As a young boy growing up in Glasgow, one of the things my mother used to ask me to do was to go the library to get her books. This was a very challenging task because she was a voracious reader. I would maybe return with five books and `I would be lucky if there was one she hadn’t read. She was a great devotee of Mills and Boons which was kind or romantic 1950s style happy story. She was also a great devotee of crime stories, American crime stories. I always thought it was a bit strange that she should like these stories being such a mild-mannered woman.
These years later I think I must have cut a strange figure at the desk with my short trousers with these romantic books and crime novels. Strangely no one ever questioned me why I had an adult ticket and why I was reading books of adult nature.
I remember the library being a strange place, you had to learn to find your way around. You had to remember the difference between fiction and non fiction. Travel and reference. Finding the right section was half the battle.
I think something of that challenge exists when it comes to reading the bible. The bible is not so much a book as a library of books. Just like a library you have to find what section you are in, in order to understand what you are reading. Some books, like the Psalms, are poetry and music. Some books like Deutoronomy are travel. Some books are history, some books are semi history, some are stories.
If the bible indeed is a library of books we have arrived an esoteric section of books in the readings of today’s Mass. It’s a dusty section of the library and one that is not visited too much. This section that we have arrived at is what is called eschatological literature -don’t let that word frighten the horses.
In the bible it includes a few strange books, Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New Testament. These books are inhabited by strange mythical animals, glass rivers and seas, other worldly ideas. They should not be read literally, because they were never written as such. Even today we don’t really know what they mean. They tell a story from a point of view. These books speak of final things, final times, final realities.
You could even count sections of the Gospels as being caught up in this style of writing. When Jesus speaks of his second coming, it is often spoken in mystical and strange and obscure terms.
It is clear reading the New Testament that the evangelists and the new testament letters that they thought they were caught up in the final times.
You remember those people many years who used to walk around the city with their boards saying “the end of the world is nigh, repent” that would have been the style. That would have been the style of these early Christians. The day of judgment was nigh. They were encouraged to see signs in the sun and the moon, tidal waves and tumult on earth and the heavens, to look out for the Son of Man coming in clouds, classical eschatological writings.
In these final times, accordingly, they believed they were being asked to live good and respectable lives, to be awake, alert and attentive in our actions. Not to be weighed down by worldly concerns.
It’s a dusty section of the Old Testament and even the New Testament. Not many people want to go there. Not many people want to hear about the end of the book, the final pages or the end of the story. There ha e been so many false dawns, so many false prophets, so many people who have spun a story. So many people who have predicted or claimed to know the ending only to have ended up with a red face.
You hear it often said by excessively religious people, “these are the worst of times” God is going to end it all. Then nothing happens.
These times are no worse than any other time!
To live good and respectable lives, not to burden yourself unduly by world concerns, to be attentive and watchful of your words and actions. That’s the advice we are given. It seems good, wise and sound advice.
We are all moving along at a pace through history. We leave it to God to decide when the date will be and what it will look like we have no control over it and it is idle speculation to think when it will be. We can only do what we are expected to do.
The library of books that is the bible can present us with a strange landscape. What we have read today and listened to simply points us to the future, to a distant horizon, to which all roads lead.