Sunday, 18 November 2012
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury
Mk 13:24-32; Dan 12:1-13
A constant feature of human existence, and of each of us, is that we want our problems to go away. We’re all aware that in some manner we live in a world of suffering, we live in a world of problems, that in different ways we see evil all around us. And though we want it to be over, the evil will not go away easily, not the evil of sin, not the evil of suffering, not any evil. It will only go away when it’s finally vanquished.
If this truth is pretty much clear to us today, and it was even more clear to the Jews living in our Lord’s own time. As well as the general evils of suffering and sin, the Jews of our Lord’s own time had for some centuries been subject to various different military occupations, most recently the Greeks, and then the Romans. They yearned for a time when these enemies would be vanquished. They yearned even more, for a time of the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, about the final vanquishing of evil and suffering.
And yet, they also realised that this vanquishing, this final battle, would be a tough battle for them too. The various prophecies of what are called the “apocalyptic literature” all indicate this.
That was the general background to what we heard Lord Jesus speaking of in today’s gospel. We heard Him speaking about a “time of great distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (Mk 13:24). This text comes after Jesus had been speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the sacred Temple itself (Mk 13:1ff). To those who heard Him, the thought of a dramatic cosmic battle involving even the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem, such a prophecy had a general context in which to make sense of it: a time of great distress, followed by the establishment of the reign of God.
This text, however, was only one part of the teaching of the Lord Jesus. And in the light of the other things He said, His disciples saw a twofold prophecy in this text: a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, and a prophecy of a later definitive Second Coming in glory.
The first, namely the destruction of Jerusalem, did indeed occur as Jesus promised, “before this generation has passed away”(Mk 13:30). It occurred in the years 70 A.D. when the Roman army leveled Jerusalem and the Temple itself to the ground. The Jewish historian Josephus writes that it was because the Christians had this prophecy from the Lord Jesus, with His advice that when they see these things happening they should flee to the hills (Mk 13:14), that the Christians did indeed flee to the hills and survived the Roman destruction.
The second prophecy, of His final coming in glory, has yet to be fulfilled. However, the fact that His first prophecy was fulfilled gives us confidence to believe His later one will be too.
It’s not fashionable any more, or at least it used to not be fashionable, to talk about the drama of the End Times. To warn of “wars and rumours of wars” (Mt 24:6), to quote visions and saints who warn of coming chastisements for sin, of signs and wonders before the coming of something else.
And yet, unless we have a conviction that there will be a final playing out of the conflict between evil and good, a final battle were good will be triumphant, unless we are convinced that that WILL happen, then we cannot live as a people with hope that the problems of this world will one day end. And this is why it is ESSENTIAL that we as Christians continue to believe in the Second Coming, continue to look forward to it in hope, even through the destruction, the difficulty, the trauma that will be involved. Because without that final context, there will be no final victory, and WE can have no SHARE in that final victory.
But if there will be a final battle, if there will be a final victory, then the difficulties that we live with, real though they are, will one day be over.
Let me conclude by noting WHO it is that Jesus says will be victorious: Himself. He takes the title from the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament, especially as expressed in the book of Daniel as we heard in our first reading this week and will hear again next week, and He says that He who is, THE “Son of Man”(Dan 7:13 c.f. previous sermon), He will “come on the clouds of heaven” in victory.
A victory to set His people free, to set us free from all that burdens us in this life.