CHRISTIAN HOPE FOR A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rom 8:18-25; Lk 13:18-21 ]
In this world, we cannot avoid suffering because of sin and imperfections. We suffer because creation has been affected by sins. It is destroyed by the selfishness of humanity. One of the most obvious consequences is the destruction of the ecological system that has resulted in climate changes, global warming, freak weather and natural disasters. We have been poor stewards of creation. For a long time, scientists have warned of the possible destruction of our planet if the situation continues, as the destruction of ecology will lead to global warming, floods and many things will die eventually.
On the level of humanity, sin has also destroyed the peaceful and harmonious relationship among us all. Because of selfishness, irresponsibility, greed and fear, we compete against each other and seek to grab more for ourselves, depriving others of their basic needs. There is so much injustice in the world because of dishonesty and cheating. People are discriminated and marginalized. This has resulted in violence, civil disorder and even wars. Poverty and discrimination are also breeding grounds for terrorism to grow. Political, religious and corporate leaders are often tempted to seek their interests not the good of others. When that happens, credibility and trust in our leaders are eroded.
On the level of the individual, we are under the bondage of sin and evil. We are selfish and we succumb to the temptations of the flesh, of lust, gluttony and greed. We are jealous and envious of others. We feel insecure about our well-being and whether we are loved. We become possessive of others and of things. Our ego prevents us from listening to others. Our pride, especially of intellect, hinders us from welcoming others who are different from us. We seek to impose our views and ideas on others. All such actions cause division, disunity and rob us of our peace and unity. We quarrel, fight and hurt each other.
For this reason, God wants to give us a New Heaven and a New Earth. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” (Isa 65:17, 19) St John also shared with us his vision. “When I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4)
Consequently, St Paul urges us to look ahead of what is in store for us as Christians. “I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us.” We can look forward with confidence to a glorious future that lies ahead of us even as we groan on this earth. For this to happen, God allows the decadence to take place so that we will not cling to this earth. “It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God.” Unless, we see the misery of this life and the imperfections of creation, we will not long for something greater and more perfect to come. If life is too good on this earth, we would want to cling on to this earth forever. But God has something greater for us. Indeed, God allows us to suffer illness and pains so that when the time comes for us to let go, we could let go more easily. Old age, illness and suffering are all part and parcel of God’s plan to help us to detach ourselves from this world so that we can depart for a better and more complete world to come.
What will happen to creation? St Paul first speaks of creation as a whole, animate and inanimate matter. He said, “Creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God.” Although we do not know exactly what will happen to creation, plants and animals and all things of this earth, we know that they will be in Christ and all will be transformed and perfected. This is what St Paul wrote, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:17, 19) He further explained, “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:9f)
But not just for creation; we will also be set free and reclaim our dignity as sons and daughters of God. “The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons.” Indeed, the calling and destiny of humanity is even higher than that of creation because we are called to share in the “freedom and glory as the children of God.” In other words, we will share in the fullness of life and love with God, participating in the Trinitarian love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our bodies will be glorified and resurrected like our Lord.
This hope of ours is a substantiated hope, not just a wishful thinking. This is because we already have a foretaste of it. St Paul wrote, “From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the living presence of God in our hearts. “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:13f) He is the love of God poured into our hearts. (Rom 5:5) Anyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit feels the closeness of God. This is the same intimacy Jesus had with His Father. This is the same joy that saints in their mystical experience have entered into when they experience the intimacy and love of God. That is why those who have encountered God, deeply desire to be with Him and have no fear of death or of separation from this life.
This kingdom is also a reality in this life as a beginning. The parables in today’s gospel illustrate the budding of the Kingdom of God. The parable of the Mustard Seed speaks of the gradual growth of the Kingdom of God. It begins small but it ends big. “It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air sheltered in its branches.” So too, the Church, which started with 12 apostles, today has more than two billion Christians in the world, of which about half are Catholics. The Kingdom of God is also compared to the woman with the yeast. She “took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.” Again, when the gospel is spread in society, it will bring light to humanity and it will salt the earth, give life and renewed humanity along the lines of the gospel. It can be said that much of humanity has been infused with the Spirit of the gospel directly or indirectly.
So, while “we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free” we must cooperate in building the kingdom of God on earth. “For we must be content to hope that we shall be saved – our salvation is not in sight, we should not have to be hoping for it if it were – but, as I say, we must hope to be saved since we are not saved yet – it is something we must wait for with patience.” We need to live out the gospel life and announce the Good News of salvation to all by words and deeds. On our part, we need to grow in virtues, to live the blessed life that the Lord has taught us in the beatitudes. We must strive to live a life of justice tempered by compassion, charity and love. Unless we grow in this direction, the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast can work against us. For these parables can also be interpreted in terms of the complacency of the Church as the structure and institution grow. We can become corrupt and allow evil to enter into the Church because of the lack of integrity. We can allow worldliness to ruin the Church of God if we are not alert and cautious.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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