Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 DN 12:1-3
Responsorial Psalm PS 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11
- (1) You are my inheritance, O Lord!
Reading 2 HEB 10:11-14, 18
Alleluia LK 21:36
- Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MK 13:24-32
Homily—November 17 & 18, 2018—33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
We begin with the Book of Daniel which was written around 165 B.C.E. and stars a hero, Daniel, who supposedly lived about 300 years earlier. The first part of the book is more or less historical fiction. The next section, from which our readings for this week and next are taken, is apocalyptic literature, a genre that usually deals with the end of the world and a final judgment in which the just will be vindicated.
Scholars generally agree that the Book of Daniel was written for Jewish people undergoing severe persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes around 167 B.C.E. According to 2 Maccabees 5:11-14, this king who styled himself as a divine epiphany, massacred 40,000 Jews and took the same number into slavery.
Today we have the hope that comes from the intervention of angels and the promise that some who sleep in the dust of the earth shall live forever while others suffer everlasting disgrace. This is the clearest promise of eternal life found in the Hebrew Scriptures and is a warning that the unrighteous will not get away with evil forever.
“The end of the world is at hand!” says the placard carried by the devout believer on the side of the street. Each age has had its share of true believers who maintained that the world was doomed, ready to be destroyed by God who was waiting for only a few moments before bringing down his fiery wrath on the heathens.
I can only wonder what thoughts went through the minds of the people in Florida who experienced the power of Hurricane Michael or the people in California who experienced the wild fires that destroyed Paradise in the North and much damage to Malibu in the South. Over 60 people killed, some burnt in their homes or in their cars as they tried to escape. It must have seemed like the world was coming to an end for them and for some it did. The people of Marshalltown who were in the path of the tornado must have been hanging on for dear life as the wind blew windows out and homes down. A Hispanic man whom I know died this week as he worked with a crew repairing these homes when he had a fatal fall. Just this week there was a near tragedy as carbon monoxide was found in the sleeping quarters of the Law Enforcement Training Center in Johnston. It was a blessing that a security guard noticed an odor and got people up and out before anyone lost their life.
In today’s gospel perhaps the most significant line is at the end, when Jesus says, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Rather than worry about when the world will end, it might be more productive to wonder about my own personal end. That is, when will I die? How have I prepared myself for that eventual end? How have I lived my days knowing that nothing I accumulate on earth will be taken with me when I pass from this life? We know that we are definitely going to experience our own personal end, our own death. We are far less likely to be here for the actual end of the world.
Mark’s community lived in a time of turmoil and probably wondered whether Jesus’ return was near, but the Gospel warns against seeking out dates and times. Jesus turns his disciples’ attention instead to signs of his subtle presence. He uses the example of a fig tree’s springtime growth to describe such signs. Most trees in Jesus’ native land are evergreen, but the fig grows and loses its leaves in yearly cycles, like deciduous trees in colder climates. Farmers knew spring was near when they saw a change in the fig’s branches. Figs actually bear fruit four times a year. Similarly, disciples who paid attention could notice changes around them that heralded Jesus’ arrival. An essential task of a disciple, in Mark’s day as well as ours is to seek out “signs of the times,” evidence that Jesus is at work and about to make a saving appearance.
In the years since the writing of Mark’s Gospel, the church has deepened its understanding of these signs. Disciples seek them not primarily out of apocalyptic expectation but to identify where the risen Christ is still at work in the world. Sometimes this work is as gentle and hopeful as new life in springtime. Sometimes it is disruptive, as Mark puts it, like “an enemy at the gates.” Either way a disciple who seeks these signs can help the risen Christ restore some fallen corner of creation to the dream that God first had for it.
We can make the world a better place by not throwing garbage out of a car window or leaving it loose in the back of a pickup truck only to have it fly out going down the road. Do good deeds to save the earth and do good deeds for the people around you.
Somebody had a unique bumper sticker that said: “God is coming—Act busy!” May we be ready to meet the Lord!
Click here to listen to homily