Thirty-third Sunday of OT (Year B)
Thirty-third Sunday in OT (Year B)
Mark 13:24-32 The 'Little Apocalypse'
Today is the second last weekend of the Church's year. Next weekend we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, and then we start again with Advent!
Today the readings traditionally speak about the end of the world, the end of time, the final coming of Jesus to take all peoples and all creation to himself. This chapter of Mark is known as the 'little apocalypse'.
In the passage immediately before today's Gospel a naïve disciple (we don't know who) goes into raptures about the beauty of the temple. Jesus predicts the fall and destruction of Jerusalem. It was a catastrophic experience for the Jews, because Jerusalem and its Temple was the dwelling place of God. It was not the first time the Temple had been desecrated and the Jews driven out into exile but this destruction has lasted 2,000 years. It had all happened , of course, when Mark wrote the gospel.
Jesus moves on and says: "In those days, after the time of distress" the Son of Man will appear in glory and complete the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It was understandable that the Christians of Mark's day would attempt to put two and two together.
The Son of Man for Mark is clearly to be understood as Jesus, the man that the disciples knew and loved, but now appearing in all the unparalleled glory of God's own majesty. If Jesus' words here were really spoken by him, he would not have been so explicit. The gospel speaks about the Son of Man "coming in clouds with great power and glory" echoing the Book of Daniel in the first reading but here the Son of Man is even more victorious.
The appearance of the Son of Man is described in Old Testament terms implying the appearance of God himself. He sends out angels or messengers and gathers all God's people together: acts of God in the language of the Old Testament. In the OT prophecies where God manifests his glory in the final days the scattered people are gathered to Jerusalem and to God himself. Here they are gathered to the Son of Man, who commands the angels as if they were his own. Thus we have an affirmation of the central place Jesus, the Son of Man, has in the expectations of the Christians and a reflection of the divine role he is understood to exercise.
The first half of today's Gospel leans heavily on language and ideas from the Old Testament.
Now to quote the famous phrase from Dad's Army "don't panic"! The description of events is not to be understood literally as a prophecy of what is actually going to happen. We have to unpack what Mark is trying to tell us. The dramatic antics of the sun, moon and stars are traditional ways of describing manifestations of God's judgment of Israel.
The people of OT Israel believed that the sun, moon and stars represented pagan deities who controlled world affairs. Israel believed that when God acted, these celestial bodies would be disturbed and react violently. 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. And so, "the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness and the stars will come falling from heaven."
Mark gives us no time frame. There is no immediate link 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 back in their lifetime. This is reflected in the words, "This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place." For to those who grew up in the Jewish tradition, the end of Jerusalem could only mean the end of the world. At the time Mark wrote the gospel the Parousia, the second coming, was considered to be long overdue! People were beginning to have their doubts that it was imminent.
Jesus moves on to give a short parable about 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 you know 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 end of all the other gods which men have created for themselves over the centuries.
God's Truth, Love and Justice will prevail forever in a new heaven and a new earth; the Kingdom of God where all can live in peace.
Many people will come into that Kingdom, probably many more than we may expect. Others may reject it forever and choose the outer darkness. In rejecting the Way of Jesus and the Kingship of God (and this is not necessarily the same as rejecting Christianity), some may choose to be outsiders forever. The book of Revelation or the Apocalypse spells out this final judgment in much more gruesome detail!
Finally, in spite of the warnings that some people love to give, the 'when' of all this 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.
This is nonsense. God does not take revenge. God is not hurt or offended by what we do. His is a never-changing love. He has nothing but compassion for the sinner who does not, cannot, hurt God but only hurts himself. (God, in the language of today, is totally proactive, not reactive!)
"But as for that day or hour", says Jesus, "nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father."
It is not for us to worry about that. Worrying will not help. On the other hand, we should not play a kind of Russian roulette with life and keep putting off the day of our conversion to God. The only way is to live today and every day in his love and service. It is the present which determines the future; so let's just concentrate on the here and now. This should be the focus of our Year of Faith - to build up a deeper more meaningful and personal love of Jesus. Then we will already have entered the Lord's Kingdom and when, early or late, he comes to complete it, it will just be a reunion of old friends.
In fact, he is already here and has always been and always will be. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.