End of the World, End of an Era

Fr Frank O’Dea SSS

These reflections are based on the readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, year B.

First reading: Daniel 12:1-3
Second reading: Hebrews 10:11-14,18

Gospel Mark: 13:24-32

Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple and began to talk to his disciples about the end which is to come:

In those days, after the time of suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

Truly I tell you. This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father.

Jesus is not talking science in this passage. Scientists debate whether the universe will continue to expand and end in a big freeze or whether it will contract and end in a fiery bang. Some say it may alternate between expanding and contracting. However Jesus is talking spirituality which is on a different level to science.

he will send out his.jpg
Artwork by Susan Daily IBVM

Mark says Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives which overlooks Jerusalem.

From there he could see the magnificent temple, the great walls with their gates and fortresses, the streets with their shops, the houses and the people.

He may have been musing on what he could see and realizing this was all coming to end.

A new age was about to begin and the old one would die a violent death.

The time of the First Testament was now giving way to the era of the Second Testament.

The ending of an age is always traumatic.

Jesus paints a terrifying picture about the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, stars falling from the heavens and the powers of heaven being shaken.

This is apocalyptic writing which talks about the end times, exaggerates to give greater emphasis, includes natural events and is often used to describe the end of an era in a destructive manner.

It was in great use in Jesus’ time as we see particularly in the book of Revelation which is called the great Apocalypse in contrast to this one in Mark which is called the small Apocalypse.

Jesus is using symbolic language to say there is now a massive change about to take place in society, and it is Jesus himself who is the cause of this change.

Those who cannot accept this change will be confused and distraught, but the elect, that is the followers of Jesus, need not be frightened.

Jesus says the elect will see the Son of Man, that is, himself, coming in clouds with great power and glory.

His angels will gather the elect from the four corners of the world and they will share his glory.

When will this happen?

Jesus uses a parable to illustrate.

He says you know that summer is coming when you see the fig tree growing its new leaves.

So the disciples will know that he, the Son of Man, is coming when they see these traumatic events taking place.

He says these thing will happen in this generation, but he also says no one knows when; not the angels, not even the Son of Man but only the Father.

How do we resolve this contradiction?

‘The basic problem is that the kingdom of God is a divine, future, and transcendent entity. It is God’s kingdom to bring, and we can only pray for its coming (‘Thy kingdom come’) and look forward to it in hope. Though it has been inaugurated in Jesus’ life and ministry, its fullness remains future . . . In talking about the fullness of God’s kingdom, then, one is forced to use imaginative language.’

(John A. Donahue S.J. and Daniel J. Harrington S.J. The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina series, p. 381)

The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews gives us an example of the transition from one era to another.

by a single offering.jpg
Artwork by Susan Daily IBVM

It says that the priests of the First Testament offered sacrifices day after day but they could never take away sin.

Their daily sacrifices were futile for forgiving sin.

However, Christ offered himself as a single sacrifice for all sins for all time.

The writer reinforces his message saying: ‘For a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.’

This single sacrifice of himself is a dramatic change from the old to the new.

We are fortunate to be living in this new age but there’s a challenge.

The first reading says, ‘Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.’

If we are to shine like stars, we have a big responsibility to be truly wise in order to guide others.

In this 21st century we are living in a new age.

I see four components of this new age:

  1. There is a New Technological Age.
  2. There is a New Age Society.
  3. There is a New Age Church.
  4. Pope Francis has given a friendlier face to the Church.

These changes on so many levels have made some people think the world is coming to an end, the sky is falling in and we have plunged into darkness.

Many laity, even bishops and cardinals, don’t accept the changes that Pope Francis wants.

They prefer things the way they were.

Archbishop Lefebvere refused to accept the changes of Vatican II, and he and his followers have formed a schismatic church.

But those who have accepted the changes feel they see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory.

Are we worthy of this apparition?

The acclamation says, ‘Be watchful, pray constantly that you may be worthy to stand before the Son of Man.’

Yes, we are worthy as long as we follow Jesus faithfully.

With all these changes we may feel we are standing on shifting sand as the powers of heaven are shaken.

Where is the hand rail we can grasp onto so that we don’t lose our balance?

Jesus says, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.’

The teachings of Jesus are a constant in this rapidly changing world.

We need to take hold of them with both hands to stay upright and not be distressed.

We have these teachings in the mass and in our private reading.

These words of Jesus are the light shining in the darkness as the sun and moon seem to lose their light.

The psalms can also be an inspiration in dark times for example, today’s response.

Keep me safe O God, my hope is in you.

It’s instinctive to want to be safe.

Safety is very important for our feeling of security.

When we become confused by the changes in technology, society and the church, we have to remember that Jesus’ words never change; they are always with us to support us.