Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
We must hear and live Jesus' message
In the end, God will be victorious and rescue those who are faithful
November 19, Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
With our Gospel reading for today, we come to the end of Mark. Mark probably wrote his
Gospel about the year 70 meaning that the city of Jerusalem had been laid siege by the Romans
and the temple was destroyed. Mark wanted to tell his community that Jesus had warned his
people that unless they listened to his message about the Kingdom of God they would be
Like the prophets Jeremiah and Ezechiel, Jesus is portrayed as an apocalyptic preacher. This
means that means that signs and symbolic words are used to describe a climatic event.
It means that in the end times serious things will happen. God, of course, will be victorious and
rescue those who are faithful. Apocalypses follow a pattern. The writer first, tells in the form of
future predictions, historical events that have already happened. It foretells cosmic events such
as the general resurrection, the last judgment and the end of the world as we know it.
Our first reading from Daniel is a good example. It tells a story of the past, during the Exile
when a prophet called Daniel remained faithful to God. The author is trying to encourage people
of his time, who are suffering persecution, with words of comfort. They, like Daniel, should
remain faithful for God is on their side.
Mark, portrays Jesus as predicting a cosmic end. As usual the signs will be in the heavens when
the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and stars will fall from the heavens.
For some people this will lead to terror but for others it will be an occasion for rejoicing since
God has heard their prayers. This imagery had already been used in the Old Testament. After
these events, the last judgment will take place and the Son of Man will be the judge.
Daniel used this expression to be a symbol of the people of God. Now Mark portrays this figure
as an individual person and it is Jesus. Did Jesus see and call himself the Son of Man? Probably,
but more in the sense of being a human person. Many biblical scholars do not think he used it in this apocalyptic sense. Yet he certainly saw his role in terms of preaching about the coming Kingdom of God and that he had an important role in bringing it about.
The Old Testament prophets often acted out parables. The story of fig tree is such a parable. The fig tree is a common one in the Near East. It had often been used as a symbol of a coming Messianic Age. In this parable Jesus tells his disciples that its flowering is a sign of spring.
It is also a sign of the cosmic events he has described. Yet unlike the fact that this will happen on a yearly basis, the coming end times are a mystery as to when they will occur.
Mark's statement, that not even the Son of Man knew the time when all this will occur, caused difficulty for other Gospel writers and they omitted for it seemed to imply that there were things he did not know.
Yet Mark is consistent for he wanted to tell his church that they had come to know Jesus as a human being. It is only after the Resurrection and Pentecost that they realized that he was also divine.
What Jesus knew is difficult to ascertain but what we do know his knowledge was sufficient to carry out his mission. Jesus probably insisted that people be prepared. They must hear his message and seek to live that message. They should be confident that God will help them. Mark's words were important to his persecuted church and they are important for us.
(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)