33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16:5, 8-11
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Hope in the Midst of Tribulation and Judgment
This is the second to the last week of the Church year, and in our readings Jesus has made His last journey to Jerusalem.  As His Passion and death draws near, Jesus gives a teaching of hope—telling the people of His time and us what will happen in His Second Advent. Jesus describes a great tribulation for all peoples of the earth and an upheaval of the cosmos that will end in His return in glory.  Christ's return will bring about the dissolution of God's creation and a Last Judgment of all humanity that will call the righteous to everlasting bliss and the wicked to everlasting punishment.

The Last Judgment is also the theme of the of the First Reading in which the Prophet Daniel (6th century BC) announces the deliverance of God's holy people through the mediation of the archangel Michael, in which the faithful who awake to everlasting life are those whose names are written in God's Book of Life.  These are the wise ones who have stayed faithful to God and who will experience the joy of the everlasting kingdom that God promised through His prophet (Dan 2:44; 7:14). The first reading prepares us for the Gospel Reading in which Jesus uses the image of a fig tree responding to the change in seasons in His teaching concerning people recognizing the signs of His Second Coming. And in today's Second Reading, the inspired writer envisions Christ's return when justice reigns supreme and when the enemies Christ, who stood in opposition to God's divine plan, receive just punishment.

The period of tribulation and the hope of eternal salvation in the Second Advent of Christ are coming. The faithful in every age are called to be watchful and be ready for that great and terrible day. But we have the hope of knowing, as we pray in today's Psalm, that so long as we persist in the obedience of faith that God will never abandon us, and He will show His faithful people "the path to life," the "fullness of joy" in His presence, and the righteous will "delight" at His "right hand forever."

The First Reading Daniel 12:1-3 ~ The Last Judgment
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel.  1 In those days, I Daniel, heard this word of the Lord: "At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people; it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.  At that time our people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book.  2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.  3 But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever."

At the time the prophet Daniel received this vision, the people of God were suffering.  They were in exile in Babylon, and they were desperately waiting for the time when God's judgment of the seventy years of exile was to be completed (Jer 25:11; 29:10).  Daniel prophesies that they will return to the land of Judah, but they will be dominated by a series of pagan kingdoms and will suffer under foreign rule: the Greek Syrians who will try to force them to worship the Greek gods and embrace Hellenistic culture, and later (after a brief period of independence) they will be dominated by the Romans.  But, no matter what the faithful people of God suffered in the years to come, Daniel foretold that one day there would be a deliverance like none other in the history of mankind. 

In that day, God will send the archangel Michal, the prince of angels and guardian of Israel (Jude 9; Rev 12:7).  It is perhaps Michael who will sound the call that will announce Jesus' return and the beginning of the Last Judgment (1 Thes 4:16).  At the time of the Last Judgment, the Books of Deeds and the Book of Life will be opened (Dan 12:1; Rev 20:11-12).  The "wise" (verse 3) who remained faithful to God and to right worship will arise to everlasting life, but the wicked and those who rejected or abandoned God in a time of trial will awaken to everlasting horror and disgrace (verse 2).  The judgment is final and the judgment of all the righteous and the wicked will never change—it is forever (see Mt 25:31-46).

The wise who kept true to their faith in God (even to the point of martyrdom) and those who shared their faith with others are those who will shine the brightest "like the splendor of the firmament" in a bodily resurrection (verse 3).  The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel wrote symbolically of a resurgence of the people of God in terms of a resurrection (cf. Is 26:19; Ez chapter 37), but Daniel writes about the bodily resurrection as a real event, as will Jesus in His discourses on His Second Advent and the Last Judgment in the Gospels (Mt 24:29-44, 31-46; Mk 13:24-32; Lk 21:25-35).  The Church, too, in the light of Jesus' teaching in the Gospels, believes that "all the dead will rise in a bodily resurrection, 'those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment' (Jn 5:39; cf Dan 12:2)" (CCC 998).

Responsorial Psalm 16:5, 8-11 ~ God our Hope and Inheritance
Response: "You are my inheritance, O Lord!"
 
5 O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup, you it is who hold fast my lot. [...].  8  I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
Response:
8 Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence; 10 because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.
Response:
11 You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.
Response:

This psalm, attributed to David, addresses the psalmist's personal relationship and total dedication to the Lord.  In verse 5 he speaks of the Lord God being his "allotted portion."  He may be comparing himself to the Levites who received no portion of the Promised Land because, in their dedication to God for ministerial service, God became their portion and their inheritance which was their service in the Temple and their allotted portion of the sacrifices (cf. Num 18:20; Dt 10:9; Josh 13:14; Ps 73:25).  He is content with his calling and has confidence that his service will lead to the promised cup of salvation in the everlasting kingdom of his Lord (cf. Ps 116:13).

In verses 8-11, the psalmist recounts the blessings that come from God to those who devote themselves to Him. God is his constant guide and his vigilant protector.  God looks after his well-being in his earthly live, and the psalmist expresses the hope that God will preserve him from eternal corruption because He will raise his servant up bodily from the dead (verse 9-10).  The Church Fathers interpreted verse 9 to mean that Jesus rose from the dead in His Resurrection in the same body as He had in His mortal life (cf. St. Jerome, Breviarium in Psalmos, 15.10).

10 because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.  11 You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever. The word translated "netherworld" is literally the Hebrew word Sheol and in Greek Hades (CCC 633), meaning the grave or abode of the dead.  The psalmist is filled with joy because he has confidence that God will raise him up from death in a bodily resurrection, and because God has shown his servant the "path to life" in obedience to the Law.  St. Peter spoke of David's knowledge of the resurrection in his homily on Pentecost Sunday when he told the Jewish crowd: "My brothers, one can confidently say to you about the patriarch David that he died and was buried, and his tomb is in our midst to this day.  But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon this throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption" (Acts 2:29-31).  The Fathers of the Church also applied the words you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld in verse 10 to Jesus' descent from His tomb into Sheol/Hades/the grave/netherworld to deliver the dead and to Jesus' glorious Resurrection (Origen, In Evangelium Ioannis, 1.220).  It was a deliverance from death and corruption in Sheol that St. Peter wrote about in his first letter where he referred to Sheol/Hades as "prison": For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.  Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit.  In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark ... (1 Pt 3:18-20); For this was why the Gospel was preached even to the dead that, though condemned in the flesh in human estimation, they might live in the spirit in the estimation of God" (1 Pt 4:6).  That Jesus delivered the souls from Sheol/Hades is what St. Paul wrote about in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph 4:9-10), and it is as we profess in the Apostles' Creed (CCC 631)

The Second Reading Hebrews 10:11-14, 18 ~ The Efficacy of Jesus' One Perfect Sacrifice
11 Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.  12 But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; 13 now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool.  14 For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.  [...].  18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.

See the commentary on the passages from the Letter to the Hebrews for the past six Sundays.
11 Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.  The inspired writer alternates between alluding to those sacrifices offered once a year, as in the feast days like the Day of Atonement sacrifices (9:7, 12; Lev 16, 23, Num 28-29), or weekly as in the Sabbath sacrifice (Num 28:9-10), or sacrifices offered daily as in the Tamid sacrifice, or voluntary sacrifices as in the individual sin and communion sacrifices (see 7:27; 10:11; Ex 29:38-42; Num 28:4-8; also  see CCC 1966; 608; 613-14; 616; 618).  Priests offered their ministerial service while standing (verse 11)—as our priests also minister standing in the Mass.  Old Covenant priests stood while sacrificing animals and offering grain and wine libations at the altar.  They stood to lead the community in prayer and songs of praise. 

12 But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God...  The inspired writer's point is that all the Old Covenant sacrifices are imperfect—daily or yearly, and need to be continually repeated unlike Christ's unique once and for all blood sacrifice which is perfect.  The Catechism teaches in #614: "The sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices. First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself.  At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience."
Jesus stood until His one sacrifice offered for the sins of mankind was complete and then took His seat forever at the right hand of God. That Jesus "took his seat forever at the right hand of God" is a Semitic expression which means Jesus shares power with God the Father in Heaven where He prays for us.  Knowing that He continually prays for us gives us hope in our present circumstances and in our promise of eternal salvation. 

Jesus "sits" in His kingly role as ruler and judge of His kingdom, but according to St. John's vision in the Book of Revelation, He also still "stands" in priestly service (Rev 5:5-6).  That Jesus fulfills both the role of eternal Davidic King and High Priest is not a contradiction any more than Jesus' role as both High Priest and sacrificial victim is a contradiction.  The inspired writer would not disagree with the accuracy of the vision of St. John and its theological implications since he too stated that every High Priest must have "something" to offer in Hebrews 8:3, and what He offers is His own perfect sacrifice (see CCC# 663-64).

The writer of Hebrews then adds in verse13,  now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool...  This is another allusion to Psalm 110:1 which the inspired writer already quoted in Hebrews 1:13.  It is significant that each inspired writer of the Synoptic Gospels records Jesus quoting this line from Psalms 110:1 in Matthew 22:44; in Mark 12:36; and in Luke 20:43.  It is also quoted in St. Peter's Pentecost homily of Acts 2:35, as well in Hebrews 1:13 and 10:13.  If the original quote in Psalms 110:1 is counted, this significant passage is found 7 times in the Scriptures. 

In Hebrews 10:13 the inspired writer says "now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool" (underlining added). Christ is "at rest" but vigilant—watching His enemies and interceding for His priestly people (Heb 4:14-16; 7:25; 9:24).  His enemies are Satan and his evil demons who seek to snatch away the souls of men and women by tempting them to renounce the Kingdom in favor of earthly pleasures which cannot bring true happiness.  Also counted among His enemies are the humans who reject Christ and oppose God's divine plan for mankind's salvation.  In their rebellion, they become the sons and daughters of Satan instead of the sons and daughters of God. Christ's enemies desire to corrupt the innocent into denying sin, seeking sinful temporal satisfaction, and perversely declaring what is good evil and what is evil good.  The time will come when He will crush the all His enemies under His feet.

Christ's enemies include anyone who opposes God's divine plan for mankind's salvation, but there is also one chief enemy.  The promise was made in Genesis 3:14-15 that the Redeemer-Messiah, born of a specific woman, would crush His enemy.  That specific "woman" is Mary of Nazareth.  After the fall of Adam and Eve, God cursed the serpent and prophesized to him the coming of the Redeemer of mankind: Accursed be you of all animals wild and tame.  On your belly you will go and on dust you will feed as long as you live.  I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and hers [her seed]; it [or this indefinite pronoun can mean "he", meaning the "seed of the woman" will bruise [crush] your head and you will strike its heel (NJB).  "To strike the heel" is a Semitic expression for "to do violence to."  In John 13:18, when speaking of His betrayal by Judas Iscariot, Jesus said, "I am not speaking of all of you.  I know those whom I have chosen.  But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, 'The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me" (emphasis added). "To crush the head" is a Semitic expression for "to strike a mortal blow."  Jesus will return in His Second Coming to strike the mortal blow against Satan and his forces of evil.  St. Paul also promises that the faithful followers of Christ will see Satan crushed under their feet in Romans 16:17-20.

14 For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.  [...] 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.
This is the 3rd time the inspired writer of Hebrews has used the verb "has made perfect" or "has made complete" in reference to Jesus' saving works.  He uses this verb in the perfect tense in the Letter to the Hebrews in 2:10; 5:9; and 7:28.  He has also used the same verb 3 times, also in the perfect tense, alluding to the old Law and its institutions in Hebrews 7:19; 9:9; and 10:1; but in the case of the old Law and its required sacrifices and ritual purity restrictions, he has used the verb in the negative sense.  In the past—which is to the inspired writer and his audience includes the 30 odd years since Jesus' Ascension—the Christ was "made perfect" in His sacrifice, but today He makes those who are sanctified by the gift of His sacrifice "perfect" and complete in their relationship to God.  The inspired writer is returning to the prophecy of the New Covenant by Jeremiah in 31:31-34.  The point is where there is complete forgiveness of sins there is no longer any need for animal sacrifices and offerings for sin.  Jesus Christ has conquered sin and eternal death that is the result of sin (2 Tim 1:10).

The Gospel of Mark 13:24-32 ~ The Hope in the Return of Jesus Christ
24 "But in those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  26 And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, 27 and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky. 28 Learn a lesson from the fig tree.  When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.  29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates.  30 Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.  31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  32 But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Our passage is from Jesus' great discourse on the turmoil that will precede the destruction of Jerusalem and His prophecies concerning His Second Coming.  He begins the discourse by describing the breakdown of society followed by famine (Mk 13:7-8).  Families will be divided and the faithful will be persecuted (Mk 13:9-13).  Finally, He said the Temple and Jerusalem will be destroyed (Mk 13:14).  All these events literally took place within the lifetimes of most of the Apostles and disciples when the Jews revolted against Rome in 66 AD and massacred the Roman garrisons in Judea.  The Romans responded by sending four legions to deal with the rebellion.  40 years after Jesus' Ascension, in 70 AD, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.  It was never rebuilt and the majority of the Jews were sold into slavery and sent throughout the Roman Empire.  The time of the Old Covenant liturgy and sacrifice had passed and God was now present in the holy liturgy of sacrifice in the New Covenant banquet of the faithful.

After Jesus' prophecy of the time of the future tribulation in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, He moves in His discourse in verses 24-28 to "after that tribulation" (verse 24) and another event in which time itself will be altered: the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  In the traditional language of the prophets, Jesus uses the symbolism of cosmic events to describe the powerful intervention of God in mankind's history.  The sun moon and stars were used to record the passing of the seasons and the reckoning of time.  In this passage, Jesus is referring to the event of His Second Coming when Christ the King will return in glory to collect "his elect" in the Resurrection of the Just and to act as mankind's divine Judge in the Last/Final Judgment.  Notice Jesus uses the language of Daniel 7:13-14 to describe His Parousia, a term that in Jesus' time referred to the return of a king or ruler to his vassal people to judge their obedience in his absence.  In the 6th century BC the prophet Daniel had a vision of the divine Messiah who looked like a human being: As the visions during the night continued, I saw one like a Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient one and was presented before him, he received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve himHis dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:13-14).

But He might also be speaking of His Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit to fill and indwell the Church that will gather His elect from the four corners of the earth into His Kingdom.  Some scholars hold this interpretation based on verse 30:  Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place (emphasis added; also see Mt 23:36; Lk 21:37).  But this verse may be a warning to all generations of believers or may be referring to His earlier prophecy concerning the tribulation associated with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in verses 7-14 that did take place within the lifetimes of some of Jesus' disciples.

Mark 13:28-31 ~ The Lesson of the Fig Tree
28 "Learn a lesson from the fig tree.  When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.  29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates.  30 Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.  31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
Jesus uses the symbolism of the fig tree once again, but in this case it is the sign of what is coming instead of a symbol of Israel.  In the same way that leaves on a fig tree appear in the spring as a sign that the summer season is coming, when these things He has foretold begin to happen, they will know that the events He prophesied are beginning to take place, but this will happen in God's use of time.

28 Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
This verse probably refers back to Jesus' description of the destruction of Jerusalem at the beginning of His discourse in 13:1-23. It was an event that took place in 70 AD and there were those of Jesus' generation still alive to witness it. In addition, people in every generation face divine judgment at the end of the struggles of their earthly lives in the individual/particular judgments after death (CCC 1021-22).

In verse 32 Jesus says, "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."  It is impossible to predict the exact timing of Jesus' Second Coming because only God the Father knows.  Jesus warns that it will happen suddenly as in the event of the Great Flood in Genesis (Mt 24:37-41).  The warning is for us to be vigilant and to keep our souls in a state of purity in the Sacrament of Reconciliation so we will be ready for the event that will determine our eternal destiny.

Catechism References:
Daniel 12:2 (CCC 998)
Psalm 16:9-10 (CCC 627)
Hebrews 10:14 (CCC 1544); 10:16 (CCC 64)
Mark 13:32 (CCC 474, 673)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015