THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2021)
Readings:Daniel 12:1-3Psalms 16:5, 8-11Hebrews 10:11-14, 18Mark 13:24-32
As the liturgical year ends, and the season of Advent begins (November 28), the language of the Church becomes more Apocalyptic, speaking of the end times and Jesus’ second coming. The short parable of the fig tree in today’s gospel is overshadowed by the reversal of the creation story in Genesis. The moon, the sun, and the stars are not being created, they are being snuffed out, creating a darkness that can only be alleviated by the coming of “the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”
The first reading from the Book of Daniel sets the Apocalyptic tone. So troublesome is the time prophesied by Daniel, that it awakes the Archangel Michael, “great prince and guardian of all people.” “It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began,” says Daniel. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,” and “some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” How bad could the time of Daniel be?
The Book of Daniel was written in the first half of the second century BC, a time when the Jews were suffering great persecution. The Gospel of Mark is written right around the destruction of the Jewish Temple, when Romans are highly suspicious of this new ‘Jesus cult.’ Apocalyptic literature, even with its frightening dimensions of falling stars and darkened suns, was meant to give people hope. In the midst of trials and persecutions people were given something else to focus on.
Note that both Daniel and Jesus do not leave the reader in a world that is falling apart! To think about the Archangel Michael and Jesus coming once again on the clouds of heaven gave a troubled people something hope-filled to focus their sights on, as well as giving them a goal to strive for. They needed to see themselves as people who would “live forever,” people who are “wise” and who shine “brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like stars forever,” Daniel assures them.
I am not sure that any particular era is peculiarly worse than another, an era “unsurpassed in distress.” Indeed, every era causes a great deal of distress. Where sin has not been eradicated there is bound to be distress, which means that every era has reasons for people to look beyond their narrow little worlds, with its petty little squabbles, and its own collection of trials and difficulties. Those difficulties can be born of financial challenges, deteriorating health, or just the presence of the mean-spiritedness which appears to be omnipresent in today’s world. We deal with the distress doled out to us in the same way as the people at the time of Daniel, as the people at the time of Jesus – we dream of a better time and a better space, where suffering doesn’t exist, and where Jesus’ commandment to love permeates everything everyone does. Although we do not know “the day or the hour“ the longing for that day is part of who we are as Christians.
Let us make the words of today’s psalm our own, especially in times of great distress:
I set the Lord ever before me;With Him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,My body, too, abides in confidence;Because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,Nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.You will show me the path to life,Fullness of joys in your presence,The delights at your right hand forever.