. These are the so-called “eschatological” (about the end) or “apocalyptic” discourses (about the revelation of the end). These have been read traditionally as a detailed description of everything that will happen at the end of the world. These texts have also traditionally been employed to sow terror, to scare the innocent or come up with simplistic interpretations of catastrophes or wars presently taking place in the world.

Jesus did not give any details about life beyond, about heaven, the angels or even the devil, as was customary in the apocalyptic language of his period.

Neither did he make any calculations about the end of the world. He avoided making a description of the different stages of the apocalyptic drama.

Whenever reference is made in the gospel to these aspects, we can safely say that these have been the thoughts of the primitive communities of the Church.

In like manner, Jesus hardly spoke about death, and when he spoke of the resurrection (Mk 12:18-27) he ended up with an admission that God is not a God of the dead but of the living. Jesus lived with this hope and died with this faith.

If Jesus is God’s messenger of the good news and he seeks life, then these evangelical texts must also be read from this perspective. Jesus speaks not of the end but of the beginning, not of destruction but of birth, not of death but of life. In order to highlight this positive and encouraging aspect, the whole episode centers on a description of childbirth. For a new being to be born into this world, time, love, patience, hope and at the final moment, effort and tremendous pain are necessary. This is the best image of what “the end of the world” will be like: a new creation, a new society of new human beings. To think of the end of the world is to think of the day of ultimate justice, the day when God will finally render an accounting of history, the day this “new heaven and earth where justice dwells” shall become a reality (2 P 13). The word of God tells us that at the end of the world, there will be no more tears, sorrows and death. All that is good in the world will remain and be transformed. There are several prophetic texts describing the future we are heading for, with images of joy and feasting. These apocalypses (revelations of the future) are identified with Messianic times and, in the language of the gospel, with the Day of the Kingdom of God. In these texts, we see beautiful images of the end of the world (Is 60:1-22; 62:1-12; Amos 9:11-15; Micah 4:1-5; Zep 3:14-20; Rev 21:1-18; 22:1-21).

While there is certainly rejoicing, there is also pain, which will be the road that will bring us to the day of justice. Liberation is a conquest; happiness has a high price, the freedom that God has given to people continuously puts obstacles along the road of life. Through images, the prophets also spoke of God’s wrath against the unjust and the oppressors on the day of reckoning. They spoke of wars, sorrows and innumerable hardships. About two hundred years before Christ, cosmic images (falling stars, trembling earth, etc.) were used, and these were symbols also used by Jesus, since they were most common during his period, to describe the tremendous struggle of the last hours (Is 63:1-6; Jer 6:11-19; Dn 9:6-27; 12:1-13; Jl 2:1-11; Am 5:14-20; Rev 19:11-21).

The image of childbirth is quite adequate to describe the struggle at the end of time. The prophets used it (Is 66:5-16), indicating that the birth of a new people was not a matter of a single day and that it could be painful. Jesus used the same image (Jn 16:19-23) and later, Paul would use it (Rom 8:18-27) when he compared the entire history of humanity to the long and painful birth of a new society. In the same manner that the hope of a forthcoming child sustains the mother during those moments of childbirth, the hope for a new and distinct life sustains those men and women presently working for the sake of their brothers and sisters. In this gigantic childbirth, the head has already appeared, the head of the new human, who is Jesus. We, who form the body, shall be born after him (Eph 1:22; 1 Cor 12:12 and 27).

Knowing when the end of the world is to come has been the concern of many generations. Jesus certainly believed that the end of this unjust world and the coming of the Kingdom of God were imminent. His manner of proclaiming the gospel and challenging the authorities, the urgency he felt as manifested by his words, are an indication that he believed the time to be near, that even he would witness it. The urgency of Jesus was inherited by the first Christians, who lived during the first century of our time, and who awaited the end of the world. Paul felt compelled to call the attention of early christians on several instances (2 Thes 2:1-7 and 3:6-12), although he too, was convinced that the day was forthcoming (1 Thes 4:13-18). These were times of severe persecution of the Christians, during which thousands of martyrs died. The ardent hope of the communities made them believe that the day of ultimate liberation was coming soon. It is in this context that the last book of the Bible, the Revelation, should be read. It is a beautiful text about the end of all time, written to console the Christians who were mercilessly persecuted by the Imperial power of Rome. It ends with an ardent call: “Marana ’tha! Come, Lord Jesus!” These are the last words written in the Bible.

Even now, there is a strong curiosity to know the day of the end of the world. A number of religious sects have indicated even the exact date of this day. They also seek to convert people to their beliefs, sowing fear among them of the punishment awaiting them. The Jehovah’s witnesses head this group. The Christian response to all these terrifying ideas is that we “end” the world, transforming it in terms of justice, life and love. This restlessness over dates and the supposed catastrophes awaiting us distracts us from this essential task.

God, the father of Jesus, is not a monster who wants to scare us to save us, by terrorizing us. This image of God as a wrathful personality who will crush the world with his fury on the day we least expect it, is totally false. A terrible caricature. God’s wrath is something much more serious and exigent. It is a constant call for the unjust to cease being so. For the humble and the poor, God is manifest, not in fury but in tenderness, in “the gentle breeze,” as happened to the prophet Elijah (1 K 19:1-13), and in the promise given us: in the end we shall see God‘s face and carry God’s name like a kiss of peace on our foreheads (Rev 22:4).

(Mt 24:3-51; Mk 13:3-37; Lk 12:41-48; 17:26-37; 21:7-36)

105- A New Heaven and Earth

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