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Thirty-third Sunday In Ordinary Timqe, Year B

By Father Donald Dilger
Father Donald Dilger


Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; MARK 13:24-32 

The first reading is from the Book of Daniel. The setting, though not the time of writing, is in the sixth century B.C. while the Judeans were in exile in Babylon. The author introduces readers to a group of young men of “the people of Israel.” They were selected from among the exiles to be educated for three years. After this they would become attendants to the king of Babylon. The leader of the young men was Daniel. In every branch of learning they surpassed all their contem-poraries in Babylon. This should tell us that we are reading nationalistic literature. The theme of the foreign-born boy who rises to fame and power in another country runs throughout the book. One is reminded of the Genesis story of the Israelite slave Joseph in Egypt. As Joseph becomes the #2 official in his adopted country, so Daniel becomes the governor of the province of Babylon. Both Joseph and Daniel rise to power by interpreting the dreams of their rulers.

The superiority of the Israelite exile over his captors is, however, a minor theme. A major theme is the superiority of the God of the Israelites over the gods of Babylon. Daniel is only an instrument of the Lord God. It was noted above that the literary setting of Daniel is during the sixth century B.C. exile of the Israelites in Babylon. The book was written in165 B.C. during the persecution of the Jews of Jerusalem and vicinity by King Antiochus IV of Syria. The purpose - to encourage the persecuted Jews to remain faithful to their traditions.  Much of the book is an apocalypse – a style of literature that claims to reveal the future in visions, like our New Testament Book of Revelation. The key to understanding an apocalypse is to realize that events predicted as future have already happened or they are occurring at the time of writing. The author promises that the suffering and martyrdom during the persecution from 168-164 B.C., were not in vain. The first reading of this Sunday proclaims that promise – a resurrection of the dead and some form of everlasting life. It is the first clear biblical revelation of a resurrection of the dead.

The Responsorial Psalm (16) is a song of trust in God. Each part ends with an expression of trust. First, “with him (the Lord) at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.” Second, “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor let your faithful one undergo corruption.” Third,

“You will show me…the delights at your right hand evermore.” This also sounds like a proclama-tion of a resurrection of the dead, and is certainly prior to the Book of Daniel. But the translation “the netherworld” means the grave. The parallel expression in the next verse is “undergo corruption,” and should be translated as “go down into the pit.” In other words, the Psalmist wants to keep on living so that he can continue to praise God in the temple, “in your presence.”

The second reading is the eighth and final selection of Sunday readings from the Letter to the Hebrews. A theme of four of these selections has been a comparison of the priesthood of Jesus, our high priest, with the priests and high priests of the Old Testament. That theme continues in today’s second reading. The author first describes the work of the Old Testament priests. “Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sin.” This is a reference to the daily sacrifices of animal and cereal offerings in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem. Then the work of the New Testament high priest. “This one offered one sacrifice for sins and took his seat forever at the right hand of God. The contrast is between the Old Testament priest standing at their work daily, while our high priest worked once only, then took his seat forever. Therefore from the author’s point of view his work is superior to theirs.

The gospel is part of Jesus’ last discourse, Mark’s version of it.  Much of it is in the form of an apocalypse. (See above for an explanation of apocalypse.) Mark writes about the year 70 A.D. Feeding into his presentation of the discourse are not only sayings of Jesus handed down orally for the past 40 years, but also imagery and expressions from the Old Testament, plus current events. The darkening of sun and moon are stock phrases from apocalyptic literature and from oracles of Old Testament prophets, who threatened evildoers with an expected day of the Lord God. Examples: Amos 8:9; Isaiah 13:10; Jeremiah 14:23; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:31. Falling stars are found in Isaiah 34:4. The shaking of the heavens: Isaiah 13:13. The central figure amid catastrophe is Jesus as “Son of Man,” returning to earth for final judgment. “Son of Man” is a reference to Daniel 7, where God gives to a human being, (son of man), power, dominion, and a kingdom that lasts forever. Although the son of man in Daniel is a symbol of the good people who will overcome their persecutors, the gospels give that original son of man a new interpretat-ion – Jesus is that Son of Man. 

That Mark expected the end of time and the return of Jesus soon is clear from a statement he attributes to Jesus, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”

Even before Mark, St. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians about 50 A.D., expects the return of Jesus in his lifetime. The author of the Book of Revelation says “soon.” And so on, down through history, even setting exact dates, every century including the 21st. Does God use our calendar?  The First Letter of Peter, responding to ridicule about the expected end not arriving, says, “…with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” If that is not enough to give pause to the date-setting mania, how about the closing words of today’s gospel, “Of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father.” There is however an end of time that should be our concern – our own, the moment of our death and the judgment that follows.