I really don’t like that over-used phrase “at the end of the day.” You hear it all the time, and it’s one of my least favorite corporate-speak phrases. But I can’t help but think about this tired old phrase when I read the Scriptures for the Liturgy in these last days of the Church year. Because the Liturgy is calling our attention to the fact that the end of the year is near, and asking us to reflect on our experience in the year gone by. Have we been changed? Are we responding to the Gospel? Is our relationship with God any different than it was this time last year?
God is always ready for the harvest, with the sickle at the ready. But our Scriptures today take care to point out that we must not be overly-anxious to jump the gun. We may hear of Nostradamus prophecies, or revelations from some very obscure mystic that lead us to fear the end is upon us. Lots of people will misinterpret all of the things that are happening in the news all over the world. But God wants us to know that he is still at work, redeeming the lost, calling those who have strayed, binding up those who are broken. So much has to happen before the end of days, so many still need to be redeemed. Even we ourselves can use conversion and repentance and a renewed relationship with our God, if we’re honest.
So at the end of the day, are we any different? Have we been changed? Are we responding to the Gospel? Has our relationship with God grown? If not, we need to take the opportunity that next week’s beginning of the new Church year affords us. We can allow Christ to be the King of our hearts and our lives. We can be intimately connected with God through prayer and acts of peace and justice. Seeking the Lord, we need not fear all those powerful earthquakes, famines and plagues. We can instead cling anew to our Lord who earnestly longs for everything to be made right, at the end of the day.
Today’s readings present us with two very interesting images. The first is that of a potter working at the wheel. When the object turned out badly, the potter re-created the object until it was right. Jeremiah tells us that just so is Israel, in the hand of the LORD. Not that God couldn’t get it right the first time. This prophecy simply recognizes that through our own free will we go wrong all the time, and Israel’s wrong turns are legendary throughout the Old Testament. Just as the potter can re-create a bowl or jug that was imperfect, so God can re-create his chosen people when they turn away from him. God can replace their stony hearts with natural ones, and give them new life with a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit.
The image in the Gospel is a fishing image. The fisher throws a net into the sea, casting it far and wide, and gathers up all sorts of fish. Some of the fish are good, and are kept; the others are cast back into the sea. So will it be at the end of the age. God will cast the nets far and wide, gathering up all of his creatures. Those who have remained true to what God created them to be will be brought into the kingdom; those who have turned away will be cast aside, free to follow their own whims and ideas. Turning away from God has a price however; following one’s own whims and ideas leads to nothing but the fiery furnace, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth.
The message that comes to us through these images is one of renewal. We who are God’s creatures, his chosen people, can often turn the wrong way. But our God who made us is not willing to have us end up in that fiery furnace; he gives us the chance to come back to him, and willingly re-creates us in his love. Those who become willing subjects on the potter’s wheel will have the joy of the Kingdom. Those who turn away will have what they wish, but find it ultimately unsatisfying, ultimately sorrowful, ultimately without reward.