Daniel 12:1-3 Hebrews 10:11-14, 18 Mark 13:24-32
Wisdom is not so rare as simply not always sufficiently exciting so as to appeal to everyone equally. Wisdom requires some significant depth of character and a personality which is relatively mature and balanced. Today’s first and third scripture lessons are frequently read, heard, interpreted, and manipulated in literalistic and unwise ways, but they speak a subtle and important wisdom for those who listen carefully.
Daniel’s vision occurs in a work of fiction composed centuries after the Babylonian Captivity in which it purports to be set. It dates from late in the Old Testament era and holds up examples of heroic faith by some great if legendary characters, the Prophet Daniel being chief among them. In today’s text, Daniel hears a “word” (more appropriately, a “message”) inspired by God. The dramatic setting of the message is that of an undetermined future time in which the Archangel Michael (whose name means “Who is like God?”, implying the answer, “No one!”) will save Daniel’s people (i.e., the Jewish People) from the ultimate destruction of the created universe. While this sounds to be an End-of-the-World scenario, it is first and foremost a profession of trust and confidence in God’s power to save. It is not meant to frighten believing hearers, but to console and encourage them. Those who ought to worry are any who intend harm to God’s Chosen Ones, in this case, the Greek occupiers of 2nd Century BC Palestine. Another sign of God’s power made clear here was the assertion that “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever...”). This text was composed in the time when the Pharisaic party of Judaism was evolving along with the relatively new idea life after death, and a very new idea of resurrection. The word “resurrection” never appears in the Hebrew language Old Testament and appears only once in the 2nd Book of Maccabees 12 (mid- to late- 2nd Century BC). But, the hope of life after death along with the imagery of “rising from the dead” (from “the dust of the earth”) enhanced the familiar imagery of the revivification of the dry bones in the Book of Ezekiel (from the 6th Century BC) and gave the Jewish faith a more complex and eschatological sense of long-term hope. Life after death would come to have great appeal to Pharisaic Jews, especially as they related to the Gentiles of Greek, Egyptian, and Roman religious cultures. Another evidence of hope in this text are the two principal qualities of those whom Michael will save: the “wise” and those who “lead the many to justice.” The vision does not praise the other typically human qualities of success. But, wisdom and justice are the principal ways of imagining the God of Israel. It is those disciples of wisdom and justice who are worth saving!
The Gospel text is also an eschatological (i.e., an End of Time) image. Jesus is being typically provocative, trying to cajole his audience into thinking large and imagining what is really important among all the complexities and clutter of normal human life. Today’s Gospel narrative is from the 13th Chapter of Mark’s Gospel account, sometimes labeled “The Little Apocalypse.” It uses what 20th Century people called technicolor and surround-sound by way of dramatizing the imaginary end of the created universe. As in Daniel’s vision(s) the saving power of God is demonstrated and the elect (those whom God “chooses”) will be “saved” from the visible calamity when it arrives. Jesus was very serious about getting people to think somewhat more critically than they were culturally accustomed to doing. He tried to move them away from the idea of merely earning God’s approval, and toward the idea of engaging life ever-more fully, thoughtfully, justly, and wisely. The just and the wise would recognize “the Son of Man coming in the clouds” as a sign of God’s presence and justice.
These readings are called “apocalyptic” (i.e., revelatory) and are used in the final two Sundays of the liturgical year as a prayerful provocation by which to consider our own mortality and how each of us might prepare for our own final days. The wise and the just are as they are in their quest for the true meaning of life. Life’s end can be the final expression of such meaning. The real preparation for one’s end-of-life is to live the present as thoughtfully, lovingly, and wisely as possible.
The Hebrews passage today also makes use, even if obliquely, of End-of-the-World imagery which was common in the ancient Church. “Until his enemies are made his footstool” was a metaphor for Christ’s victory over all evil. As in last Sunday’s second reading, that Jesus as the new and eternal high priest offered his sacrifice of self-donation “once and for all”, so today his perfect or completely effective priesthood and sacrifice are shown to constitute his life’s mission. One too-often-neglected component of the “Good News” which is the Church’s primary message is that Jesus has already, fully, completely, and lovingly with no-strings-attached “saved the world.” There is a subversive and destructive human tendency by the righteous to place conditions and qualifiers upon this “salvation” as if it were a only a reward for ethical behavior. In fact, redemption and salvation in Paschal terms are free, once-for-all times, and bestowed lovingly upon all creation. It is so powerful a message that IF and WHEN the message is effectively proclaimed the very lives of the hearers are profoundly changed so much that they consequently live lives of complete gratitude for the insight they have finally grasped. Their gratitude demonstrates itself in their ethical conversion to lives of a selfless love, repentance, reconciliation, justice, and peace. Salvation comes first and knowledge of and appreciation of salvation comes with awareness; not the other way around. Salvation is not a reward for ethical behavior; ethical behavior is a grateful consequence of one’s awareness of salvation! When the proclamation of the Good News is not done effectively, the human and sinful side of Church life attempts to control salvation, Church membership and office, and even eternal life. This is somewhat foolish, but not uncommon. One can suspect that human fear and power issues foster such behavior effectively missing the point of the Gospel. By God’s Grace we have come to know better! Christ has saved us already! That is the Good News which we preach. Now, we must figure out how to live such Good News ever-more fully, thankfully, and wisely!
Thanks be to God!