REFLECTIONS ON THE READINGS FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY OF THE YEAR,
18th November 2018 CYCLE B
Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 15: 5, 8-11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
In the Book of Daniel, which is our first reading today, God is seen as the omnipotent lord who controls history, setting up and removing earthly rulers and empires, but who also rescues the Eternal One’s people from the power of those kings. The “visions” of chapters 7-12 of Daniel focus on that future. Today, we read from chapter 12, where the notion of ‘resurrection’ is explicitly affirmed. This is the only place in the Hebrew Bible where there is a clear statement of belief in life after death, although such a belief subsequently spread, until it finally became orthodox Jewish doctrine. Among those to live forever, the “wise/learned” have a special place. The language of “wise” and “making many righteous” is derived from the description of the Servant in Isaiah 52-3. Wisdom almost becomes equated with righteousness. The notion of a hidden book, revealed just before the end time, is a common feature of such apocalyptic literature, usually composed under critical historical circumstances – in the case of Daniel, the Maccabean war against the Syrians. Daniel wrote before Israel’s victory, around 167 BCE, and his aim was to comfort and strengthen the fainthearted.
Our reading from Mark’s Gospel is also an apocalyptic passage. Chapter 13 of Mark is unlike any other section of the gospel, following a unifying theme, setting out future events right up to the end of time when Christ will come again. The background to this overall theme is found in Jewish apocalyptic writing, particularly Daniel 7-12. In such apocalyptic writing, the secrets of the universe are revealed – usually in the form of a vision, attributed to some great figure in the past. A speech of this kind, placed on the lips of a great man at the very end of his life has literary precedents elsewhere, for example, in Deuteronomy 32, when Moses addresses the people shortly before his death. Chapter 13 of Mark falls into three sections: the birth pangs; the tribulation; and the End. Today we read from the last of these. Throughout chapter 13, Mark is more concerned to warn his readers about the dangers in store and to urge them to be prepared for a long struggle than to encourage them by suggesting that the End is near. Those who first heard the gospel read could hardly hear these words without realizing that the warnings were addressed to them. The purpose of the whole of Mark 13 seems to be to urge inaction rather than action, for its overall theme is that the time is not yet, although the final section which we read today comes closest to representing Jesus’ own attitude. It is understandable if an original message which ran ‘Be prepared, watch: the Kingdom of God may come at any time’ encouraged the early Christian community to expect an imminent end to the world. As time went by, a new warning was needed in a situation of over-enthusiasm: ‘Don’t get too excited: the End is near – but not as near as all that.’ The overall message is a warning that there may be more suffering in store – a familiar enough theme in a gospel which has emphasized that following Jesus means taking up the cross. But Mark encourages his readers by his confidence in the final coming of the Son of man in glory, bringing victory not only for the Son of man but also for the ordinary faithful. We should certainly not take the message of the readings from Mark and from Daniel as one of doom but rather of hope. As individuals, we have to ‘read the signs’ of our own times, putting our trust in the all-merciful God, revealed in both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Each of us is precious, each of our lives is intensely meaningful, and the way we live our God-given lives is of the greatest importance. One day we will have to render an account of our lives - to our all-merciful God.
In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, there is a looking towards the end times, which dominates the final chapters of Hebrews and is also the dominant theme of Mark 13. Christ is seen to have “achieved the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying”. The present tense of the verb, “is sanctifying”, implies that the process is a continuing one for the community of Christian believers. We are all on this journey together and need the encouragement given in Mark’s Gospel to sustain us.
We read some verses from Psalm 15 today and here again, there seems to be the hope, at least, in a life after death: “…you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay”. However, the psalmist’s concern is with this life rather than with death and beyond. The contrast here is between life with God and life without God, who shows us “the path of life, the fullness of joy in God’s presence”. What is important for us is to “keep the Lord ever in our sight”.
This week’s Sunday Readings Commentary was prepared by
Sr Margaret Shepherd, NDS, London, UK
[Copyright © 2018]
PLEASE NOTE: The weekly Gospel commentaries represent the research and creative thought of their authors, and are meant to stimulate deeper thinking about the meaning of the Sunday Scriptures. While they draw upon the study methods and sources employed by the Bat Kol Institute, the views and conclusions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of their authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Bat Kol. Questions, comments and feedback are always welcome.
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