November 18, 2012
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus promises his disciples that they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. The angels will gather his elect from the four winds. His coming in glory will be preceded by tribulation. The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in heaven will be shaken. These will be signs just as fig leaves sprouting are a sign that summer is near. Jesus adds that their generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Though heaven and earth will pass away, his words will not pass away. Then Jesus says: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
Jesus speaks of the ultimate triumph of his future coming with great power and glory immediately before what appears to be his ultimate defeat without any power and glory--dying like a criminal on a cross. This would seem to be a foolhardy promise to his disciples on Jesus' part unless we understand the source of his unconquerable hope. Does a man on his way to the electric chair make promises about what he will do in the future?
From the very beginning of Mark's gospel we learn that Jesus the beloved Son will devote his life to bringing about the kingdom of God. Through Jesus, God's power will overthrow the earthly reign of Satan. Satan will attempt to thwart the divine plan through lifelong temptation of Jesus. Jesus, however, remains faithful to his mission, and casts out many demons from those under the power of Satan.
In response to the accusation that he expels demons with the help of the prince of demons, Jesus says that if that were true, the kingdom of Satan would be divided against itself. Luke in his gospel presents Jesus' understanding of his mission in similar terms: "But if it is by the finger [the power] of God that I cast out devils then the reign of God is upon you" (11:20). Jesus also indicates the cosmic nature of the power of God's kingdom when the disciples reported that in his name they had power over the demons: "I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky" (Lk 10:18).
Here is the source of the unconquerable hope that Jesus proclaims in face of the apparent triumph of Satan's reign through those who are about to kill him. Jesus trusts that just as God's kingdom has come to earth through him, the kingdom's ultimate triumph will also be accomplished through him.
Today we pray for the gift of receiving the Spirit of Jesus, and thereby the grace of unconquerable hope. For one who has received his Spirit, there is no hopeless situation--the power of God's reign is supreme on earth as it is in heaven. Death itself, apparently Satan's triumph over us as over Jesus, cannot defeat the supreme power of God's love. Saint Paul reminds us: "Christ must reign until God has put all enemies under his feet, and the last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor 15:26).
In seeking the life implications of Christ's promise to come in power and glory at the end-time, we should also note the corresponding passage in the gospel according to Matthew. Like Mark, Matthew tells us that Jesus spoke of his coming in power and glory when his death was imminent. In Matthew's gospel, however, Jesus is very specific about identifying the elect who will be gathered by the angels from the four winds. The criterion for entry into God's kingdom is so radical in its simplicity: "...whatever you did for one of these least brothers [or sisters] of mine, you did for me...whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me" (25:31-46).
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB