It was the fourth grade when we studied the Mass and learned that two candles were necessary for having Mass. So when I heard this gospel passage describing the tribulation and the darkness that would cover the earth, my fear was that we couldn’t have Mass because there would be no candles. It’s easy to laugh now at the literalness and concreteness of a ten- year-old’s thinking but I certainly was caught up in the scariness of the end times. It was many years later that I learned about a style of biblical writing called “apocalyptic” of which the first reading and gospel are examples. This style developed after the Babylonian exile to address situations that seemed hopeless.
This Sunday’s three readings were addressed to beleaguered hearers: Daniel—to exiled people in Babylon; Hebrews—to early Christians being attacked from inside and outside the community; Mark—early Christians being persecuted by Nero. Each in their own way awakens hope within the besieged hearer.
To the exiled people whose lives and very identity were threatened with extinction, Daniel’s message of hope was based on the conviction that God who is trustworthy would never abandon them. Their rescue and vindication included a budding (at that time) belief in the resurrection of the dead.
The hearers of Hebrews are reminded that in Jesus Christ we have a new high priest whose offering is perfect and the abyss between humans and God has been bridged once and for all. For the persecuted hearers of Mark’s gospel, the resurrection of the dead was assumed and an added hope of Jesus’ return was ignited.
The setting for today’s gospel is the Mount of Olives looking westward toward the temple. I cannot help but think of Jesus’ view. In his line of vision were tombs of Jewish people who were awaiting the Messiah. Twenty centuries later the accompanying picture is roughly the same view.
As a child I heard the scariness but did not hear the hope. Today’s gospel exhorts us not just to be hopeful, but also to be watchful and prepared for Jesus’ coming at the end times when he will gather his elect. An important question, then, is, “How does one prepare for Jesus’ coming?” The experience of preparing for an important guest gives us an insight. We do all that we can to make our guests welcome, planning meals and events in keeping with their preferences. What a welcome it would be for the returning Christ if we were engaged in fulfilling his last wishes!
At the end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus appears to the eleven and says, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” How might I, we, proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, today and weeks ahead?
–Sr. Jean Flannelly
(Photo of Mount of Olives by Sr. Jean Flannelly.)
After more than 25 years preparing men and women for ordained and lay ministry in the Church, Sister Jean currently serves as Consultant for Mission at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, NY. She also ministers in adult spirituality and adult faith formation through workshops and spiritual direction.