33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
As our skies turn darker and the weather gets colder in this part of the world, we approach the end of another liturgical year. November is the month in which we especially remember the dead, especially “those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.” The scripture readings for our Masses also take on a decidedly darker or at least somber tone. We hear of times of trial and tribulation, final judgment, reward or condemnation.
Our gospel passage from Mark finds Jesus in Jerusalem for the final time, only days before his passion and death. For a final time, he challenges the religious leaders who have opposed him, his ministry and message. He looks upon the Temple in Jerusalem in all its splendor, only to predict its destruction. Today he speaks of a coming yet not entirely predictable cataclysm when sun and moon go dark, stars fall from the sky, the powers of heaven are shaken and the Son of Man returns with the angels to gather the elect. What’s going on here?
This passage and a similar one in our first reading from Daniel are part of a biblical genre called apocalyptic. The word comes from the Greek apokalypsis or revelation. This type of writing is addressed to people in distress and crisis. The author uses symbolic language and vivid imagery to comfort and assure people.
Daniel was originally addressed to Jews who were undergoing persecution under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, a tyrant who was trying to force them to abandon their faith and their cultural traditions and be completely assimilated into Greek religion and culture. They refused and suffered many cruelties.
The Gospel of Mark was probably written around the time of two very significant events in the first decades of the church’s history. The first was the brutal persecution of Christians in Rome under the sadistic Emperor Nero in 64 AD. They were convenient scapegoats for a fire that destroyed much of the Eternal City—a fire which some historians believed that Nero set for his own twisted entertainment. Nero apparently had a thing for fire. One of the ways in which he tortured and killed Christians was to turn them into human torches to light his way for evening river cruises.
The authors of Daniel and Mark wanted to comfort and strengthen their people. They wanted to remind them that, regardless of what any earthly ruler claimed, God was the Lord of all times and seasons. They also wanted to assure them that their suffering would not last forever, that they would ultimately be rewarded, and that God would make right all that is wrong.
Daniel and Mark also wanted to challenge their people to remain faithful to God and to the ways of life to which they had been called. In addition, they reminded them of something that many people would rather forget: just as we are held accountable in various ways and by various people in this life, God ultimately holds us accountable for how we have lived as disciples of his Son. May God find us good stewards of his grace! +