‘They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds great power and glory’ (Mark 13:26)
Today is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time and as we swiftly approach the end of the Church’s liturgical year our readings assume darker tones – we hear Jesus talking about the end of times, and we are told of ancient prophetic visions in Daniel about the Archangel Michael standing up for God’s people facing great danger. As we read these texts in the aftermath of the murderous events of Friday night in Paris it would be easy to focus on the negatives, to wallow in the dark and morbid details foretelling gloom and destruction, or even more, to try and make dodgy connections between our texts and incomprehensible hatred of terrorism. However, our gospel, the Good News entrusted to the Church, is a message of hope for the future; therefore, we should try to interpret our readings according to hope, rather than according to gloom.
Yes, there are unsettling elements in our reading; mainly, these are the predictions about a time of suffering and about phenomenal signs in the heavens (Cf. Mark 13:24-25). However, we should put these elements in the context of the ancient world, where the prevailing culture expected the world to end in an abrupt, fiery way at the hands of God or a local deity. So once we put these elements within their context we are left with a strong affirmation that no matter what happens in the world, no matter what disaster befalls us or what atrocious crimes are being committed, the life-giving Word of Jesus remains for ever and that he will bring an end to every evil through his coming again. This is the message of hope for the future, and to this hope we must cling as tightly as we possibly can when the darkness of distress shock and seem to overcome us.
In our gospel Jesus draws a parallel between himself and the “Son of Man” described in the book of Daniel as the judge of all creation – though, as you can see, not in our first reading (Cf. Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus identifies himself with the “Son of Man” and so he reveals himself as the one appointed by the Father to bring all creation to a just and merciful judgment, and to eradicate all evil. So too our faith affirms of Jesus that
‘He will come again in gloryto judge the living and the dead,and his kingdom will have no end.’
And, inspired by this faith and by today’s reading a twelfth century hymn sings,
The world is very evil,The times are waxing late,Be sober and keep vigil,The judge is at the gate.The judge who comes in mercy,The judge who comes in might,Who comes to end the evil,Who comes to crown the right.
I suspect that oftentimes we forget about this important element of the Christian faith as many people would like to confuse Jesus with a cuddly pushover rather than acknowledge him as the merciful judge of all creation. Nevertheless, at each celebration of the Mass we look forward to the fulfilling of this faith, the time of Jesus’ coming in glory, the time in which after his angels will have gathered together all God’s people, we will sit at table with him, rejoicing and finally freed from all suffering and distress.
Jesus’ second coming is predicted by our readings to be preceded by extraordinary events, and we are asked to be vigilant, to look out for these signs, but I wouldn’t want you to make very specific connections between what happened in the past days and the end of times. Rather, I would you like to renew your hope and to acknowledge that amidst all these troubles we still await for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who will bring an end to all unrest – crowning the right and banishing suffering. Jesus will come again and his coming in glory will in the end and be the fulfilment of our Christian hope.