33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Novemeber 15, 2015
Reading I: Daniel 12:1-3
Apocalypses follow a regular pattern. The apocalyptist first
recounts, under the guise of future prediction, a selected
series of historical events up to the moment of writing, then indicates
future historical events rather vaguely, and finally, becoming
airborne as it were, foretells the cosmic events of the End:
resurrection and the last judgment, the cosmic consummation.
Our present passage comes precisely at this last transition. “Trouble” is
vaguely historical, but the deliverance that follows is the point at which history
yields to cosmic eschatology. The deliverance takes the form of resurrection.
12 is notable as one of the earliest passages in the Old Testament that speaks
of resurrection. Then follows the final judgment, in which the righteous
and the wicked are separated, the former passing to eternal life, the rest to
eternal “shame and everlasting contempt.”
Note that the resurrection life involves a radical transformation: the redeemed
will shine like the brightness of the firmament and like stars. This apocalyptic
concept of radical transformation is taken up in the New Testament, where the
synoptic Jesus speaks of it as a life like that of the angels in heaven (Mk
12:25 par.) and where Paul speaks of the spiritual body (1 Cor 15; Phil 3:21).
is important to note that the resurrection is understood, not as a resuscitation
to the same mode of existence as in the present life, but as a complete transformation.
that life is like can only be described in poetic terms, as here, or in Paul’s
more abstract but question-begging phrase, a “spiritual body.” It
means entrance into a totally transcendental mode of existence.
Psalm: 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11
This psalm expresses
a devout individual’s trust and hope in YHWH to deliver him
from Sheol and the Pit. It can hardly have meant resurrection
from the dead in the apocalyptic sense, but, as so often
in the Old Testament psalms, deliverance at death’s door.
this passage will be taken up into early Christian apologetic
and applied to the death and resurrection of Christ
(see the kerygmatic speeches in Acts 2 and 13). This is not
a falsification of the psalm’s original meaning but a deepening
It is in this latter sense that we are invited to
understand the psalm as a response to Daniel 12, though it is
further extended to cover the hope of the general resurrection
and not only Christ’s resurrection.
Reading II: Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Marking the conclusion
of the theological core of Hebrews, this passage contrasts
the high priesthood of Christ with the Levitical priesthood. The
author reiterates his point about the repetition of the Levitical
Last Sunday’s reading, in making the same point,
spoke of the yearly offering on the Day of Atonement; here
the writer turns to the daily sacrifices offered, not by the high
priest, but by the ordinary Levitical priests.
“He sat down” must not be pressed to mean that Christ has no further
priestly work in heaven, as is suggested by some commentators. The heavenly session
is only an image conveying one aspect of the truth, not an exclusive definition.
relation to his death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ’s work is completed;
therefore he can sit, waiting for the full effects of his victory to be gathered
in at the parousia (“until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet”).
But in relation to the ongoing life of the Christian community, his priestly
He still makes intercession for us and still appears in the presence
of God. That could be expressed by the image of standing (see Acts 7:56), which
does not contradict the other image of sitting.
“Perfected” does not denote moral perfection. It means rather that
the beneficiaries of Christ’s sacrifice have been completely initiated. They
are privileged, through Christ, to enter the heavenly sanctuary through liturgical
worship while here on earth, and thus to attain already here, by anticipation,
the goal and destiny of human life.
“There is no longer any offering for sin”: Christ’s sacrifice can never
be repeated. But this does not rule out its constant application through his
heavenly intercession and his appearing in the presence of God on our behalf.
This excerpt from Mark’s “Little
Apocalypse” starts at exactly the same place as the reading from Danielat
the point where the apocalypse moves from future historical events vaguely conceived
(cf. Mark’s “tribulation” with Daniel’s “time of trouble”)
to a series of cosmic events.
Here the latter are expanded with imagery drawn
from other parts of the Old Testament: the failure of sun, moon, and stars. Then
comes the last judgment; here Mark differs from Daniel in the role given to the
Son of man (this figure has appeared earlier in Daniel 7, a passage
that will be read next week).
Mark’s portrait of the Son of man is, however,
more precise than that in Daniel. In Daniel he appears as a symbol and personification
of the people of God at the End, whereas in Mark he is an individual figure who
performs the eschatological judgment.
Some seek to assimilate Mark’s Son of man to Daniel’s by harmonizing the two
figures. They argue that the Son of man in Mark 13 does not descend from heaven
to earth but, as in Daniel 7, is manifested in heavenin other words, it is
not a parousia but an exaltation scene.
However, in view of firmly established
Christian tradition, discernible as early as 1 Thessalonians 4:16, this seems most unlikely,
and we are on surer ground if we take it to refer to the parousia.
The Son of
man comes from heaven to earth on the clouds with power and great glory, and
sends out his angels, who accompany him to gather the elect and escort them to
Clearly there has been a development of the myth of the Son of man between
the Book of Daniel (165 B.C.) and the New Testament. Such a development is attested
in Enoch 37-71, though it is not certain whether that part of Enoch predates
the New Testament.
That Jesus himself spoke of the Son of man in this developed sense as the eschatological
judge and savior is most probable, but that he painted elaborate apocalyptic
pictures as in Mark 13 is improbable.
Jesus proclaimed that the Son of man would
judge people according as they accepted or rejected his own eschatological message.
He thus reduced the Son of man to the status of a rubber stamp for his own word
After the resurrection Jesus was manifested as himself, the heavenly
Son of manin other words, as his own rubber stamp, ratifying his own word
and work. The early Church then expanded the apocalyptic imagery to express its
faith that the Son of man would come again as Jesus.
In the synoptic apocalypses there is a tendency for eschatological parables to
be collected at the end, and so here we have the parable of the fig treeundoubtedly
a genuine parable of Jesus, which in its original setting spoke of his ministry
as the dawning of the shortly-to-be consummated kingdom.
It is placed here to
assure Mark’s readers that the apocalyptic events just described are near at
hand. Mark’s Gospel was written in the sixties, before the hope of the imminent
end had begun to fade, with a consequent deferral of the parousia.
After the parable come three sayings. The first (Mk 13:30) could well be an authentic
saying of Jesus in which “these things” referred to something other
than the apocalyptic denouementperhaps to the vindication of his own word
The second saying (Mk 13:31), also probably authentic, expresses similarly
Jesus’ certainty about the validity of his eschatological message. Placed here
by Mark, “my words” again refer to the apocalyptic events.
word (Mk 13:32) has caused much debate, centering on two questions: (1) the authenticity
of the saying; (2) Jesus’ disclaimer of knowledge about the date of the final
As for (1), many
would agree with Schmiedel, for whom this was one of
the “pillar passages,” that is, indubitably authentic
precisely because of its frank admission of the Son’s ignorance.
But did Jesus explicitly
call himself the Son? (That he had a unique filial consciousness is beyond
doubt; see his use of “Abba.”) This verse seems
to lie somewhere along the trajectory leading from the
cry of jubilation (Matt 11:25-26 par.) to the Johannine
sayings about the Father and the Son.
(2) Whether this saying goes back
or to the early post-Easter community, neither party shared the perspectives
of Chalcedonian Christology. Therefore, we should not approach this text
with the assumption of later Christology. Historically,
Jesus’ knowledge comprised
what was sufficient for the performance of his eschatological mission,
we look back over the “Little Apocalypse” of Mark 13, we see that
it was developed by combining authentic eschatological sayings and parables
of Jesus with traditional apocalyptic material, for example the saying about
coming of the Son of man.
Thus, a very different impression is created from
Jesus’ own proclamation that spoke of the inbreaking of the kingdom and the
of speedy vindication of his message.
We may believe that this apocalyptic
elaboration spoke meaningfully to Mark’s Church, beset as it was by temptations
of a divine-man
Christology and by persecution.
Reginald H. Fuller
Copyright © 2006
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville,
Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used by
permission from The Liturgical Press,
Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 368-371.
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