15 November 2015: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dn 12:1-3 Ps 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11 Heb 10:11-14, 18 Mk 13:24-32

Shining like stars in the firmament

On this last Sunday in Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with apocalyptic visions and teachings. These readings are an appropriate close to the liturgical year, encouraging us to find our places in the final age of salvation history.

The first reading is from the book of Daniel. An unknown author composed this work about 150 years before Jesus’ time, when the Syrian Greeks were persecuting the Jews. The author’s message is optimistic and comforting: the just who “lead many to justice” will be spared from the end-time distress and live forever. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match the “little apocalypse” of today’s gospel.

The second reading is our final reading from Hebrews. In this summary section, the author compares priests and their offerings. Human high priests offer the same sacrifices over and over, but their sacrifices never take away sin; Christ offered one sacrifice that removed all sin forever. Christ’s one, perfect offering freed everyone; as a result the human priests’ sin-offerings are no longer needed.

The gospel is from Jesus’ eschatological discourse, also called Mark’s little apocalypse. This “final things” discourse includes prophetic warnings (the destruction of the temple, persecution of the disciples, and the need to be watchful) and apocalyptic signs (deceivers, wars, the abomination, signs in the sky). Mark presents Jesus’ words and actions in three contexts: in the past, as fulfillment of the prophets (especially Daniel, Amos, and Zechariah); in the present (Jesus’ own teachings), and in the future (the coming Paschal event, the day of the Lord, and the Second Coming). Because Mark uses the temple as a type for Jesus–the dwelling place of God among the people–we can see many meanings in Jesus’ discourse:

  • The earthly temple in Jerusalem: The Jewish people believed the temple stood at the actural center of the universe. The temple veil contained embroidered images of stars and constellations, and the menorah’s seven branches stood for the sun, moon, and five known planets. When the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, the Jewish people believed that the world had ended and a new age began.
  • The heavenly temple and Jesus: The apocalyptic discourse also prefigures Jesus’ death. In Mark’s gospel the temple prefigures the mystery of Jesus–where God dwells among God’s people. At Jesus’ death, the sun darkens (Mk 15: 33) and the embroidered temple veil is torn in two (Mk 15: 38). Jesus’ death portends the destruction of the temple, and opens the final age of salvation history–the age in which all disciples (including us) live. The “day and hour” of this culmination of salvation history belongs to the Father alone.

This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how we should live in this final age. The Lectionary readings close with the hope discipleship brings: we, the elect, will be gathered from the ends of the earth, to live forever and to shine brightly. Are our names written in the book? Are we leading many to justice?

—Terence Sherlock

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