33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
We are past the middle of November. There is snow on the ground. It is that time of the year – grave, beautiful and the menace of winter is skulking just below the horizon. Nature is winding down. And next Sunday we also come to another end – the end of the liturgical year. As if to match the mood the Church sets before us what we call the apocalyptic readings. The first reading is from the Book of Daniel. A book in the Bible that is part history and then breaks into visions of the end times – Star Wars on steroids. This reading is from the end of the book. It is a time of distress, it tells of the rise of Michael, the guardian of his people, it tells of the outcome of some battle. Where is this battle, when will this happen – this is locked up in the vision. You would expect our Gospel at least to be nice and innocuous – Jesus healing or preaching. But even Jesus breaks into apocalyptic speech. Nice Jesus speaks of the stars falling from the skies, the powers of heaven shaken, the Son of Man coming to judge. Not nice, scary. This is supposed to be for real. How do we deal with this?
The Apocalypse – this is from the Greek which mean an unveiling, an uncovering, a peeling back the surface to peek below. It is not your normal stuff. It appears pretty strange and weird. We are so used to living on the surface of life. And life has a way of keeping us asleep. The cares of the life, the pleasures of the world, distractions, busy-ness all conspire to do this. They dull our perception as to what is really going on below the surface of life. We do not think deeply on things.
We are all aware of what is going on in the world – the news makes sure of that. Most of it bad news because it sells. But still the world is in rough shape – the Church is in the middle of a huge mess and there seems to be no end in sight. The war in the Middle East has been going on for decades. Closer home we do not know when violence with strike next. The poor are getting poorer and falling through the cracks of the system and no one cares. We just commemorated the centenary of end of World War I, the war that killed off the flower of Europe, set off by a single bullet. What sort of spark will set off World War III who knows? This is the world we live in. We are given all sorts of explanations for things – political reasons, historical, sociological analyses. Some erudite, some crude. And yet, if you are like me, you sense that we are missing something essential.
This is where apocalyptic literature in the Bible peels away the surface of life. There is a battle going on. Invisible to our eyes but titanic in its scope. The Bible portrays it as the battle between the angel and the dragon. This is what is below the crust. It is like looking into a volcano, however briefly and being shocked to see how frighteningly unsolid and molten and even violent the ground we walk on really is. We can hold on to our facile explanations for dear life but if we do not see below, if we do not see this invisible battle playing out in the world and especially in our heart – then we have missed it all.
We play in the shallows and pretend to ignore the deep. There are very serious realities in the deep –God, life, the mystery of evil, sin, death, the devil. The New Testament from beginning to end is about a battle. The true king slips into the world quietly behind enemy lines because the world is in the grip of a thick and blinding darkness and captive to the devil. The darkness is so great that the Son of God will have to die. The sin of the world tries to crush the true Lord of the world. The battleground is – first century Palestine. It is also cosmic taking in all space and time. The death of Jesus is the breaking of the powers of evil and the resurrection is a new creation. This is what the apocalyptic literature is about. It opens to us what is hidden. It makes us keep what is important in mind so that we do not go back to sleep. So that we do not ignore the daily battle waged in our own hearts against the powers of sin and death.
The Good News is that the true King has triumphed. Soon we will be in Advent awaiting the coming of the King. But the King has come and He has won. He is coming again for the final victory. 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. This again is what the apocalyptic writings remind us about – the battle has been fought and it has been won by Christ. We can be joyful because we are winners of the struggle through Christ if only we remain in Him. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.