In the First Reading and also in the Gospel Reading, there is a prophecy about a time to come that will be very bad. In that bad time, the First Reading says, God’s people will escape the trouble. But Jesus says that in that bad time Christians will be hated, afflicted, and killed (Matt. 24:9).
So what happens to Christians in bad times? Do they lose and lose and lose, as the Gospel of Matthew says? Or do they win by escaping the trouble, as the First Reading says?
But what is losing? Is losing a matter of being hated, afflicted, and killed? Christ was hated, afflicted, and killed, too. And yet Christ did not lose on the cross, did he? He won.
And here we should notice that, in both the First Reading and the Gospel Reading, there are two endings of the story of a human life, not just one. In this world there is the end of the story, when Christ’s true disciples will be hated and afflicted. And then there is the real and final end of the story, at the last judgment, where each person will see himself as he really is.
At that last chapter of each human story, the First Reading says, some people will be perceived as the horror and disgrace that they really are. Others will shine like the splendor of the stars.
The winners in the battle of life, those who shine like stars, are those who have turned many to justice, the First Reading says. Acting with courage and integrity for justice, goodness, and truth can get a person hated, afflicted, and even killed, can’t it?
And now we can see what it is to escape bad times. Escaping is not a matter of living at ease in prosperity, honored by the world around you. Escaping is managing not to be turned into a horror and a disgrace by your own cooperation with the evil all around you that masquerades as good.
This is an escape that God will give anyone who is willing to take up his cross daily.
And so the losing of the cross, the willingness to be hated and afflicted for the sake of justice – that is the way to the final winning where God’s people shine with the splendor of the stars.