The 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
So as to be more available to the graces of the liturgy’s
readings, imagine Jesus and his disciples as they look up at the grandeur
of the Jerusalem temple. He walks over to one of the massive walls
made of huge stones and begins chipping away and handing the flakes to his
They look at Jesus, then back at the holy monument of the Holy One and they
begin to think he intends to knock it all over stone by stone. Jesus, presuming
their thoughts, smiles and then turns towards them with a serious countenance.
We are nearing the end of the liturgical year. Next Sunday is the celebration
of Christ the King and then the Sunday after that is the First Sunday of
Advent. The readings speak of the endings of things and then the beginning
of the after of things. This month in which we have been praying for the
Holy Souls and All Saints has been also a reminder of the passing away of
the beloved of our lives.
We continue praying with gratitude for those who have been parts of our stability
and sanctity. These days of the ending of the Liturgical Year we pray to
be freed from false senses of security wherein we trust in what appears to
be solid, timeless and reliable. It is so hard to believe that everything
will pass away except the love of God who has given all that the world would
call its own.
These readings are meant to be an “arrival place” at the end of the liturgical
pilgrimage and encounter with God’s call. We began last Advent to prepare
for God’s coming closer through the Incarnation. We prayed his birth, his
life, his death, and resurrection. We prayed with his teachings, his healings,
his comfortings and his callings. Now perhaps we are invited to reflect
upon whether we have advanced in our trusting God’s love and forgiveness
at the end of our time and all time.
These readings can be taken as a form of an end-of-semester test. The first
question might be about whether or not we are frightened when hearing what
Daniel and Jesus have to say.
Our First Reading is from near the end of the Prophet Daniel’s account of
some hard times for God’s people. The time is about five hundred years before
Christ. Alexander the Great and other oppressors are ravaging the Middle
East. Wars and distress are all around God’s people. What we hear is a prophecy
of God’s taking care of them, but those who are in the “book.” This is the
“Book of Life” referred to often in Holy Scripture. It is a human attempt
to describe or make understandable God’s plan for human life.
The Reading is a “good-news, bad-news” call from the prophet to the people
to trust their faith in God and live accordingly. Though wars and disasters
whirl around them, God will send them Michael the Prince and guardian. The
bad news is for those whose names are not in the “Book.” The question remains
about who does write those names, God or the individuals themselves.
This reading is a basic text for the holy belief in the resurrection of those
who “sleep” in the dust. This then is definitely the “good news” to allay
any fears of the “final exam.”
The chapter from which the verses are taken for today’s Gospel opens with
Jesus’ telling his disciples about the destruction of the very temple they
are admiring. When Peter, James and John ask him about the details of this
disaster, Jesus begins his final teaching in Mark’s account. This is called
“The Eschatological Discourse”, or the talk about the “final time.”
The next chapter in Mark is the beginning of the end for Jesus’ life, but
the disciples do not know this yet.
These students or disciples are being told about their last exam too. We
hear only a bit of the whole discourse, but enough to know where it is all
heading. Jesus is using some dramatic images of cosmic proportions which
get the reader's attention. Again, it is the “good-news, bad-news” theme.
While all the signs of disaster and destruction are happening, the Son of
Man, like Michael in the First Reading, will come with power and glory to
call all the wise and waiting.
He then uses the image of how being attentive to the signs of nature indicate
the change of seasons, so all would do well to stay alert and attentive to
the signs that everything on earth and earth itself will change and pass
away, but not the presence of God. Having faith in God’s Word and waiting
replace the fear which would impel us to want to know the how and when of
our passing. This then is our true “final exam.”
In our part of the world maturity has come to the fields and orchards. Proud
corn stalks have tumbled, yielding their pregnancy. Apples have disappeared
and the colorful leaves are piling up in raked-up bunches. The ending is
here and we wait again for fertility’s birth.
These are signs of ending and beginnings. We move from this celebration to
the faithful proclamation that Jesus Christ is the King, whose reign is worth
our waiting, watching and dying. The temple was leveled, but God’s people
endured. The temple of Jesus’ Body was leveled, but he rose and continues
to bring us life even when we think we have flunked all our tests.
A short anecdote might help here. Fr. Tom (Dewey) Donahoe, S.J., now
a faithful departed, a longtime missionary in the Mariannas in the Pacific,
while teaching here at the old Creighton Prep once exercised his love and
understanding in his classroom.
He was the moderator of a boys' Sodality and one First Friday celebrated
Mass for them before school began. He gave a geometry test to his first-period
class. He noticed one lad was sitting at his desk just looking at the exam
paper. He went over to the lad and asked him what the problem might be. “I
don’t know anything this test is asking.” Dewey asked him if he had been
to Mass that morning. The boy nodded his head. “Okay,” Dewey whispered, “you
just write 100 here on top and that will be all right.” It is a true story
and so is the Gospel. Jesus is in our midst working to assist our living
towards and through our “finals.”
“It is good for me to be with the Lord, and
put my hope in him.” Ps. 73, 28