in Ordinary Time
Nov. 18, 2012
Mark 13: 24-32
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
“They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13: 26).
We come in this week’s liturgy to the end times, as we do every year in the final 2 Sundays of the church year and the 1st Sunday of the new year. We read and reflect upon the closure of human history from the biblical perspective; upon the Last Judgment and the completion of God’s plan for our salvation.
Even last week there was an allusion to all that in the reading from Hebrews, altho it wasn’t the main focus of the reading. We were told that Christ “has appeared at the end of the ages” and judgment is coming, and he “will appear a 2d time … to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him” (9:26-28).
Today we read from Mark 13, the so-called “Marcan apocalypse,” in which Jesus speaks of those same matters, in part quoting from a prophetic hodge-podge (snippets from Isaiah, Joel, and Amos) about the impending shaking up of the universe (Mark 13:24-25). If, from the Christian perspective, Christ is the center of history—we mark our chronology “before Christ” and “in the year of our Lord”—then his coming into history has begun the final age of that history, the age of mankind’s reconciliation with our Creator and of the universe’s renewal or restoration or redemption according to what God intended for it from the beginning.
The 1st part of ch. 13, which we didn’t read today, refers to “the great tribulation” that will come upon humanity—wars, earthquakes, famines, and the persecution of Jesus’ followers are mentioned (13:8-13). All of this is associated with the destruction of Jerusalem, an unspeakable catastrophe for Jesus’ people (13:14-22).
Our passage today starts the 2d part of the chapter. Jesus—who is answering questions posed to him by Peter, Andrew, James, and John (13:3)—moves from the disaster of the Holy City’s destruction to the disaster of “those days,” a prophetic phrase referring to the last days of human history, to the days when God will manifest his justice, destroy evildoers, and vindicate his people.
Jesus quotes the symbolic language of the prophets about the sun, the moon, the stars, and “the powers of heaven.” Earth and sky as we know them will be overturned. Insofar as the heavenly bodies represent the false gods of the pagans, they will be darkened, their meaninglessness made evident.
Then, with a quotation from Daniel (7:13), he invokes the coming of the Son of Man, who is a divine figure, as indicated by his “coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (13:26); and this of course refers to Jesus himself. In all his godly glory, Jesus will return when the course of our universe is complete. His angels will “gather his elect, his chosen ones, “from the four winds, from the end of the earth” (13:27). The prophets had spoken of God’s gathering his scattered people and returning them to Jerusalem. Jesus broadens the ingathering to reflect his commission to his apostles to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Mark 16:15,20), but he doesn’t say where they shall be gathered. The implication is that they are being saved, even as “heaven and earth pass away” (13:31)—heaven here meaning, evidently, the material heavens: the sky, the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars, all of which have, metaphorically, been darkened and fallen from the sky.
All material things shall pass. History shall come to a dead stop. But Jesus’ words shall stand: his word that God is faithful, that God has elected or chosen his people for salvation and not for destruction, but that all persons shall be accountable for their words and actions, and that his people must stand fast thru persecution and thru any other tribulation. And the Son of Man will surely complete the redemption he has begun.