33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Daniel, rarely appearing in the readings at Mass, is the source of this weekend’s first biblical lesson.
Daniel is a fascinating book. Judging from its original language and literary construction, it dates from a period not too long before Christ. Even so, it is a compilation of much earlier material about Daniel, a faithful follower of God, and of the Law of Moses, who lived during the Hebrews’ exile in Babylon.
As is the case with so many of the Old Testament Scriptures, the historical setting was a time of hardship for God’s people. This is not surprising. God’s people had so few years of peace and prosperity, fewer less of glory about which they could boast.
Turmoil and danger surround the people described in this weekend’s reading. God sends a champion to protect them. He is Michael, who will be the guardian of the people.
Ultimately the message is not about Michael, however, an important point to note since so many people these days are fascinated by angels.
Two points are key. The first is that God will intervene to secure for the faithful eternal life. The second is that good will prevail.
For its second reading this weekend, the Church gives us a section from the Epistle to the Hebrews. This passage is consistent with the other parts of Hebrews. It is heavy in its Jewish symbolism, plentiful in its references to Jewish history. Jews in the first century would instantly have connected with this epistle.
Jewish priests are mentioned. Judaism today, in none of its expressions, contains the priesthood because most of the priests living at the time of the brutal suppression by the Romans of the Jewish revolt perished. But at the time of Jesus, and at the time Hebrews was written, many priests served at the temple in Jerusalem.
This reading proclaims that Jesus is the great high priest. His was the perfect and complete sacrifice.
St. Mark’s Gospel provides the last reading. Some likely would see this rewarding as dark and ominous. It is in fact very realistic.
The most universal experience among humans, other than conception itself, is death, yet we all recoil from talking about death. Not only do we prefer not to discuss death, but also we are not at all eager to think about it. We also dislike change, and certainly sudden change, in our lives, unless we are miserable. Routine gives us a sense of security.
The Gospel reminds us quite simply but very clearly that nothing on earth is permanent. Only God is eternal. When we live in God, through Jesus, we share this eternity.
Life changes. We change, at times abruptly. Much of the change is not of our choice. Neither is it of our timing, but it is life.
The Church is nearing the end of its year of liturgical celebration and teaching. Only two weeks await us before we enter a new year with the observance of the First Sunday of Advent.
The weekend liturgies are opportunities for the Church to teach us about the Lord, and to assist us in learning from the Lord the path to holiness. This weekend’s reading constitutes the final word before the joyful, excited close of the year in the Church’s triumphant exaltation of Christ the King next week.
These readings situate us. We are mortal. Like it or not, we are not in control, but we are not at the mercy of fate, circumstances or other people. If we turn to the Lord, the power of God is with us.
Our protector is more than the angels. It is the victorious Lord, risen at Easter. He will never die again. No power exceeds the power of God.
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