Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 18: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 7, 2018

The end time

Dn 12:1-3; Ps 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11; Heb 10;11-14, 18; Mk 13:24-32

A standard image poking fun at religion depicts a somewhat crazed person carrying a sandwich board declaring that “the end is near.” But, as the readings for this Sunday declare in different ways the Bible does assume there is an end to history. 

The biblical notion of time is not cyclical, that is, a conviction that time is like an unending video loop that runs repeatedly. No, the biblical notion of time and history is that it an unfolding story with a beginning, a middle and an end. 

Time, in other words, is the marking of a purposeful journey of humanity that ultimately God will bring to fulfillment.

Various biblical traditions and texts try to imagine what that end time will look like. In today’s reading from the Book of Daniel, written a century or so before the birth of Jesus, the author imagines that the end will include a time of great chaos and distress, “a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began.” 

Fortunately, God’s people will ultimately escape the chaos and live forever, “shin[ing] brightly like the splendor of the firmament.” While those who do evil will experience “everlasting horror and disgrace.” 

There is no doubt that the vivid apocalyptic imagery of the Book of Daniel, written at a time of chaos in Israel, influenced some of the New Testament’s attempts to depict the end time. This is the subject of the so-called apocalyptic discourse found in Chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel, a portion of which forms today’s Gospel selection. 

The opening paragraph describes a scene of cosmic turbulence with the “sun darkened,” “the moon will not give its light,” “the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

While Mark’s Gospel is in harmony with the Bible’s expectation of a dramatic ending to the world, the purpose of Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives is, in fact, to dampen apocalyptic fever. While the end is certain, it is not imminent. 

The point of Jesus’ discourse in Mark is to urge the disciples not to be anxious and speculate about the end but to be alert and to devote themselves to their mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the world.

The reason our readings for this Sunday are focused on the end time is because we are moving up to the end of the liturgical year. Next Sunday is the feast of Christ the King, the final Sunday before Advent.

Advent, we remember, is not only a time of preparation for the beautiful feast of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus, but is also a time when we think about our ultimate future and the second coming of Jesus.

We know from our current circumstances that our world has its share of chaos and violence. News headlines every day bring us examples of such horror. 

It is not surprising then that, in thinking of the future, the biblical writers, too, should include frightening scenarios as part of our future experience. But the ultimate word is not one of fear or despair. 

The fundamental conviction of the New Testament is that the world ends in God’s embrace — in the coming of Jesus, the Risen Christ who will gather his scattered children to himself. As the Gospel of John puts it, the destiny of the world is one of complete love. 

In his final prayer for his disciples Jesus prays that his disciples may be one, “that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” (Jn 17:23). Love, the Scriptures tell us, drives out fear.


  • scripture