THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
As we come to the end of the Liturgical Year, the focus of our readings is the end of the world—an event which is intended to raise terror in the hearts of the unjust and the unfaithful, but joy and consolation in the hearts of faithful Jews and Christians. Both Mark and Daniel are writing to persecuted communities. They seek to offer them hope in a time of great suffering. God and Jesus will bring them safely home, giving them new life that will last forever. In the second reading, the author contrasts Christ’s single offering to the daily sacrifices offered by the temple priests.
FIRST READING: Daniel 12:1-3
Daniel is writing to a people who had undergone terrible persecution by pagan rulers. His message to them is one of hope and consolation and a firm assurance that, in the end, God will triumph over all evil, and God’s faithful will ultimately experience deliverance. Michael, whose name means “one who is like God,” is presented as the champion and guardian of Israel. On the Day of Judgment, both the just and the wicked “who sleep in the dust of the earth shall arise,” and each will reap the consequences of his/her time here on earth. The wicked will experience “everlasting horror and disgrace” while the faithful will be “like the stars forever.” This is one of the earliest references to belief in life after death in Old Testament literature.
SECOND READING: Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
This reading continues to contrast Christ’s single offering, which removes all sin, to the daily sacrifices of the temple priests. So efficacious is Christ’s sacrifice that he now has no work to do other than to await the final judgment of his enemies.
GOSPEL: Mark 13:24-32
Chapter 13 of Mark is not easy reading. In the Bible, it is an example of a literary genre called Apocalyptic (“hidden”) writing. This type of writing can also be found in the books of Daniel and Revelations. It was often utilized when writing to a people undergoing persecution. Apocalyptic literature is known for visions, allegories and complicated symbols. It looked ahead to the time when God would triumph over the powers of darkness. Mark has five different strands of thought: prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem (vv 1-2,14-20), warnings about persecutions to come (vv 9-13), warnings about the dangers of the last days (vv 3-6,21-22), warnings about the second coming of Christ—also referred to as the Day of the Lord (vv 7-8,24-27)—and the importance of vigilance (vv 28-37). In today’s verses, Mark, using typical apocalyptic symbols (darkened sun, unlit moon, falling stars), seeks to give hope to his persecuted community by referring to the triumphal return of the gloriously risen Christ who will soon put an end to their struggle. Obviously, Mark believes Jesus’ Second Coming will happen during his lifetime.
Jesus uses the image of the fig tree to further assure his readers of the imminence of the Parousia (his Second Coming). Just as we know that summer is coming when the fig tree begins to blossom, so are the disciples to recognize the coming of the Son of
Man when a period of affliction and cosmic signs occur. Then Jesus appears to contradict his earlier assertion about the imminence of the Parousia when he says: “As to the day and hour, no one knows… except the Father.” This saying of Jesus is a warning to future generations not to get into the business of predicting the time of his return. Instead, we should busy ourselves with living good and just lives, always ready for the Lord’s return that will come like a thief in the night.
If you could ask God one question about the next life, what would that question be?