Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32 [158B]
The readings for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time have a somber tone. As we approach the end of another church year, and begin to anticipate the new church year starting with the season of Advent, the readings have an end-time (eschatological) focus.
The first reading is taken from the Book of Daniel. This text is often associated with Israel’s prophetic tradition. But it more closely aligns to Jewish apocalyptic literature. One of the hallmarks of this type of literature is its assertion that not only is God the Lord of history and the universe, but that the Lord will also vindicate his people Israel in the end-time. The Book of Daniel was written during the years of the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167–164 BC). He persecuted the Jewish people, attempting to force Jews to recant their faith. As with all apocalyptic literature, Daniel was written during a time of crisis. The writing was an attempt to offer the Jewish audience comfort and hope. Today’s reading is part of a larger vision that Daniel was experiencing. He foresaw a time when the suffering of the Jewish people would cease with God sending the angel Gabriel to rescue his people. Daniel also foresaw the final judgment when those who fought for justice will be forever rewarded and those who persecuted the faithful would experience “everlasting horror and disgrace.”
The Gospel reading is taken from Mark 13, the chapter in which Jesus speaks about events associated with the end of the world. For this reason, Mark 13 is often referred to as the eschatological chapter (Matthew and Luke have parallel eschatological chapters; see Mt 24 and Lk 21). Today’s reading falls into two parts. The first part speaks to the return of the Son of Man during the great “tribulation.” These are events associated with the end of the world (the sun and the moon darkening, the stars falling from the sky). Jesus offers comfort to the disciples with his assurance that he (as Son of Man) would come to save “his elect” in the midst of this tribulation. The second part of today’s reading addresses the need to watch for the signs of the times that will point to the end of the world. Like the fig tree that signals its own growth, certain signs will precede the advance of the end-time. But Jesus offered no assurances as to the exact day or hour of the end-time, since “only the Father” knows.
Today’s second reading is the final reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. Once again, Jesus as the new and perfect high priest who resides in heaven is juxtaposed with the activities of the Jewish priesthood that continued to function in the days of the writing of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews is clearly arguing not only for the insufficiency of the old Jewish sacrificial system; he is also stressing how the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross accomplishes the atonement for sin and is everlasting for those who believe: “he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.” For the author of Hebrews, the ongoing and daily sacrifice still offered by the Jewish priests is no longer necessary: “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.” The author of Hebrews is hard-pressed to show how Christ fulfills God’s covenantal promises to Israel without disrespecting Jewish faith and practices.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz