1st Reading – Daniel 7: 13-14
We need to appreciate what has come before the passage we read today in order to know the wonder of this vision of the coming of the son of man before the throne of the Ancient One. The writer has been sharing a vision of four beasts who have emerged from the sea, the realm of evil and chaos. These beasts represent the various oppressive kingdoms that have tormented the Jewish people: 1st the lion with eagle’s wings and a human heart (the Babylon empire), 2nd a bear with three ribs (the Medes), 3rd a leopard with four heads and four wings (the Persian rule), and 4th a beast with huge feet and iron teeth who ate and trampled over everything. This fourth one was the Greek empire; its ten horns represented the ten kings of the Seleucid dynasty. This was the dynasty under which Daniel and his people were now suffering. Unlike the tyrants who emerged from the realm of evil (the sea), the Son of Man would come from heaven, from goodness, from God. The tyrants’ rule was cruel, but would exist for only a time. The Son of Man would rule over all peoples for all ages. (Preaching Resources, Nov. 23, 2003)
When this book was written, the author probably intended the image of the Son of Man to represent all the faithful people of the Lord – people whose trust in God would end in fulfillment and not disaster. As Christians we see in this passage a fore-seeing, a ‘vision’ of the final establishment of Christ’s rule. All things are not yet under our King’s feet – all do not follow his way of love. But that all will do so in the end is our Christian hope.
(Reginald Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
2nd Reading – Revelation 1: 5-8
Here, too, is imagery of hope for those who are persecuted by an evil beast (Rome). Christ is given three titles. 1st Jesus is the faithful witness to the truth of God. Jesus’ very life, death and resurrection is the witness par excellence of God’s power of love and goodness. 2nd Jesus is called the first-born from the dead. He is Lord of the living and the dead: in resurrection he gains a victory over death; he is the first-born in whom the power and the honor of his father is fully invested. 3rd, Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth; he is affirmed as king and messiah. In all these ways we are assured that Jesus loves and frees us by making us his own – a nation of priests in God’s service, mediators of divine presence here on earth. In that way, his kingdom that is not of this world (the gospel) will transform this world. (Preaching Resources, Nov. 2003)
From John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. :
Throughout the readings for this Sunday we ‘dream’ of kingship and regal splendor – we hope for an eternal Lord whose decrees are worthy of trust. Here in Revelation we find the “Alpha and Omega” – the One who is and who was and who is to come. This king is a liberator and lover. The lord of history who stands before the throne of God is not a lion. He is a lamb. In John’s gospel, we see that he is a servant-king, who washes his follower’s feet. In the face of Roman power, he is strangely grand and noble in his vulnerability and the utter truth of his being. He does not muster armies. He just invites. In Jesus’ kingdom people are drawn into a life of liberation, freed from false securities armed only with humility and truth. The human heart will never outgrow its longing for such a promised friend and rule. Something deep rises from within us in the face of its beauty. It awakens a long-lost ache to give everything else away for a cause so good and true . . . “When Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” (an old Shaker hymn)
The Gospel – John 18: 33b-37
In this conversation between Jesus and Pilate, John the Evangelist is offering to his readers a challenge. Jesus — faced with suffering and death at Roman hands — invites Pilate to listen and to respond to the truth. But Pilate just responds with his own question – a question for which he does not want an answer: “What is truth?” We, too, are asked through this story, “Will you respond to the truth?” Jesus and his kingdom do not originate from human scheming and political power. Jesus’ kingdom is not like Pilate’s. Pilate’s kingdom is one of domination, privilege, power and prestige. In Jesus’ kingdom, love and justice and service are present. Jesus’ kingdom comes into human history, enhancing it and leading it beyond itself . . . (Mary Birmingham, W&W for Year B, p.744)
From Henri Nouwen, written in his journal on the feast of Christ the King, 1995:
Today, “Christ is presented to us as the humbled king on trial for his life and as the glorious ruler of the universe. The greatest humiliation and the greatest victory come together in Christ today. How important it is for us to look at this humiliated and victorious Christ before the liturgical year begins. Today, Christ, humble and victorious, reminds us to stay close to him — close to him in humility, close to him in victory. We are called to live both aspects of Christ in our own daily lives. We are small and big, specks in the universe and the glory of God, little, fearful people and sons and daughters of the Lord of all creation.” (Preaching Resources, Nov., 2003)
1st Reading – Daniel 12: 1-3
The book of Daniel is apocalyptic, the 4th of the major prophets. It is filled with dreams and visions that reveal coming events. This kind of writing is called a vaticinium ex eventu, a “prediction after the fact,” in which an author creates a character of long ago (Daniel) and puts into his mouth as predictions all the important events that have already happened right up to the author’s own time and place (about 165 BC). It is actually written by an unknown person. Antiochus Epiphanes of the Seleucid empire in Syria ruled of Palestine around 175 BC. He stripped the temple twice of its wealth to fund military campaigns. To encourage unity, he demanded Hellenization (follow the Greek ways) which devastated the Jewish people. A small revolt in 167 began a constant struggle for religious freedom and political independence (not much new for that area!). So all of this colors what Daniel is trying to say (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 503-509).
Apocalyptic writing usually has these elements:
- Famous names
- Prophetic prediction
- Confidence in divine intervention
- Cosmic viewpoint
- Use of intermediary beings such as angels and demons
- Old prophecies being fulfilled
- Hope in the resurrection of the dead
- Hope in a glorious new kingdom in heaven or on earth (p. 513-514)
The words, “At that time” are repeated in this passage. The emphasis it gives should not be overlooked. It is calling everyone to the present…right now. What happens right in this moment makes a difference. Your life can change for better or worse in an instant. How does this emphasis on NOW matter to you?
A word on the angel Michael: He was thought to have fought and defeated Lucifer. His name means, “Who is like God?”. All angels of God’s own active presence in our world. Whereas men and women have bodies and souls, angels are pure spirits. They were created before humankind, and they are capable of sin (Catholicism for Dummies, p. 306). Some are sent to guard over people. Have you felt like you had a guardian angel in times of distress?
2nd Reading – Hebrews 10: 11-14, 18
From Roland Faley, Footprints on the Mountain: The standing posture of the priests in their endless work contrasts with the seated posture of Jesus whose work has been realized. The sitting position, symbolizing work accomplished, is not at odds with the high priest image which depicts Christ as continually offering his one sacrifice in the eternal ‘now’. The two are complementary, not exclusive. Christ’s one sacrifice continues to make holy those who appropriate its benefits. With sin now forgiven and ready access to God assured, no further sacrifice is needed. Isn’t this good news?
Every day at Temple, morning and evening, the priests would offer a burnt offering of a 1 year old lamb without blemish, a meat offering of flour and oil, a drink offering of wine, and incense. Did they make a difference? What Jesus offered as himself could not be repeated. He offered his whole self as living sacrifice (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 117). How do we offer ourselves daily?
The Gospel — Mark 13: 24-32:
From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, B, 164:
Mark’s Jesus is absolutely convinced that everything he has announced will occur during the lifetime of his audience. Jesus died around 30CE and the temple was destroyed in 70CE. These were certainly difficult, frightening, changing times. The audience needs certainty that better times are ahead (so do we!). They need something to count on. By saying ”Amen, I say to you…” it guarantees the truth of what one says. Jesus is saying, “Trust me! I speak the truth and won’t fail you no matter what!” This is more good news.
The cosmic events (sun darkening, stars falling) are entirely and exclusively under God’s control. How does it feel to allow God to take the wheel completely?
From Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 726, 730-731:
The ‘fig tree’ had been a common symbol for Israel. Jesus uses this idea and then changes it to become a symbol of the new kingdom of God. Here in Mark 13 the fig tree is blossoming as opposed to its withering in Mark 11. For these early Christians, as followers of Christ, the religious world that they knew was over. They can no longer be centered around the Temple. Jesus’ new kingdom of God’s love was and is ready to emerge. Jesus’ words do not pass away; through Jesus, the Word of God, and his cross, the powers of domination will be defeated. Mark calls all disciples “to live in history with eyes open, to look deep into present events.” The fig tree that seemed dead will be blossoming again. The old world, centered around the Temple, was coming to an end, but Jesus’ new world was emerging. It still is.
The trick to understanding these readings is to not to reduce them to an historical period. We must let them speak to every historical time and place – even our own. After all, the end times happen to us all, individually at our death and communally as a generation that passes into the midst of disappearing ages . . . As our projects and pretenses mount, as our labors and tasks surround us, as our entertainment and doodling pass the time . . . we may forget that the upshot of our lives is to love and evoke love, no matter where we may be–living and dying. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered”http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
From Ronald Rolheiser, “In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. :
Perhaps Jesus is not so much talking about cosmic cataclysms as cataclysms of the heart. Sometimes it is our inner world that is shaken, turned upside down, and darkened. But in this upheaval, only one thing that remains: God’s Word of love and fidelity. When our world is shaken, we have the chance to see more clearly, to grow more authentically, to love more unselfishly. Honeymoons are wonderful, but we do need to love what is real what is beyond the pleasant. God’s love leads us to reality, to bedrock, to truth beyond illusion. Jesus is NEAR, he is at the gates, his words stay with us.