(Ordinary Time – B Cycle)
The Christian lives in history with the hope of the Lord’s return, which coincides with the radical renovation of this world. Today’s biblical readings refer to that end of fullness of life toward which we journey. The New Testament speaks frequently of the end of the world and of human duties, but not as destruction, but rather as meeting with Jesus, Lord and Judge of humanity. While we wait for the second coming of the Lord, we live with joyful trust and with serene vigilance, welcoming the reign of God in the ordinariness of each day.
The first reading (Dan 12,1-3) is taken from the book of Daniel, written in the 2nd century in the epoch of the Maccabean revolution. In the book, as in all apocalyptic writing, human history is conceived as a struggle between two antagonistic strengths: good and evil, light and shadows, God and the powers that obstruct his plan. In today’s text this is spoken of from the perspective of the eschatological end, in which the triumph of good and divine powers is assured. The elect of God, in spite of the difficulties and sufferings that will accompany the eschatological crisis, will reach salvation (v. 1). The divine world, represented by Michael, “the great prince” (v. 1) protector of Israel, breaks into history to realize the plan of God. The 2nd verse introduces the theme of the resurrection of the dead: “of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake” (v. 2a). This treats probably of one of the oldest text of the Bible that affirms life after death (cf. Is 26,19). These that “will awake” are in the first place, the martyrs that have preferred death so as not to be unfaithful to God; although others will awake also “some to shame and everlasting disgrace” (v. 2b). This refers to enemies, to those who have opposed the divine plan, which will be condemned. In turn, “the learned,” are those that have known to choose the good and divine will, placing it into practice and teaching it to others even to the point of giving up their very lives, “[they] will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity” (v. 3).
The second reading (Heb 10,11-14.18) takes up one more time the reflection about Jesus Christ as High Priest. The author of the letter compares the ancient Jewish priesthood that was exercised in the Jerusalem Temple, with that of Christ that is realized in heaven. This speaks of the overcoming on the part of Christ of the system of sacrifices of the old covenant, basing the comparison between impotency and strength, sin and pardon, punishment and eternal salvation.
The gospel (Mark 13,24-32) belongs to the so-called eschatological discourse of Jesus in the gospel of Mark. The text that is proclaimed today makes up its central part. It is a difficult text and opaque in many of its affirmations. Nevertheless, it is clear that the fundamental theme is not the end of the world, but rather the coming of the Son of Man. The text is fundamentally Christological. Notwithstanding the obscurity of some verses, also it is clear that the principal intention of all of the discourse is to calm down the Christian community, disturbed and fearful.
The images that are used are typical of apocalyptic literature: the figure of the Son of Man, taken from the book of Daniel; the description of great cataclysms, that indicate a quick and decisive intervention by God; the image of the angels; cosmic symbols (earth, heaven, the four winds); etc. In the apocalyptic writings it was fundamental the use of symbols. On one hand, it was something to speak of the realities that escaped the control of men and women; on the other hand, with symbols a mysterious and enigmatic atmosphere is created that intended to impact the reader.
It is important to keep in mind that in an apocalyptic text, as in the case of Mark 13, the metaphorical language does not refer to cosmic-historical happenings. The darkening of the son, the stars falling, the shaking of the heavenly powers, etc., are images that intend to reveal a more profound truth. In the apocalyptic books the cosmic cataclysms are symbol of God’s intervention in history, above all in relation with the divine judgment over humanity. In this vision it is necessary to interpret the coming of the Son of Man, that comes “”in the clouds with great power and glory” (v. 26) for a judgment of salvation in favor of all those that have accepted and have lived according to the plan of God. When Mark says that the Son of Man will gather “his chosen” spread out over all the earth (v. 27), obviously he is thinking of the Christian community.
But while the Lord returns, how should Christians live? They have to live with an attitude of vigilance and discernment. The parable of the fig tree (vv. 28-29) is precisely an invitation to stay awake and to discern the signs of the times. When the branches of the fig tree grow supple and its leaves come out, it can be said that “summer is near” (v. 28). The term of comparison is rightly “is close.” Against the false prophets and alarmist people that would like to and announce as imminent the end of the world, Jesus affirms that “these things,” that is to say, the diverse interventions of God represented in cosmic symbols, announce on the nearness of the end. An end that will also be close each generation, that is to say, to the generation of the reader of every time and place. Rightly Jesus says, “before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place.”
At the end, Jesus makes and important affirmation: “Heaven and earth will pass away” (v. 20). That is to say, history and humanity’s entire journey will have an end. The historical character of man and woman does not have a character of eternity. The world that man and woman construct with so much effort will not have an indefinite development, but rather will come to an end. An end that will not be simply natural. It is a limit and an imposed end, wanted by God, and that coincides with the return for the Lord and definitive revelation of the Kingdom that already has begun to work in our midst.
The Christian knows nevertheless, that that end is a joyful one. The called “end of the world” is not an absolute and despot destruction on God’s part. The Bible does not speak of a catastrophe that will pulverize the cosmos, humanity and all conquests of man and woman. It is rather the realization of a hope. That which is important is to orient well the “to do” of every day and the mark of time in history. If the “to do” has been good the final joy will be infinite, when we see the same Son of Man that now we love and look for with humility in the midst of the darkness of faith. Then our “to do” will be elevated to a fullness without limits. Jesus has spoken of his second coming, and “his words will not pass away” (v. 31).
There is an ultimate important aspect that appears in our text. It is in regards to the moment with this end will occur. Jesus is clear: “as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father” (v.32). God will speak the definitive word about history only. The end of the world is in no way predictable. No one can know it, only God who is Lord and Creator of all. The alarms and fears that some persons disperse with relation to the end of the world do not have any biblical foundations. First, because no one can know. Jesus himself leaves in the Father’s hands the mystery of the end. And secondly, because the end of the world cannot cause terror for those who believe in Jesus. The new world will not be constructed on the ashes of this world, but through a divine action that will transform everything into an infinite fullness.
Jesus says explicitly that it does not interest him “the day and the hour” of this “end” of creation. The present of each day, in turn, the seed where the marvelous tree of the Kingdom will have to grow. To obligate ourselves to construct a more human and just world, a more fraternal and pacific one, means to begin now to construct that future that has yet to come. The fact of knowing the goal is an inexhaustible source of hope and meaning for all of humanity.