November 15, 2015 — Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
We are prompted in today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God.” The “right hand” throughout the Bible symbolizes power. Through Jesus we receive the power of life over death. All of the readings on this 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time relate to the end of time, to the Second Coming of the Lord and the judgment that will follow. In part they are a warning to us, but they also instruct us on how to prepare, and how we must be prepared for Christ’s coming.
Scholars and historians tell us The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament was most likely written only about a century before Christ. Yet the prophet Daniel, like the other prophets from whom we hear in the Old Testament, anticipates the coming of Christ, and the particular passage which is our reading today foresees Christ’s Second Coming and what will occur at that time. It is appropriate as Advent approaches to be mindful of the fact that Advent provides us a dual preparation — preparation for the arrival of Christ (Christmas) as well as looking forward to and preparing for His Second Coming. The general message of the Book of Daniel is that God will save Israel; that God will save all people. We can see the promise of resurrection, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” Then again, we are alerted that it is through pursuing righteous lives that we are ready, “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.”
Jesus has sacrificed all for us, for our sins, for our salvation. The Letter to the Hebrews segment, which is our Second Reading, opens with “Every priest stands daily at his ministry.” That may not seem like a momentous statement, but it is in relation to what follows. At Jesus’ time priests had to perform all functions by standing; they were not allowed to sit. Yet, Jesus, who is called the High Priest several times in Hebrews, “took his seat forever at the right hand of God.” By sitting He is indicating to us that the real purpose of His priestly duties is completed. Christ does not have to die again; we are assured that He will return, but the point of this reading is to let us know that He is prepared to return. The question is “Are we ready for His return?”
The Gospel from St. Mark corresponds closely to what Daniel prophesied in the First Reading, and fulfills the promise of Christ as outlined in the Second Reading. There is, on the other hand, a bit of a caution to each of us. “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus is speaking while on the Mt. of Olives, which is well known for its fig trees, some of which reach a height of 30 feet. Fig trees are on a different natural cycle than most other trees. They blossom and produce fruit at a time when most other trees do not. That is why the Lord uses the fig tree as an example. He may well have been teaching while seated beneath one; and He knew His audience was aware of the different nature of a fig tree. It is not easy to predict until “its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves.” Then things happen very quickly. Jesus’ Second Coming is the same for us. We cannot expect that we will know the time, and the warning will be brief and rapid. That is why we must prepare now. Stewardship involves conversion, but it is not a conversion for which we can wait. We need to pursue it and seek it now.