33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Daniel 12:1-3 | Hebrews 10:11-14, 18 | Mark 13:24-32
Grant us, we pray, oh, Lord, our God, the constant gladness of being devoted to you, for it is full and lasting happiness to serve you constantly, the author of all that is good. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
This is the last ordinary Sunday of the year, and next week we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, and then we enter into Advent and New Year. And always at the end of the church year, there are these passages from the Book of Revelation, a tough book. It’s really hard. There are some things about the book that I think we need to pay attention to, that help us not to treat it exactly the same way we do the rest of the Scriptures because basically, the gospels are commentaries on things that happened, particularly around the ministry of Jesus, but instead this book talks about the future. It's also a work, a literary work that’s just written straight through. It’s like a meditation, a reflection from John, and one needs to understand that there’s a kind of context in which it was written that one needs to pay attention to. And I want to describe it this way: when you look at Jesus coming into the world as a human being — he was also God, but fully human — you see he was so evolved, so conscious, so aware of the fullness of who he was and what the world was about and who God was. He was so wise, and he came into the world to move it from one paradigm to another, from the paradigm of justice to the paradigm of mercy, from something easy for a man or woman to understand when they’re on these lower levels of consciousness, especially when they’re more concerned about themselves than others or themselves and their own friends than others, compared to Jesus, who saw something beyond the limitations of those relationships and saw this incredible possibility as a human being connected to everything and being filled with nothing but love and mercy and forgiveness and healing, to reach a place where unconditional love is the only stance one can possibly take when one looks at sins or problems. It’s the world of mercy, unmerited love and forgiveness.
It’s interesting. In the second reading, of Hebrews, we hear a comparison to the priests of the old right, the just right when the temple priests had to bring offerings over and over again to make up for the sins that people committed, and then along came Christ, the priest, and he did one thing one time, and there was no further need for any kind of reconciliation. Amazing. What happened was, when mercy entered, there was no need to go through sacrifices to make up for the sin because when forgiveness is there, there’s nothing held against a person. When someone offends me, I’m filled with forgiveness. I’m not looking for them to somehow make up for what they did or pay me for the inconvenience, the injury or the loss. That’s not my issue. My issue is that I want them to be free. I want them to change. I want them to see the craziness, the insanity, of thinking that by doing something negative, they can get something positive.
So this Book of Revelation is written from a perspective, I think, that is very much pre-Christian, pre-Christ. In other words, there’s something about it — it’s all directed to the future. There’s something about it that is very pessimistic. It has dualistic language. It is about justice. There’s anger in it. There’s violence. There are things exploding, burning and falling apart. It’s apocalyptic, and it’s so confusing because if you just listen to the passage we listened to, it says something like this: you won't know when this is going to happen, but then it also says you will know it’s coming because, just like when you look at a fig tree and it starts to put out leaves and then you know the fruit’s going to come soon, there’s a way you know that this thing, which is going to kind of end it all — you'll know when it’s going to happen. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when it’s going to happen. That’s easy to understand, right? And then here’s the one that is really interesting. All these things that are depicted in this Book of Revelation will happen to the generation that existed when the book was written. People keep looking at it as if it’s an image of the end of the world. Everything in it talks about a cataclysmic falling apart of everything, which is going to happen some day, and they take all the signs that are in it, and they try to say, “Okay, now the end is coming.”
It has to be more about something that happens to individuals, to every generation, to every individual, when the world they live in, in a way, collapses, falls apart, is shattered. And what would do that? What would shatter the world? What would make it all somehow so radically different? Well, first of all, let’s look at what is positive in this Book of Revelation for those who would have listened to it. Now, remember, Christ’s message is brand new. Most people haven’t grasped it. Most people don’t understand what he’s really talking about when he’s talking about mercy. So when these people are caught in a place of violence and destruction — let’s just go to the Middle East today and see how much pain and suffering is going on in this place, and you see people in it filled with vengeance and anger and wanting justice. And you hear of violence against somebody in the name of God because it’s only fair. “You’ve done something bad to me. I can do something bad to you.” It’s more primitive. It’s more like a lower level of consciousness. And so, in a way, these stories could have been given to a person who is in a very difficult situation, rather than telling him or her, “Now, you’ve got to forgive these people who are doing this to you, and then you’ll find new life.” They couldn’t have grasped it.
So to tell these people, “Your life is miserable now, but it’s going to get better. This is all going to fall apart. It’s all going to self-implode, and then there’s going to be a new life,” well, that makes sense as something you might want to tell somebody on this lower level of consciousness. “We’ll talk about forgiveness later, but right now don’t worry. The bad guys are getting punished, and the good guys are going to be saved.” Now, that is a great comfort to somebody who’s pretty much working on self-survival and is in a position where they might be destroyed. It’s almost, though I don’t want to make it sound this dramatic, but it’s almost like when you tell people who are imbued with justice that there’s another way to look at this and that “You have to allow this negativity to be what it is and learn from it and receive what it is. Take it in, and then as you hold it inside, give it back as love and forgiveness.” Well, that doesn’t make sense to people who are in that lower level of consciousness and are fighting for their very existence. They want to know the good guys are going to win and the bad guys are going to lose, i.e. justice.
So why is this book here? What is it doing? I think it’s interesting that many people feel we’re dealing with human beings at a particular time in history when these stories were written. It’s almost as if the message of Jesus, once he died, was, “Oh, my God, this is too — this doesn’t make sense. We’ve got to go back to justice and killing our enemies.” It’s almost as if they said, “Okay, Jesus said everything is forgiven, and once it’s forgiven, then everyone’s welcomed into the kingdom. And all you’ve got to do is accept this love and forgiveness from God, and everything is going to be fine for those terrible people who did all these bad things. They get off the hook. They are saved. God makes up for everything they did. All those kind of things don’t make a lot of sense to a person who’s interested in justice, so it’s almost as if they said — okay, Jesus dies, comes back and tells his disciples this wonderful world of mercy that they’re to preach and goes to the place where he said, “I’m waiting for you. I’ve created a place for you. This is all going to be wonderful.” It’s almost as if they said, “He probably didn’t mean that, so let’s say he comes back again, and then he’s going to separate the world into good and bad and kill all the bad guys and save all the good guys.” That’s the way one of the gospels ends, and many people say they wondered if that was added at the time when these things were being written down because they were oral traditions forever, and then somebody said, “Let’s make sure the bad guys know they’re still going to get theirs.” So even though Jesus took in all those enemies around him who were doing all these horrible things to him and he looks at them and he says to his Father, “They don’t know what they’re doing. Forgive them. Don’t hold this against them. Don’t punish them.” If that's the ending, then it would seem logical that people who couldn’t comprehend that would say, “Well, he didn’t condemn people when he was on the cross, but boy, when he comes back, he’s going to get them.” It’s interesting. Interesting.
What is it that Jesus really teaches? How do we deal with all the violence and the hatred and the terrible things that human beings can do to each other? Well, the cross makes it clear that he didn’t want to give in to evil. He didn’t want these men to be able to have some kind of negative influence on him and stop his message. He didn’t want that. He wanted to be successful. He wanted his ministry to continue. He didn’t want to die three years into the mission as a human being. Otherwise, why would he beg three times in the garden, “Please, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this.” And God said, “You have to. You have to. You have to because this is the way it’s written. Do this, and you’ve done what you were created to do. Do this.” And he did it, and in that one act of allowing negative things to happen to you and not having one negative instinct to retaliate, no revenge, no desire for getting back at someone … if you can take that out of the equation of human interaction, you obviously will save and change the world. Evil’s greatest power is that it does violence and destruction to people and then turns them into destructive, violent people.Yet there’s a way to stop it. And the way you stop it is seemingly the most amazing surprise, that you can actually take in something that someone is doing to you and realize that they don't really realize what they’re doing, that it’s more about them than you, and they’re struggling for something they think they can get away with by hurting you or whomever. When you understand that and see that, and when you realize that the only reaction you want to have back is to love them, then that would make evil something valuable because it would be evil to try to seduce you into being like it — by hurting you — and you’re turning around and saying, “You can’t hurt me. Nobody can hurt me. Nobody can destroy me, and all I respond to is love.” And then evil is absolutely impotent — impotent.
It’s why Jesus said, “I’ll destroy evil, but it still exists. No, it exists, but I destroyed its power. I’ve taught you how to deal with evil in a way that keeps you from becoming evil. It’s called mercy. It’s called forgiveness. What a surprise. No wonder it seems that there were people who thought he probably didn’t mean that, but we’ve evolved a lot since then, and we know he meant it. We can feel it, and we know what it means to be free.
Father, there is the challenge in your message for us to see the world differently, and sometimes, when we need to let go of the way we see it, it feels like the world is falling apart. Bless us through that process as we open our hearts, our minds, our eyes to your plan, your plan of mercy and forgiveness and love, and we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.