Theme: He is coming
Speculation about the end of the world as we know it is not unusual; seers and sages of all ages have shared their opinions for centuries. Richard Kieninger from Chicago believed that the end would be on May 5, 2000 A.D. Vincent Ferrer a Spanish Dominican Monk who lived around 1350-1419, predicted the end of the world by 3936 A.D. Scientists of all ranges have fueled public anxiety by speculating possible ways in which the world would end: 1- our planet earth falling into a black hole.
2- Ice age caused by climate change within few years from now 3- The greenhouse effect predicting temperature to increase by 30o c by the year 2030 causing rising ocean levels and flooding everything 4- Collision of planet earth with a comet; 5- Cosmic Rays burning the Earth to ashes; 6- Nuclear war and its aftermath wiping out up to 90% of the human population 7- The disaster of the death of the sun that would boil away earth’s oceans and bake its crust unto lifelessness. All this is simple speculation.
First reading: Daniel 12:1-3
Just as the millennial year has produced a bumper crop of misinterpretation, so also does the literary genre known as apocalyptic literature. Intended by Daniel to be a source of encouragement, apocalyptic writings have often been misunderstood to the extent of becoming literary weapon used to strike fear into the heart of the simple and trusting occupant of the pew. A literature spawned in a moment of crisis, these holy writings flourished during the persecution that characterized the last hundreds of years before Christ became Incarnate. In order to promote persevere, prophets offered vivid images and visions of the invincibility of God’s reign and a satisfying notion that the just would be vindicated. Using cryptic language, numerology, bizarre dreams and visions they were able to comment and interpret their present experiences accurately. For example, Daniel couched his message in a sixth century B.C. literary setting, but he was actually writing ca 167 B.C. to encourage fellow Jews remain loyal to their religious traditions despite the allure of foreign cultures and persecution by king Antiochus Epiphanes IV.
This Greek dictator had outlawed the Hebrew faith forbidding its practice under pain of death cf. 1 Maccabees 1:60-64, burned its sacred books and executed its adherents cf. 1Maccabees 1:56. To enable his contemporaries to face the challenge, Prophet Daniel composed a series of vignettes comprised of edifying stories about courageous heroes and heroines who endured and survived similar difficulties. Then the visions in the second half of Daniel represent the history of the world as it has evolved until the eminent time. Today’s first reading expresses Daniel’s belief that the future will bring peace and fulfillment to those who remain faithful, rather than surrendering their faith in fear of death. “Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some shall live forever, while others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace” Daniel 12:2. This is a landmark text in the Holy Bible in that it is the first clear attestation concerning final resurrection, retribution and eternal life.
Second reading: Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Christ’s one sacrifice for sins has made unnecessary and ineffectual the sacrifices of the Old Covenant which were daily offered by the levitical priesthood. A prescribed ritual recorded in Leviticus lists five type of sacrifice: 1- the olah/holocaust which required an offering completely consumed by fire on the altar as atonement for sin. 2- Minhah cereal offerings which were baked into cakes with fine oil and incense then burnt in sacrifice and the rest allocated to the priests and their families. 3-Zebah Shelamin/peace offering an animal in thanksgiving to God for graces received. 4- Hattah/sin offering as expiation for ethical or physical uncleanness. 5- Asam/guilt offering made in the case of serious sin. The audience to whom Hebrews was addressed was well aware of these types of sacrifices; hence the appreciation of Jesus’ one, unique and irrepeatable sacrifice as admirable. Through Jesus’ saving gift of himself, perfect praise has been offered to God; sin and guilt, have been expiated and absolute intimate union has been achieved. Whereas Israel’s priests had to return day after day to offer repeated sacrifices, Jesus offered this sacrifice once and for all. The standing posture of the priests in their endless work contrasts with the seated posture of Jesus whose work has been realized cf. Hebrews 10:12. The image of Jesus enthroned and waiting for his foes to be finally vanquished directly echoes Psalm 110, a Davidic royal psalm.
In relation to his death, resurrection and ascension, Christ’s work is completed - hence he can sit enthroned and wait for the full effects “until his enemies shall be made a footstool for his feet” Psalm 110:1. Nevertheless, in relation to the ongoing life of the Christian community and in the interim between his two advents, Jesus’ priestly work continues. He still makes intercession for us in the presence of God. Though we have been perfected by Jesus saving activity, we are still in the process of “being sanctified” Hebrews 10:14. As beneficiaries of Christ’s sacrifice, we have been initiated and granted full access to God for whom and by whom we were created; and with whom we intend to be united for all eternity. Given this assurance, we need not fear whatever may lie beyond the grave. With Christ as our perfect priest and sacrifice, we yearn for the full experience of the life to come.
Gospel: Mark 13:24-32
In the Coptic version of the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas the disciples of Jesus inquired of him, on what day does the kingdom come? Jesus responded, it does not come when it is expected. It will not be said, ‘look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Rather the kingdom of God is spread out upon the earth and people don’t see it! Thomas 113:1-20. Elsewhere in this same book, Jesus is quoted as telling his followers, God’s imperial reign is within you and outside you. It would seem that this recently discovered gospel has preserved the notion that the eternal reign of God is not simply something in the unknown future for which to hope, but that it is also a reality that is somehow part of the present experience. This same insight is communicated in each of the canonical gospels and should put to rest all inordinate fear of the future. What has already been established through the words and works of Jesus during his first appearance will surely reach to its full and final culmination on the day when Jesus returns again at the end of time. Therefore, if you are among those who search the skies in dread for portents of that day, you would do well to attend more properly to the message of today’s gospel. What is called for is not worry but vigilance; what is being communicated is not reprimand but comfort because the Son of Man who has come will come again. Important to note is the fact that the end time mean resurrection not resuscitation and that the manner in which we respond to the challenges of daily living and the effort we put forth in remaining faithful to the good news will enable us victory.
St. Mark’s vision of the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory can be understood as the eschatological climax to all of Jesus’ actions as Son of Man while on earth. As Son of Man, he had forgiven sins and taught with authority. As Son of Man, Jesus had been rejected by the authorities and put to death. As Son of Man he has given his life for the many cf. Mark 10:45, in so doing, Jesus has won a definitive victory over evil, defeating both sin and death. For those who still struggle in the heat of battle to appropriate in their lives the victory of the Son of Man, the vision of the glorious, powerful Son of Man is and continues to be a source of strength and hope. In the image of the fig tree, Jesus teaches a lesson concerning the imminence of the expected Son of Man and the serene approach of God’s reign. A symbol of abundance and peace, the annual revival of the fig tree with its gifts of fruit and shade came to be associated with the blessings of the messianic era. The apocalyptic language about strange happenings on the moon losing its brightness, the darkening of the sun, falling of the stars and shaking of heaven is intended to assure us that only God possesses the last word.
We should realize that the readings of today are not meant to underscore Jesus’ limited human knowledge about divine events but to affirm the futility of speculating and worrying as to when the Son of Man would return. We are invited to be vigilant and be always prepared. To interpret these readings as a time table for the end time in phenomena of trials, darkened sun and moon, quakes would be to misinterpret the apocalyptic variety. What we need is faith, hope and love for Jesus the high priest of our race so that our life can be worthy its value.