Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Dn 12:1-3
Psalm 16:5, 8-11
2) Heb 10:11-14, 18
Gospel: Mk 13:24-32
Apocalyptic themes abound in contemporary literature, popular novels and movies. We seem to be fascinated by stories depicting a cataclysmic end of the world and characters who struggle to survive in postapocalyptic scenarios. Typical novel or film plots include the destruction of cities, and sometimes the whole Earth, by aliens, viruses, wild animals or natural disasters.
As fear grips the planet, some characters hide or disintegrate while others emerge as brave, resilient leaders in the fight for survival against complete annihilation. Fear is a dominant theme in such stories, as deep-seated panic grips and motivates people battling to survive in a postapocalyptic environment.
As the church’s liturgical year draws to a close, we begin to hear a series of readings that speak of a distressing end time, on a day and at an hour known only to God. These troubling times are accompanied by alarming signs in nature and in the lives of people and communities.
But instead of fear, the dominant theme in Scripture is the invitation to greater trust in the unchanging word of God and to deeper faith amid the turmoil and passing of the age. Faith, not fear, is the prevailing attitude of the just one who has placed all trust in God.
In the first reading from the Book of Daniel, we hear of Michael, the great prince and guardian of the people, who will rise during a tumultuous time unsurpassed in distress.
This passage would have evoked in the minds and hearts of the Jewish people their own turbulent history of the destruction of their holy places and their communal identity.
While some experienced the turmoil of destruction, they also know that “the wise shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
In this Sunday’s Gospel, St. Mark recounts Jesus’ warning to his disciples of a time of tribulation after which the sun and moon will be darkened, the stars fall from the sky, and the heavenly powers shaken. At this time “they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”
During these troubling, unforeseen events, Jesus promises his disciples, and us, of God’s presence. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” says Jesus.
Instead of fear and helplessness, the word of God gives courage.
We find peace as we join with the psalmist who sings, “I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. Therefore, my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence; because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer you faithful ones to undergo corruption.”
As we reflect on end-time Scripture passages during these final weeks of the church’s calendar year, may we respond to the invitation of God’s word to hope, trust and joyful expectation as we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
What comfort do you draw from Jesus’ words in the Gospel today?
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Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.