Tuesday, November 10, 2015

33rd Sudnay of Ordinary Time

Our journey through Ordinary Time is almost at an end.  Next week we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (or simply, Christ the King), marking the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year.  In our readings, Jesus also knows the end is near.  We have spent this long stretch of Ordinary Time walking with Jesus and his disciples through the Gospel, and now, nearing the city of Jerusalem for the last time, our thoughts turn to the end times…

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

Our first reading comes from the book of Daniel.  Daniel is to the Hebrew Scriptures what the book of Revelation is to the Christian Scriptures… a prophet’s dream-like vision of the end of days, where the righteous will be saved, and the unrighteous condemned to Hell.  The book of Daniel isn’t a prophetic book, but rather more like the book of Job, taking its name from the story’s hero.  While Daniel was a prophet who lived during the Babylonian Exile (586 BCE), the Book of Daniel wasn’t written until about 160 years before Christ.  In this week’s passage we have Daniel hearing the Lord’s voice proclaiming how those who have their name in the book shall have everlasting life, while the remainder shall be “in everlasting horror and disgrace.”  In reading this passage it’s easy to see how this might have inspired Jesus in his parable of separation of the sheep from the goats.

When we modern Christians here these types of apocalyptic stories, we tend to get fearful… afraid that our name won’t be in the book, afraid that we haven’t earned a place in Heaven with the Lord.  But we need to remember that this isn’t how the ancients read this work.  Rather, they read it as a comfort.  During their days of persecution by their “Gentile” overlords, they saw these writings an assurance that by following the Lord, they would be saved.  This positive message is echoed in our Psalm as we sing “You are my inheritance, O Lord!”  These apocalyptic warnings weren’t for us who have accepted the Lord, but rather a warning for those who did not follow the Lord (and persecute those who do).

Our Gospel from Mark has Jesus contemplating the end of days as well, in fact quoting from our passage from Daniel.  Jesus’ message is clear… there will be dark times ahead, but the Son of Man will gather those that are his “elect” (a term we in the RCIA understand well).  He warns his disciples to be observant, because the signs are there in front of us.  In other words, continue the mission, continue to preach the Gospel and gather followers, because there will be a time when he returns to gather all those who follow him.

Our second reading is the conclusion of our study of the Letter to the Hebrews.  Though not the end of the letter itself, this does bring to conclusion the theme of Jesus as our High Priest.  It too shows a vision of the end times with Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, his enemies as his footstool.  An interesting picture that, like the Gospel, reminds us to be vigilant in our fight against sin.

Final Thoughts:
We Catholics tend to get uncomfortable when it comes to hearing about “the end of days.”  Like the Apostles before the Passion, we just don’t want to hear about it.  Part of it is because we don’t like to dwell on bad things… and there’s a lot of bad things going on in these apocalyptic writings.  But part of it is that we as a Christian community (and as a society) have lost our ability to understand these writings… to put them into perspective.  And it doesn’t help that we have so many loud, misguided preachers telling us that we need to be afraid… telling us that we might get “left behind.”  For you see, we have already been saved.  Christ died for our sins, once and for all.  And by our Baptism we are made priest, prophet and king… embracing our salvation as a follower of Christ.  But what if we screw up?  In our humanity, it is inevitable.  But Jesus understood that too, and gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation to seek forgiveness and get ourselves back on course.  They’re meant to reassure us when times get hard… that when we feel the world is against us (as it so often can be), we can be reminded that God has our back, because we’re on his team.

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