The End Draws Near
There is a saying, “All good things come to an end.” In our daily lives, we experience this again and again. But sometimes, the end turns out to be a transition to something better. Sometimes, it’s just the end of a cycle and things begin anew.
This is the case with the readings for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the next to the last Sunday of the Church year. We have traveled through the life of Jesus, from the time shortly before his birth through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We have heard the stories he told and met the people he met along his way from Galilee to Jerusalem during the three years of his public ministry. Now the end of the cycle draws near and we hear from both Hebrew and Christian scriptures of what will happen in the final days of salvation history. What will happen at the end of time?
The Book of Daniel tells the story of the Hebrew people during their time of exile in Babylon, but it was not written during that time. It was written much later and is an example of apocalyptic literature – literature that deals with end times. This type of literature often arises during times of persecution and suffering. The story of Daniel, a prophet, was probably written during the time the Jews were being persecuted under the reign of King Antiochus IV, just over 150 years before the birth of Jesus. The prophet hears and proclaims the word of the Lord. “At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people.” Michael is an archangel, the one who is God’s defender of the people. Michael protects the good people during a time of great distress. These people escape and will shine brightly, leading the multitudes to justice and eternal life. (Dn 12:1-3) It is noteworthy that by this time in Jewish history, the idea of life after death is seen as a reality for the righteous. It was an idea still being debated during Jesus’ lifetime, but it was accepted by large numbers of people and their leaders.
Jesus was familiar with the apocalyptic literature of his people and spoke of the coming end of time during his final days in Jerusalem. The Romans were known to tolerate no dissent and no rebellions among the people they governed. Yet there was a continual undercurrent of discontent among the Jews and an absolute refusal to tolerate worship of the gods of other peoples. The coming of a Messiah to overthrow the foreign conquerors and re-establish a Jewish kingdom was eagerly anticipated. People wondered whether Jesus might be that hero and welcomed him to Jerusalem with all the fanfare they would give to a conquering hero returning home. Jesus knew that military might was not the way the kingdom of God was going to come to the world. He continually reminded his followers that this was not the path he would take. One day, after teaching in the temple, someone commented on the size of the stones that formed the building. Jesus responded that the stones would soon be demolished and not one left upon the other. (Around the time this gospel was written, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans following a rebellion by a group of Jews known as Zealots. The people had been scattered into exile.)
Later that day, Jesus spoke with his friends and warned them that hard times were coming. They personally would suffer because of their loyalty to him. The entire nation would suffer because many others would come later and try to overthrow the Romans. Many would claim to be the long-awaited Messiah, but they would be false prophets and false messiahs. All would suffer as a result.
It is at this point that our reading today picks up (Mk 13:24-32). Jesus speaks of the last days of the world and his return to gather the faithful to the kingdom. He speaks of himself as the Son of Man, a title from the book of Daniel used to name and describe the Messiah.
No one knows when that last day and the return of the Son of Man will occur. Even the Son does not know. But all are to live their lives prepared for that last day to arrive. We are all to keep our eyes open and notice the signs of the times, just as we notice the changing of the seasons
It’s been a long time since these prophecies were first spoken. Many generations have passed, and likely many more will come and go before the end of the world. But the sacrifice made by our High Priest, Jesus, does not ever need to be offered again, according to the author of Hebrews (10:11-14, 18). The reconciliation between God and all of creation has been accomplished. No matter what happens, a new age has dawned. Salvation has come.
We sing with the psalmist, “You are my inheritance, O Lord! … my heart is glad and my soul rejoices … You will show me the path to life … the delights at your right hand forever.” (Ps 16)
Our liturgical year is drawing to a close. The end of days has not yet come. We face many difficulties, misunderstandings, deliberate lies, political divisions, pandemics, and other trials in our daily lives. But this is really nothing new. It has happened again and again in history. May we cling to the promises of our Lord and live in the way he taught us, being peace-makers and healers of division in our world. Very soon we begin a new year as a community. Let us take the remaining days of this year to celebrate the protection and love of our God and prepare for the coming of the Lord into our lives today and in the days to come.