Probably every child has observed this before: when you touch a snail’s antennae, it retracts them in a flash. Most times, it also pulls its head in and crawls completely into its shell. The blind snail thinks it has encountered something dangerous, and, fearing this danger, withdraws into itself.
Many people do the same: when they sense danger and become afraid, they pull their heads in and crawl into themselves.
But we humans are not snails!
This instinct, given by the Creator to the snail to help it along its journey through life, is not intended for human beings. For this reason, Jesus calls to us, “Look up and raise your heads” (Luke 21:28) It is as if He wanted to tell us this: Don’t pull your heads in whenever you’re uncomfortable. Don’t let your fear get you down. Look up, raise your heads, face forward, look your future fearlessly in the eye! For at the end of your future, ruin and destruction do not await you, but rather I await you — I, your Redeemer, am coming to you!
At the end of every liturgical year, the apocalyptic texts of the New Testament accompany us. Thus, during this darker time of year, we are urgently reminded of the need to be vigilant in our Faith, and of the Last Judgment, which will begin with the Second Coming of the Lord. This Second Coming is exactly what Jesus describes in today’s Gospel: “And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). This event is called the “Second Coming,” and thus the Lord’s return, because it was described and announced this way by the two angels at the Ascension of Jesus forty days after His Resurrection: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
“Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” The Lord said this in a long sermon about the last days, the final time before Judgment Day. He foretold the terrible things that would come to pass: strange portents in the sky, tempests at sea, wars, earthquakes, and famines. Everything that previously gave support and stability to the world will then begin to totter. He also foretold that great fear would spread among men; they would lose heart and become utterly bewildered when faced with such prodigious events. The grip of fear spreading like an epidemic is a sign of the last days.
We have just heard from the mouth of the Lord that there will be “upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity” (Luke 21:25). We are experiencing this now among ourselves. Even though we do not live in a time of war, even though we do not need to fear famine, even though we do not find ourselves in an area prone to earthquakes — nevertheless, the grip of fear is spreading everywhere: fears about job security, about safety, about health; the fear of accidents, of terrorist attacks; the fear of unscrupulous individuals, whose decisions will harm innocent people.
As evening approaches, our time will be marked by frightening events and conditions, and then people really will become more and more afraid — the Lord says this quite unequivocally; there can be no quibbling about it. In saying so, He has actually told us nothing new, for even the prophets of the Old Testament had already announced this. Some of the words Jesus used are even taken directly from the prophets. And this, too, was nothing new: all the terrible events of the last days will be intensified on the one great Day of the Lord, which amounts to God’s judgment of all men. The prophet Daniel had already foretold that the Redeemer would come again visibly on this day, and Christ repeated his words almost literally in His sermon: “And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27; cf. Dan. 7:13). Immediately after this quotation, Jesus challenges us, “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
“When these things begin,” says the Lord, meaning when the frightening early signs are already present, before the dawn of the Last Day. In other words, now, today, when so many early signs of the Last Day are already frightening us. Now, today, do not be like the snail; do not pull your heads in out of fear; do not crawl into yourselves! For you know that everything must happen this way, since God has so predestined the end of the world. Rather, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
It is in fact so: when many things around us frighten us, it is a sign that the Lord will return soon. Then, when that time comes, it will happen under terrible circumstances too. All who deny Him or do not want to know Him will die of fear because they notice, Oh no — Jesus really exists! But we know Him. We know that He is our Savior, who has redeemed us by dying on the Cross. We know that He will not abandon us at the Last Judgment, because He Himself took responsibility for our sins and failures.
Yes, we may look forward to the Last Day, because on that day, our Redeemer will come. And with Him will come the final redemption, the fulfillment, the entry into the heavenly Jerusalem. Who would want to retract his head when facing this glorious future? So do not be like the snail!
“Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This final sentence of today’s Gospel summarizes the attitude of the believing Christian, whose whole life is centered on following Jesus, and how he is able to react when faced with these extreme events of war and terror and natural disasters. When “men [are] fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken,” the Christian will be able to stand up in faith-filled confidence and raise his head, because he can tell from these events that his final redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:26). This inner peace in the face of threatening destruction and annihilation comes, however, on the condition that one has enough oil for the flame of love for God and neighbor in one’s heart, and that one is no longer bound by any earthly attachments, which cause anxiety in the human heart.
So look up and keep your head up!
Look toward the Lord Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father; nothing slips from His hand.
Look toward our Redeemer, who will come again to complete His work of redemption in us!
Keep your head up, despite the fear, despite the uncertain times and all the horrors of the world.
Let us not crawl into our work, into our worries, into our hobbies, into our prejudices! Let us face the world in which God has placed us. Let us resist the temptation to crawl into our shells out of fear. Do not be like the snail! Stake everything on the words of the Lord: “Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Amen.
Art for this post on Fear: Cover and featured image used with permission.