Hope When All Seems Lost
In Father Hanly’s wonderful homily on the Apocalypse (33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B), he shows us why Jesus is telling us “Do not be afraid!”
Readings for Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11
- Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
- Gospel: Mark 13:24-32
You can tell by the words of the Gospel and all the readings, you can tell that the end is near. That’s basically the theme: the end is near.
The end of what? The end of the world, probably.
This is called apocalyptic language.
The apocalypse is the revelation. But usually it doesn’t mean just a revelation of things. Where they use apocalypse they mean it’s bad news.
Like I’m sure you all see these kind of apocalyptic movies that we have: there’s gloom and doom, and people are frightened, and fires are starting, and it’s the end of the world, and the good guys are hiding and terrible people are ruling the world.
And all of this belongs to a certain kind of a style of writing which we all use.
You will all be happy to know that this is not to be taken too seriously. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t take the idea seriously, I mean this use of language to wrap up a package so that everyone will finally be shaken awake.
But it is done by people who put it out that way and it’s done for a very good reason.
Because we’re so used to ordinary life (inaudible) Monday through Friday, we kind of lose sight of the moving track of time and we ask ourselves sometimes whether this is going to go on for ever and ever and ever.
Now, the language is written…
It’s like poetry. You don’t take poetry literally, otherwise you miss the message, otherwise you miss everything.
And the same with this kind of language. You’re not supposed to be so frightened and absorbed in it that you take it literally. When is it coming? What day? What hour? Who is going to bring it? All these things. They’re very… they’re left open ended, open ended.
But we’ll try, for instance, because Jesus uses apocalyptic language today.
It’s not to be taken literally, but it’s only to be taken very seriously because of what it says to you and your heart and where you stand and where you’ll be, and it’s very clear if you think of it in terms of your own destiny.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“In those days after that tribulation
“That tribulation” means all the pain and all the terrible things that had been happening in society. It takes, for instance, the crucifixion of Jesus. It takes, for instance, the Romans coming in and destroying the temple. It takes, for instance, all of these things.
Jesus then says to them
“In those days after that tribulation
(all the pains the Jewish people have gone through up until now)
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Because this is an apocalypse. An apocalypse is something that is a revelation, but it’s also the destruction of something and it sends people racing in all different directions. As it happened, as it happened.
It is another way, though, of looking at it and this is the important way.
Jesus is not trying to scare you. He’s not trying to make it frightening.
What he is saying is he’s quoting from this age old form of apocalyptic expression, and the apocalyptic expression is something like doom and gloom, and its purpose is to awaken people.
But Jesus is not talking about that. He’s quoting it, the doom and the gloom, but he’s also going to say, “Do not be afraid.”
Because Jesus is with us. Jesus is with us from the moment he was born at Christmas. For all eternity, he walks with us, he talks with us, he has become part of our lives. He is close to us and he promises that nothing will happen that he himself will not cover with his love and with his presence.
So you have to keep in mind, whenever you’re reading the Apocalypse, the presence of God, really present, not sitting there praying that he will come. He is already there, he’s already…
Now I’ll read you just a little story. It’s always such (inaudible) I have to tell you this story. I’ve told it before. It’s a story by Elie Wiesel.
Elie Wiesel might be unfamiliar to you, but he is very familiar to my generation because he was a little boy who went with his father and mother and sister into Auschwitz, and only one person came out and that was him. And he came out and he wrote about the terrible, terrible holocaust.
Now, when we talk about this sort of speaking, the apocalyptic language, it is a holocaust. It is a destruction of all that went before and that is…
Now, this story, one of the stories he brought out was this.
There were eight men and they were all Jews, or perhaps there were a couple of other people, that had done something wrong and they were put on trial… There was no trial, they just made seven scaffolds, seven places to hang these poor gentleman.
And there was one little boy. And the little boy was standing there with the gentlemen.
And then what they did was they announced that these men were enemies of the people or what have you. And the little boy was quite frightened and the men were trying to be strong.
So they put the nooses around their necks and they pulled the cord and they fell through the thing.
The only trouble was the men died instantly, they broke their necks, but the little boy was swinging because he was so light. And he was just swinging back and forth in the breeze, and he was choking but he wasn’t dying. And then, finally, finally, after a lengthy period, the poor little swinging boy died.
While he was swinging, a voice came before the man who was telling this story and a voice came from the back.
And he said, “Where is God? Where is God? Where is God?”
And there was silence, because this is impossible, this is Hell.
“Where is God?”
And another voice came from behind him. He never found out who it was behind him.
But the voice said, “God is in the screams and pain of the little boy.”
Very, very moving. Very touching. More than touching, a lesson to be learned.
And what is the lesson to be learned?
This is not a holocaust that Jesus would accept. This is not a holocaust that God wants to see happen. But it is allowed for some strange reason that we might learn something.
If you were in those places you would find they were totally and completely godless, but they weren’t.
These people helped each other, they shared their food with each other, they cared for each other, they actually loved each other. These poor prisoners in this horrible place, month after month, they held people in their arms when they died, they walked people to the places where they were frying these people and burning them.
It’s almost too much to listen to.
But it’s not, because, if you understand now what the world was like when Jesus was saying these words, it was like the sun was darkened and the moon no longer gives its light and the stars are falling from the sky, and all is lost and all is lost.
And then this is what Jesus says. We just read it, but you weren’t paying attention.
“And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’
with great power and glory,
and then he will send out the angels
and gather his elect from the four winds,
from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”
And who is this who comes? Who is this who comes?
The Son of Man is the Messiah.
And who is the Messiah in this story?
The Messiah is Jesus and he is there.
And he is there and then what happens?
And Jesus is preaching and teaching, and he’s in the temple and he says these words in the temple, and then he is arrested and taken away, and everybody runs away. And all is lost because Jesus is tried and found guilty and then he is brought to be hung on a cross and dies.
And again all the darkness comes and then there’s no hope.
And people remember, people remember the Son of Man will come in clouds “with great power and glory.” Then, too, “he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”
What it means is yes, they killed him, but on the third day he rose from the dead, against everybody’s understanding.
And what happened?
He rose from the dead. The whole world changed forever.
For now there was not just death and vicious men having their way. There was no longer any of the pain, there was the pain was still there but now why we have Jesus, we have God, and they’re with us and the victory belongs to the Messiah.
And so we must say this, that Jesus’ death on the cross was an apocalyptic event. It was an apocalypse full of anger and pain and fear, and, in the end, full of glory.
If you look around you, what has come out of all of that terror, the tears of the people and everything else, what has come out of that?
We know how God loves us. We know how God cares for us. We know how God is with us. We know that this is what triumphed down through the centuries, hundreds of years following hundreds of years, and will continue to the end.
And why is this?
Because the Messiah lives and he lives in us and we live because of him.
And so this very obscure kind of writing has only one thing and it’s storing something.
We are sent here not to worry, not to worry about armies, not to worry about (inaudible), not to be worried about being condemned to death.
If we are not here to worry, then what are we here for?
We are here to serve, because the Lord serves. He serves us.
We hear today how terrible that was and how courageous the Lord was. And it is courage that goes on. It is Jesus on the cross. He dies on the cross, but he rises again.
And the word to all of us is we are to work and to heal and to love and to care, and pay no attention to anything but how to love properly, carefully and well.
And that is what we are here for.
Not to say, “Oh terrible, terrible (inaudible). Oh, terrible, terrible this.”
Because Jesus has already won. Jesus won for all eternity a place for each and every one of us.
And he has given us the courage once again to turn away from the evilness that happens in the world and say no, it is not that that’s important.
What’s important is God and Jesus saying: “I love you. Come follow me.”