Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time



Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3; Response: Psalm 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11; Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-14; Gospel: Mark 13:24-32

The Book of Daniel is one of the last to find a place in the Old Testament canon, the official list of books believed to contain divine revelation. The term ‘canon’ is derived from a Greek noun meaning “rule, measurement.’ The setting of the book is sometime during the exile of the Israelites in Babylon in the 6th century B.C. The book was composed about 165 B.C in response to a persecution of pious Jews in Jerusalem and vicinity by King Antiochus IV of Syria. A goal of the book was to inspire hope in the persecuted that God would rescue them and destroy their persecutors — if not in this world, then in the next. The author introduces readers to a group of young Israelites, Daniel and his companions. They were selected from among the exiles to receive special training to become civil servants in Babylon. During the time of their education they excelled all their contemporaries in Babylon. This claim marks the books as patriotic literature to prove, “We are No. 1.” Eventually the leader of the young Israelites will become governor of the province of Babylon. The novelette in Genesis 37-50 of the ordeal and triumph of the Israelite Joseph becoming governor of Egypt may have inspired the story of Daniel.

A more important theme than the superiority of Israelites versus their captors is the theme that the Lord God of Israel is more powerful than Bel or other gods worshipped in Babylon. Much of the book is in the literary form called ‘apocalypse.’ That same form is found in our Book of Revelation and various parts of our gospels. Characteristic of an apocalypse is that events of the past, or events happening at the time of composition, are cast as predictions of future events. This was not a matter of telling lies. It was an accepted form of literature. It does make predictions more accurate than attempts to predict the truly unknown future. Ignorance of this characteristic of an apocalypse leads biblical literalists to claim that events of our time were accurately predicted centuries or millennia ago. Whatever else biblical apocalypses do, they do convey divine revelation. Today’s first reading reveals that there will be a resurrection of the dead. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake. Some shall live forever. Others will be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” The martyred Jews are contrasted with their persecutors. Though the human authors were speaking of their particular situation, the Divine Author gave us the first clear Old Testament teaching of a general resurrection. This reading was selected because today’s gospel also teaches a resurrection of the dead.

Psalm 16 was selected to respond to the first reading because of these lines, “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you allow our faithful one to undergo corruption.” The original intent of this thought of trust in God is the psalmist’s prayer for recovery from some illness or threatening disaster. These same lines found new meaning in Acts of Apostles 2:27. In a sermon attributed to Simon Peter, Luke, the author, applies these lines to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He will do the same in a sermon attributed to Paul in Acts 13:35. On successive Sundays, we have heard from Hebrews how the author keeps insisting on the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus over the priesthood of the Old Testament. Those priests stood daily . . . offering the same sacrifices that can never take away sin. Jesus, however, offered one sacrifice for sins, then sat down at the right hand of God. By that one offering, he made perfect forever the ones consecrated by baptism, by his blood. No further sacrifice is necessary because where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no need for more sacrifices.

On the final Sunday of Ordinary Time, the gospel reading is taken from one of the three versions of Jesus’ last discourse. This year, it is Mark’s turn. Comment above introduced us to a form of literature called ‘apocalypse.’ Our Book of Revelation is an apocalypse, as is Mark 13. The latter is called the Little Apocalypse. Among other characteristics of apocalypses is the predicted triumph of the persecuted over the persecutors. In the Book of Daniel, the martyred Jews would be triumphant over their persecutors through a resurrection to glory. In Mark’s apocalypse, Christians will be triumphant over in the resurrection of the dead when Jesus returns in glory as judge of all. Another characteristic of apocalypses: the end times will be accompanied by disasters in the sky and on the earth. Our reading begins, “In those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. The stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” The authors of such ’predictions’ did not invent them. They were standard Old Testament expressions expected to accompany the ‘Day of the Lord.’ On that day, the Lord God would intervene to overcome and punish enemies of his chosen people. In the New Testament, they are predicted to accompany the ‘Day of the Lord Jesus.’

This section of Mark’s Little Apocalypse includes a revelation of Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the dead. “They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” We do not and cannot know what the return of Jesus and the resurrection will be like. The inspired authors can only use human thoughts and words to express this unknown reality. The reference to clouds is a metaphor, a symbol of the divinity of Jesus. It is based on a vision in Daniel 7. There a son of man (a human being) approaches the throne of God and is given an everlasting kingdom to rule “all peoples, nations, languages.” For those who foolishly have dared and will dare to set dates for the end, Mark has this warning in words of Jesus, “Of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”