33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Daniel provides the first reading this weekend. Michael, the “great prince” of the angels, is the center of attention. He is one of the few angels who is mentioned by name in the Scriptures.
Michael’s role in Daniel was to defend God’s people. In this role, he of course was God’s servant and instrument. Michael, along with the other angels, appear as opposites of the devils, the fallen angels.
In this reading, Michael protects God’s people. The fundamental point is that God protects the good from everlasting death and defeat before evil.
The setting is very trying, a scene of great distress. Persecution, hardship and terror are everywhere. Some will die. However, the names of all will be recorded. The dead will awake. Some will live forever. Others will be cast into eternal doom. Living forever will be the wise. The wise, in the Scriptures’ judgment, are not necessarily persons of high intelligence, but rather those able to perceive the greatness of God in all things.
For the second reading, the Church offers us a selection from the Epistle to the Hebrews. This book of the New Testament, majestic in its eloquence and deep in its message, extols Jesus. Drawing upon symbols in ancient Judaism, it describes Jesus as the one and eternal high priest. Jesus offered the ultimate and profound sacrifice.
One with God, Jesus sits at the right hand of God’s throne, judging the good and the bad. He has vanquished all enemies of God and of the right and just.
He sanctifies, or makes holy, all who have been perfected by their turning to God and by having had their sins forgiven.
St. Mark’s Gospel supplies this weekend’s third reading. Scholars assume that this Gospel was the first of the four to be written. Many believe that it was composed in Rome. Some think that the author had connections with Peter. They wonder if the author of this Gospel might not have been a scribe, writing at the behest of the illiterate Peter.
In any case, the Gospel apparently was written in a time of anxiety. Outright persecution lay menacingly on the horizon. Christians knew what it meant to be on the wrong side of power in the Roman Empire. The empire played for keeps.
Maybe this experience led the Evangelist to include in the Gospel text the Lord’s words about “trials of every sort.” Difficult times might come, but no power on earth, not even that of the mighty Roman emperor, would be able to thwart God’s plan of salvation. Even if evil seemed to prevail, the heavenly forces of God would descend from the clouds in glory and transport the faithful to everlasting joy and reward.
The readings this weekend set the stage for next weekend, the great feast of Christ the King. They also address a situation as ancient in Christianity as the days of the Apostle Peter in Rome. They speak of the devout living among the enemies of God, amid harsh times.
In frankness, the readings put reality before us. Life on earth is no paradise. It has never been paradise for anyone loyal to God. A month ago, millions in this country coped with Hurricane Sandy. Actual events remind us everyday that the world is not safe. Evil is mighty. Enemies of God are real and active. Leading us astray in our own hearts are temptations from “the world, the flesh and the devil.”
Just as real is the fact that nothing is strong enough to stand against God. He gives life — everlasting life. Jesus is God. Christians have nothing to fear for Jesus is their guide and protector. Next weekend, in this spirit then, the Church will joyfully celebrate Christ the King.
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