33rd Ordinary Sunday (Year B)
First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3 Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-14 Gospel Reading: Mark 13:24-32
A lector at a Eucharistic celebration was a bit nervous, and ended her reading with the emphatic statement, “This is the end of the world.” And the whole congregation dutifully responded, “Thanks be to God!”
Today is the second last Sunday of the Liturgical year. Next Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. So, as we come to the end of the liturgical year, the Church focuses our attention on the last things. On this Sunday the Scripture Readings traditionally speak about “the end of the world,” “the end of time,” “the final coming of Jesus” and our ultimate future. The readings are more ominous with more apocalyptic language. They give us a warning of events that are yet to come.
In the First Reading of today, we hear from a very special and different book of the Old Testament. The Book of Daniel is filled with special images of what the 'future' will be like. This passage gives the first hint in the Bible of the resurrection from the dead. It is not a description of what will happen; it is only a 'vision,' like a work of poetry. Daniel in a visionary experience says: never give up your faith; good ultimately will triumph over evil. He challenges us to continue to trust in God, despite the everyday doubts we experience. He then speaks about Michael, the Archangel of God, who will lead the just and those who work for justice into the everlasting life of heaven. Heaven is our future, where we will be with God forever. There every tear will be gone; we will have fullness of life forever with God and all those whom we love.
Again, in the Second Reading of today from the Letter to the Hebrews, we reflect on the meaning of our future with God. The author recalls the saving work of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the High Priest has offered himself in sacrifice for sin, once and for all, and has given us eternal salvation. Now he sits forever at God's right hand. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God gifts us with his grace or divine life and we can grow in that life with God by living out a life of discipleship.
And in the Gospel Reading of today according to Mark, we hear about the end time, the day of gloom & doom and about the Second and Final Coming of Jesus. How do we look at it? And what does the Gospel say about it?
A cosmic upheaval:
Jesus speaks about an apocalypse, a cosmic upheaval (darkened sun, unlit moon, falling stars) that will usher in the glorious kingdom of God in all its fullness. We need to emphasize that the description of events is not to be understood literally as a prophecy of what is actually going to happen. Rather we are to look at the inner meaning of these happenings. The cosmic disturbances about the sun, moon and stars are traditional ways of describing manifestations of God's judgment of Israel.
In ancient Israelite times, people believed that the sun, moon and stars represented deities who controlled world affairs. Israel believed that when God acted, these celestial bodies would be disturbed. So, what is being said here is that these celestial bodies which other nations believed controlled history would be shown to be helpless under the power of God.
No time frame given:
While all these things are being forecast, there is no time frame given. There is no immediate link being given between the destruction of Jerusalem and the final coming of Jesus as King and Lord of all.
Even so, the early Christians did expect that Jesus would come in their lifetime. This is reflected in the words, "This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place."
The parable of the fig tree:
Jesus then gives a short parable or lesson from the fig tree. Fig trees were a prominent and well-known feature on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus is speaking. This tree only sprouts its leaves in late spring. When they appear one knows that summer is near. So Jesus, in effect, is saying that although the end of the world is being described in calamitous terms, his disciples are to respond with faith, with hope, with anticipation. The end of the world means good times, summer, for them. They are not signs that God has lost control of history but that he is bringing things to a triumphant end. It is indeed the victory of God and the twilight of all the lesser gods which men have created for themselves over the centuries.
No one knows how or when:
Finally, in spite of the warnings that some people love to give, the 'when' of the 'doomsday' is completely unknown. As we came to the end of the millennium and entered a new one, there were many who warned that 'the end is near'. There are those who warn – on the basis of various apparitions – that God, offended by so much evil, is going to take a terrible vengeance on our world.
The Lord is very clear about what will happen leading up to the Last Day, as well as what will happen on that Day. What He does not state is when the Last Day will be; He does not tell us when He will come again. But He does tell us that He will. He tells us to be watchful, to be ready for His return, whenever it may be.
Delay and getting ready:
It is hard for us to understand Jesus' delay in his coming.
God's time clock is certainly out of sync with ours as Little Jimmy learned one day as he was lying on a hill in the middle of a meadow on a warm spring day. Puffy white clouds rolled by and he pondered their shape. Soon, he began to think about God.
"God? Are you really there?" Jimmy said out loud. To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds. "Yes, Jimmy? What can I do for you?" Seizing the opportunity, Jimmy asked, "God? What is a million years like to you?"
Knowing that Jimmy could not understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jimmy could relate. "A million years to me, Jimmy, is like a minute.”
"Oh," said Jimmy. "Well, then, what's a million dollars like to you?"
"A million dollars to me, Jimmy, is like a penny," God answered him.
"Wow!" remarked Jimmy, getting an idea. "You're so generous... can I have one of your pennies?"
God replied, "Sure thing, Jimmy! Wait just a minute."
Little Jimmy wasn't ready for that response, was he?
Nor are we. It is a story about being prepared, getting ready. Are we ready to meet Jesus today should he suddenly come to us in the mystery of death? The true fools will be those who are caught unaware of the Lord's return when He does indeed come, for they will not have been watchful, nor will they have been ready to receive Him as He comes in all His glory. The Lord cautions us in our text, "Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”
Lastly, the Second Coming is never to seen as a 'threat' to our well-being, but as the 'fulfillment' of our hopes and dreams for a world of peace and harmony, a world in which we are no longer at war or at odds with each other. So, when Christ will come again in glory to judge us, we're to look forward to that with joyful anticipation. To those who believe in Christ, such an event is seen not with fear but with joyful anticipation … It is not that he will come to us but that we will enter into a deeper relationship with him when we pass through death to a different kind of life.
Let us pray in today's Liturgy then for ourselves and for the whole Church, that the Lord may find us ready when he returns. May we not be doing foolish things or be living in fear, but be awaiting the kingdom with hope as we strive to do God's will.