On Passing the Dragon
(Mal.3:19-20a; 2Thess.3:7-12; Lk.21:5-19)
‘Absolutely terrifying.’ That’s how one person described the recent bushfires in NSW and Queensland. Tragically, these fires have destroyed many lives, homes and communities.
Most of us hope and expect to live steady-as-she-goes lives, but sometimes we find ourselves facing unexpected, and occasionally frightening, turmoil.
When this happens, life can be a rollercoaster, perhaps like Indiana Jones’ ride in the movie The Temple of Doom, where he swoops at breakneck speed through a mine in a mine-cart, escaping menacing villains. [i]
And the obstacles we face are a bit like the dangers he braves in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Inside an ancient Peruvian temple, he runs the gauntlet of flying arrows, collapsing walls, cavernous drops and a crushing ball of stone. [ii]
He survives these tests, of course, but sometimes we wonder if we will. We look for signs and sometimes we fear the worst. And others go even further. Fed by unending media reports about the destruction of our planet, some people have become fixated on visions of the apocalypse. They even try to predict the end of the world.
So, how should we respond?
In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus gives us some advice. He says that we can expect to live in troubled times. Some of these troubles will be natural disasters, such as earthquakes, famines, plagues – and even wildfires. But, whatever happens, he says, don’t lose faith and don’t be afraid (Mk.4:39-40).
Jesus also says there will be problems caused by people trampling on the rights and lives of others. There will be wars and revolutions, cruelty and injustice. But whatever happens, don’t lose faith and don’t be afraid.
And many will be persecuted for their beliefs, whether political or religious. Some will be jailed, churches will be burnt, missionaries will be killed and many will not be able to speak openly, even in their own families.
But again, whatever happens, Jesus says don’t lose faith and don’t be afraid, for it’s not the end of the world.
And don’t listen to false prophets who say ‘the time is near’, Jesus says, because they’ll be wrong. Not even he knows when this will be; only his Father knows (Mt.24:36; 1Thess.5:2-4).
In his book Bread for the Journey (1996), Henri Nouwen says that in the face of all the world’s calamities, the attitude of spiritually mature people should be to stand erect and to hold our heads high. Our everyday lives might be full of doomsday thinking and feeling, but we must resist this temptation and stand confidently in the world, never losing our spiritual ground and always being aware that ‘the sky and earth will pass away’, but the words of Jesus will never pass away. [iii]
‘Jesus reminds us,’ Nouwen says, ‘that we don’t belong to this world. We have been sent into this world to be living witnesses of God’s unconditional love, calling all people to look beyond the passing structures of our temporary existence to the eternal life promised to us.’ [iv]
In other words, don’t dwell too much on worldly things, for they will all pass away. The earth is not our real home. Focus instead on the only things that ultimately really matter: love, compassion, forgiveness and understanding. These things are eternal. They make a difference. They’re the only things we take with us into the next life.
And whatever happens, don’t lose faith and don’t be afraid (Josh.1:9).
St Augustine said that fear is the enemy of love. As Christians, Jesus has promised us everlasting life in heaven. All we have to do is to embrace his way of life and live in confidence that no matter what happens, we’ll always remain secure in God’s warmth and love.
But in the meantime, we can expect troubles and unpleasant surprises.
Perhaps he had the lively imagination of Indiana Jones, but referring to the Book of Revelation, St Cyril of Jerusalem (c.313-386 AD) wrote, ‘A dragon lies in ambush for the traveller; take care he does not bite you and inject you with his poison of unbelief. … In your journey to the Father of Souls, your way lies past that dragon. How shall you pass him? You must have your feet stoutly with the gospel of peace so that, even if he does bite you, he may not hurt you.’ [v]
So, hold firm.
Don’t lose faith.
And don’t be afraid (1Cor.16:13).
[iii] Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey. Darton Longman and Todd, London. 1996:293.
[iv] Ibid. p.284.
[v] Cyril, S. The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (Vol. 1), The Catholic University of America Press, Washington DC. 1969.