Year B: Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Coming of the Son of Man
Mark 13; 24-32
“But in those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather [his] elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky. “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
- What helps you to recognize and experience God’s presence in the dark moments or “threshold moments” of your life?
- When has darkness or suffering in your life revealed an invitation to new growth, the very transformation Jesus is inviting us to? What happened, and what was the invitation?
- Describe a time when you felt that everything was falling apart? What or who guided you through that time and in what ways might the experience have deepened your understanding of God’s presence?
- What role does fear play in your faith life? How is this changing as you grow?
Mary M. McGlone CSJ
Today’s Gospel incident follows almost immediately on last week’s when Jesus condemned the Temple practices. After deserting the Temple precincts, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives from where he and the disciples could overlook the Temple area. When Peter, James and John asked Jesus about the coming destruction, he launched into a description of the times of tribulation that were to come. The selection we hear is almost the end of this discourse.
In what precedes today’s reading, Jesus explained that false saviors would come in his name, that there would be historical and natural calamities (wars, earthquakes), and persecutions as well. He punctuated his dire predictions with promises, including that the Gospel would be preached to the whole world before the end and that the Spirit would always inspire the faithful disciples in the midst of their sufferings and betrayals. These predictions echo what we heard from Daniel, repeating the idea that the tribulations will be such as have never before been seen. Nevertheless, the disciples can take comfort because Jesus has forewarned them and they can rest assured that the evil of that day will not be the last word.
The disciples had asked Jesus when all of this would take place. To indicate how unanswerable their question was, Jesus answered symbolically, saying that the sun and moon would be darkened and the stars would be falling. Because the sun and moon and stars are the measures of time and space — the sun marking the hours, the moon the months, and the stars being used as travel guides on land and sea — that meant that time and space as they knew it would no longer make sense. It would be as if the universe were starting over again from the beginning.
In sum, Jesus tells the disciples that when everything ceases to make sense, when wars and disasters make it seem as if evil and chaos have the final word, they will discover the Son of Man coming on the clouds. Then they will see his glory and power.
When Mark says that Jesus will send out his angels, his Greek vocabulary is rich with meaning. The word he uses for “send” is the root of the word apostle, and the word for angel or messenger shares its root with the word for the Gospel. Mark’s terminology is tailored to assure the disciples that they will not be lost.
It is worth detaining ourselves for a moment on the title “Son of Man.” The image we have from this Gospel, augmented other Scriptures and artistic depictions of Jesus’ final coming that were fearsome like that of Michelangelo’s last judgment scene. If we look at what Mark has told us about Jesus as the Son of Man, we will realize that such images are misinterpretations. A close examination of Mark’s Gospel shows us that the Son of Man is the one who forgives sin (2:10), is the permissive lord of the Sabbath (2:28), who will suffer and rise (10:21), and the one who has come to serve and give his life for all (10:45). The Son of Man who will come in the clouds is the long-awaited one, the liberator and savior whom they long to see.
The primitive Christian community lived on tip-toe, knowing that persecution could come at any moment, and they longed for an end to the suffering and injustice they saw all around them. Today, some of our brothers and sisters still face religious persecution while others of us feel powerless in the face of rampant violence and cruel injustice. The more these realities challenge us, the more apocalyptic literature offers us hope. But, that hope comes with the caveat that we be willing to proclaim our faith in spite of threats of persecution or mockery and to mourn in solidarity with the victims of injustice. When we do that, we will understand the promise of apocalypse. We may well perceive the Son of Man appearing in our midst.
New Life Emerges from The Dark
Fr. Michael K. Marsh
This is one of those Sundays I’d prefer to skip. Today’s gospel isn’t just about “those days,” it’s about these days too, the darkness of these days, the darkness of your life, and the darkness of my life. And I’m tired of the darkness. I’d prefer not to hear about or face the darkness. Maybe you don’t want to either.
It doesn’t matter whether we read from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, every year it’s about darkness; signs in the sun, moon, and stars; not knowing; and keeping awake, paying attention, staying on guard.
These kinds of stories are called apocalyptic, and we often read them as end of the world stories. Some will use the imagery in these kind of stories as signs by which to predict the future. But that’s not what these stories are about and to read them in either of those ways is to misread them.
Apocalypse is a Greek word meaning to “uncover,” “reveal,” “disclose.” In that regard, apocalypse is about possibilities, and hope in the future. Apocalyptic literature like today’s gospel isn’t meant to scare us. It’s a wake-up call that uses dramatic poetic imagery and language to sharpen our awareness of God’s presence in and promise to us and the world. It’s not about focusing on some other world but about paying closer attention to this world. (Norris, Amazing Grace, 318-319)
Today’s gospel, like all apocalyptic literature, takes us to those threshold moments that leave us wondering whether things are falling apart or falling into place. By now most of you know me well enough to know that my answer to that is, “Yes. Yes, they are.”
It’s a threshold that leaves us betwixt and between, neither here nor there. It’s that space between what has been and what will be, the old that is no longer and the new that is not yet, life as it was and life as it might be. It’s the space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It’s the wilderness between Egypt and the promised land.
We come to that threshold in a thousand different ways. I remember a man who said to me, “I sold my ranch and I now no longer know who I am,” and a friend who spoke about having stopped drinking but not yet being sober. Those were threshold times, Advent times, of life for them.
I remember the struggles of adolescence and hearing my mom say, “He’s not yet a man but he’s no longer a boy.” My wife and I lived on that threshold when our younger son joined the Marines, and again later after our older son died. I came to that threshold when I let go of certain ideas and beliefs about God that no longer worked or made sense. It left me not sure about what I believed, or if I even believed. Today I stand on the threshold between old images and practices of who and how I was as a priest and new images and practices of my priesthood that I cannot yet clearly see or understand.
These threshold experiences are times of change and transition, invitations to self-reflection and growth, and openings to something new and unknown. They are scary and often painful times.
I’m betting every one of you could tell a story about a threshold time in your life. I wonder what that threshold is for you today. What happened? How did you get there? What has left you asking and not knowing whether your life is falling apart or falling into place? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
For most of us those thresholds are places of darkness, uncertainty, and not knowing. In the darkness “I don’t know” is our refrain. “I don’t know what to do.” “I don’t know how to get through this.” “I don’t know what will happen.” “I don’t know what will become of me.” “I don’t know if I can do this.” This is the day and hour about which no one knows.
The sun is no longer a light upon our path. The moon is no longer the nightlight in our world. The stars by which we oriented our life have fallen. The usual sources of illumination no longer shine, and we can’t see. We’re in the dark and it feels as if all is lost.
It would be easy to believe that because we can’t see there is nothing to see, because we don’t know the way forward there is no way forward, and because we can’t control our future there is no future. To fall into those beliefs is to fall asleep, the very thing Jesus tells us not to do.
“Keep alert,” “be on the watch,” “keep awake,” Jesus says. Why would Jesus say this unless the darkness holds hope and a promise that we can never see by the light of day?
What if darkness is not an enemy to be feared? What if darkness is a friend and a teacher giving us night vision? What if darkness is not the end? What if darkness is a new beginning? What if darkness is giving us “a horizon further than [we] can see” (Whyte, “Sweet Darkness,” River Flow, 348) and offering possibilities we never imagined or dreamed of?
I’m asking you and myself to reconsider our relationship with darkness. I’m asking us to let go of our childhood fears of the dark. I am asking us to remember and trust that all new life emerges from the dark: the plant from the dark earth, the newborn from the dark womb, and Jesus from the dark tomb. I’m asking us to consider the darkness as the envelope that holds God’s promissory note to you and me.
That’s our spiritual work: to befriend and enter the darkness – the darkness of growth, maturity, and change; the darkness of healing, hope, and faith. It’s hard work and I know I am asking a lot. But here’s why I’m asking:
- “Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21);
- “Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that he would reside in thick darkness’” (1 Kings 8:12; 2 Chronicles 6:1); and
- “In the beginning when God created … darkness covered the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:1).
Thick darkness is the place of God’s presence, not God’s absence. The darkness is the beginning and origin of creation, not the end of the world. Why would we ever close our eyes to or turn away from that?
Reflection excerpt from “Interrupting the Silence” Fr. Michael K. Marsh