Mixed signals? Tuesday, 22nd week in ordinary time – I Thessalonians 5: 1-6, 9-11
Kim Jong-un’s testing of the hydrogen bomb, believed to be five times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb, might ironically be happy days for ‘dooms day cults’ who get as much mileage from news such as this as they do with their version of the misinterpreted ‘good news’ they propagate
When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in 50 AD, he was abundantly clear that the core of his message was to explain eschatological (end times) hope and he did this by using apocalyptic language. Such language is symbolic; for it points to a greater reality. To give you an example, a stop sign is indicative of possible danger and hence the need to stop. There is no danger in the red light itself, it is merely a light which is red in colour; the danger lies in not keeping it. The red light only points to a greater reality. So stop analysing the red light for it has fulfilled its purpose and already turned green.
Similarly, Paul is not describing how the end times will take place but what the implications of the end times for those who are alive. These scripture lines are not to be read as ‘future revelations but divine revelation that our future is secure because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.’ This is what Paul sets out to make clear in this pericope.
Paul has already commended the fate of those who have died in the hands of God ( 1 Thes 4: 13-18)and now when he speaks of the eschaton (how everything will happen at the end of time) he does so in order to bring comfort to the Thessalonians and not to frighten them. However this message is also laced with caution.
Having communicated a clear understanding of the Parousia (second coming of Jesus) 4: 13-18, he now instructs them on the ‘day of the Lord’ 5: 1-11 which the Thessalonians are fully aware of. They are fully aware that it will occur but not when it will occur. As scripture says, “for not even the Son knows, or the angels in heaven” (Mark 13:32).
The caution necessitated by St Paul could be a lethargy that could set in; a state sponsored belief. The Romans had bandied about their false security of “peace and security” which Paul mentions indirectly in in 5:3. This ‘pax et securitas’ (the peace and security of Rome) was even imprinted on Roman coins which bore the inscription ‘peace and security’. The new converts were not to fall prey to this false security but to be alert for the day of the Lord, as alert as a householder who knew that his house was to be broken into by thieves.
Even though some of the Thessalonians had lost their loved ones before the Parousia, they were not to despair, for their loved ones were not lost forever. Paul gives them the hope that a Christian is called to when he says, “God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that weather we are awake or asleep we may live with Him.”
Let me reiterate, Thessalonians was never meant to be a hand book for cult wielding fanatics. It was to be a letter of encouragement and hope; which was being already practiced by the community (5: 11). Eight times in this five chapter letter, Paul uses the word parakaleo, meaning encourage or urge. For faith is encouraged with hope, not instilled with fear
Fr Warner D’Souza
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