Sunday, November 15, 2009

Heaven And Earth Will Pass Away, But My Words Will Not Pass Away.

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Book of the Prophet Daniel (12:1-3)

When the time arrives for this world to come to an end, Michael, the great prince of angels, the guardian of God’s people, will arise. There will be a period of great distress, such as has not occurred from the beginning of time until then. But God has promised that the angels will help his people, and rescue them, so that everyone whose name is inscribed in the book of life will be saved.

At that time, those who have died will come back to life, and a final judgment will occur. Some will be called to eternal life, others to everlasting horror and disgrace. Those who are truly wise will learn that the surest path to enter the kingdom of heaven is to lead others to righteousness. The lesson is beautifully illustrated in the tale of two pilgrims going to Jerusalem. The blind pilgrim carried the lame pilgrim on his shoulders, while the lame pilgrim pointed the way.


Today’s Second Reading is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews (10:11-14, 18)

Day after day, the priests of the Temple in Jerusalem stood to perform their ministry. Over and over again they offered the sacrifices called for in the Law of Moses. But however often the ritual sacrifices were repeated, they could never take away the people’s sins.

But, when Jesus offered himself as the Lamb of God, he accomplished the perfect and complete sacrifice which atoned to the Father for the sins of his brothers and sisters from Adam and Eve to those still alive in the flesh at the moment He comes again in glory. Having completed this sacrifice, he took his seat forever at the right hand of God. (Cf. Psalm 101:1 “The Lord says to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool”.) By this one sacrifice, he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. For when God has forgiven sin, there is no longer a need for sin offerings.


Today’s Gospel is taken from Mark (13:24-32):

Jesus is speaking to his disciples about the “end times” when he will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. He uses the same imagery as the prophets of the Old Testament: "But in those days, following that distress, 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly powers will be shaken.”

He continues with a reference to the prophet Daniel: "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” At the time, God will send the angels to gather the chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the sky.

Jesus then uses a horticultural image: “Now learn a lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the gates.” Here, there is a subtle reference to the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah in Micah 4:3-4:

They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Every man will sit under his own vine
and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD of Hosts has spoken.

This gospel concludes with a prophecy that has caused controversy and concern from the early days of the Church until the present: I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mark 13:30-31)

After the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples believed that Jesus would return in glory very soon. But the time of Jesus’ return remains known only to God. We have been waiting for that day for two thousand years, and it has not yet arrived. Perhaps we would be better served by paying greater attention to the last verses of the prophesy, the conclusion of today’s gospel: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

The last word is one you have heard before: “Live this day as if it were the first day, the last day, the only day of your life. One of these days, it will be.”

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