Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading Daniel 12:1–3
Psalm Psalm 16:5, 8–11
Second Reading Hebrews 10:11–14, 18
Gospel Mark 13:24–32
Psalm 16:5, 8–11
TheLordis my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
I keep the Lordalways before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermo
Reading the Word
At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
Hebrews 10:11–14, 18
Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no longer any offering for sin.
In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Hearing the Word
“Salvation through Jesus”
This Sunday brings to an end the cycle of readings for the Sundays in ordinary time. It paves the way for next Sunday’s celebration of Christ the King with its own proper readings. It does this, by focusing on the glorification of Jesus, and his return at the end of time as the saviour of his faithful, the one who will rule as their Kingforever.
The word “apocalypse” refers to the type of biblical writings that describe the conclusion of human history, popularly known as “the end of the world”. Apocalypse is known for its extensive use of symbols and highly imaginative pictures, such as cosmic disasters, plagues, scenes of judgment and destruction, and appearances of otherworldly beings such as dragons, beasts, angels and other mysterious figures. These images are all symbols and signs that indicate that the world, as we know it now, will one day come to an end. It will be transformed into a new world, a new reality re-created by God. The best examples of apocalyptic writing are the books of Daniel in the OT, and Revelation in the NT. However, there are numerous other passages of this type, scattered throughout the Bible, including the Gospels.
The first reading comes from the end of the book of Daniel, and contains a vision of what will take place after the period of great persecutions and trials, which the Jews suffered in the course of history, particularly those perpetrated by an evil Syrian king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Our short passage presents the scene of the final judgment. Michael, one of the seven archangels, is the guardian angel of the Jewish nation. His role is to represent the people before God, and to carry out God’s will. At the time of greatest anguish, the time of most severe persecutions, God will send Michel to decisively put an end to all evil, and to execute God’s judgment. This judgment will begin with the resurrection of the dead, who will be divided into two groups. The unrighteous will be separated from the righteous, and will suffer eternal disgrace. The righteous, on the other hand, will join the heavenly world, and become like shining stars, which means that they will reside among angels and become like them. From the previous chapters of Daniel, we know that the righteous are those Jews who remained faithful to God and his law during trials and persecutions. These Jews not only clung to their God, but continued to teach others to live a godly life, often paying with their lives for their faithfulness. Despite tremendous pressures to renounce God, they chose to remain God’s faithful servants on earth. As a result, they will join God’s other servants, the angels, in heaven. Those who refused to be God’s servants on earth, will not share this privilege in the next life either.
In the second reading, the author of Hebrews continues to draw contrasts between the practices of the Israelite religion and Christ. The priests in the Jerusalem Temple continuously offered sacrifices for the sins of the people. Every Jew who committed sin had to bring an animal to the Temple, and have a priest offer it as a sin sacrifice in order to be forgiven and reconciled to God. These sin offerings had to be made repeatedly, becausethey could not effectively remove or heal human sinfulness.
The sacrifice of Jesus was a one-time permanent sacrifice which dealt with sin effectively, as was set out in last Sunday’s second reading. Today, the author of Hebrews focuses on the long-term and immediate effects of Jesus’ one-time permanent sacrifice for sins. After offering himself, Jesus was enthroned on God’s right hand where he waits until all powers in the universe will be subjected to him. This means that sin and evil are still rampant in the world and beyond it. However, since Jesus’ final and ultimate victory over all evil was already won on the cross, all that remains is to await the time when that victory bears its full fruit. This will happen when Christ returns at theend of history.
The immediate effect of Jesus’ sacrifice, on the faithful still living in the world surrounded by evil and affected by sin, is that Jesus “perfected”those who are “sanctified”, or the “holy ones”. Believers are holy because they are united with the Holy God through Jesus. Perfection, in the Bible, means completeness and wholeness. On the cross, Jesus purged the people from their sins, thus removing the main obstacle which separated them from the Holy One. Thus, those who are united with Jesus through faith are now “complete” – they have regained the integrity which the first people enjoyed when God created them, and which they enjoyed prior to the first sin and fall. Faith in Christ has a healing effect, making the person complete again, and capable of union with God. Jesus’ one-time self-sacrifice brought forgiveness and perfection to believers still living in this world. This sacrifice supplanted and removedthe need for any other sacrifices.
The Gospel reading comes from an apocalyptic chapter in Mark. First, it describes the end of the present world and the return of Christ, known as parousia. The end of the world is presented as a frightening destruction of the universe – darkening of sun and moon, stars falling from the sky and shattering on the earth. These images portray the return of the world to the chaos from before the time when God’s ordered the chaos, as described in Genesis ch. 1. Thus, the present and passing world must be unraveled before Godcreates it anew.
This re-creation begins with the return of Jesus, described as the coming of the Son of Man in clouds with great power and glory. This image comes directly from Daniel 7:13. Jesus fulfils Daniel’s vision by returning to the earth, and sending his angels to gather the faithful to himself. This scene beautiful portrays salvation as the reuniting ofbelievers with Christ.
The second part of the Gospel reading answers the question about the timing of Jesus’ return. The entire passage began with the phrase, “after that suffering”, referring to events described in the preceding text, in Mark 13:5-23. There, Jesus extensively described various natural and man-made disasters, such as wars, famines, and earthquakes, followed by severe persecutions of his disciples. These signs have occurred in every period of human history and continue to occur today. When Jesus spoke of the fig tree sprouting its leaves as summer approaches, he meant that the signs that indicate the nearness of his coming are all already visible. The end of the world and Jesus’ return can happen at any moment. This is confirmed by the statement, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place”. The word “generation” here refers to believers living on earth between Jesus’ death and his return at the end of time. The exact time of Jesus’ returnis known only to God. Stating that no one in the entire creation knows this time, Jesus emphasizes that only God will decide when such moment will occur. Consequently, believers must be constantly prepared for this unexpected event.
The first reading and the Gospel emphasize that the world as we know it will one day come to an end. A new world will emerge, and evil will be forever erased. At that time, those who belong to Jesus will begin an entirely new life. Salvation means nothing else but the beginning of this new life of “being with the Lord forever” (cf. 1 Tim 4:17). This salvation was anticipated by Daniel, but only Jesus made it possible, which was highlighted by the author of Hebrews. While salvation will be complete only after Jesus’ return, believers who are united with Jesus in this world are already assured of belonging to God in eternity. To reach this final salvation, the people of faith must live their days in this world clinging to Jesus, whichmakes them “perfect”. They must live in accordance with the words of the psalmist, “the Lordis my chosen portion and my cup”.
Listening to the Word of God
A great number of people, including many Christians, desperately want to know the date of “the end of the world”. For many this is a matter of mere curiosity, but this desire is also often exploited by some clever individuals who claim to have discovered this date, often by studying the Bible. Others claims that the time of the world’s end was revealed to them by God himself. These false prophets can identify with great precision the day and even the hour when the end will come. There are also those preachers who frighten and manipulate people with graphic descriptions of hell and eternal punishment. These various “doomsday prophets” often create sects which lure naive people into submission and servitude. They so cleverly brainwash people into believing that Christ is coming soon, that some of their victims end up entrusting their entire lives and possessions to these fraudsters.
No Christian who takes the words of Scripture seriously, and knows their faith, should ever believe anyone who claims to know the day of the Lord’s return. Today’s Gospel reading explicitly and forcefully states that no one knows when the end will occur, even Jesus himself. How could any honest human being claim to know more than Jesus? Unless, of course, such an individual has malicious intentions, oris mentally disturbed.
We cannot know when Jesus will return. However, this does not mean we can forget about it. Even if he does not come in our lifetime, we still rise to meet him after our death. Therefore, Jesus insists that we must prepare for this encounter.
One of the bestinstructions on how to prepare for meeting Jesus is found in Matthew ch. 25 which contains two great parables, one about the use of talents, and one about the last judgment. In the first parable Jesus teaches us that we must prepare ourselves for meeting him in eternity, by using the talents and gifts we have been given. Unlike most of the doomsday preachers, Jesus never said that we should join a sect strictly separated from the rest of society, and passively wait for his return. On the contrary, we have been given talents, and time, in order to grow and develop in every possible way. The second parable describes the last judgement itself. It presents Jesus identifying himself with our fellow human beings. By saying, “just as you did it to one of the least of these … youdid it to me”, he means that we prepare to meet him by mutual care for one another. Acts of charity, whether material or spiritual, lead us to encounter Jesus in this world so that he might recognize us as his own when we meet him in heaven.
Many of us are very frightened by the prospect of death and judgment. Most prefer not to think about it. But these events are certain to occur. We would be wise to prepare for them well in advance, so that we can face them with confidence and without fear. Our death is the end of the world as we know it. However, Jesus prepared us in every possible way to see and live beyond death. To even begin this preparation, we must acknowledge that the life we will have beyond death, is determined by the type of life we live now. When in this life we cling to Jesus, and serve him in others, our future will also be lifein his presence.
“When death finds you, may it find you alive.”
How often do I think of my own death? Do I associate death with salvation?
Would I be happy or afraid to meet Jesus if he came today? Justify each answer.
Response to God
I will make daily thanksgiving prayer for the gift of salvation that is offered to me by Jesus.
Response to your World
I will set a time this week to reflect on what would my fate be if I die today and stand in judgement before God.
We will carefully read and reflect on the parables of the talents and last judgment. How are we using ourtalents, andwhere do we meet Jesus in our environment?
Lord God, in your goodness you created us for eternal life in your presence. We thank you for this supreme gift which you have offered us, and made possible through the self-sacrifice of your Son. We pray for wisdom and guidance so thatwe may not squander this gift,but reach salvation. Offer us your forgiveness when we fail, and your strength to cling to your Son, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.