We are coming to the end of the liturgical year during which we have been seeing the years of Christ’s public ministry through the eyes of St Mark. As we approach the conclusion of the year it is appropriate that we consider Christ’s words about the Last Days.
Jesus tells his disciples that, ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.’ I don’t think that we are meant to take these words in an absolutely literal sense. What Jesus is using is an Old Testament way of speaking. The heavens are the realm of God and when upheavals in the heavens are spoken about it means that there is going to be something momentous happening in the realm of God.
These words certainly should not be taken as an astronomy lesson; the stars won’t literally fall from the sky, after all the laws of physics wouldn’t allow it. What Jesus is talking about is that everything that exists will eventually come to its conclusion. Just as the material universe had a beginning, a creation, so it will also have an ending. There will be a final day when everything we know will come to an end.
On that great day Christ will come in glory and what we call the General Judgement will take place. On that day as it says in Philippians, ‘All beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, will bend the knee at the name of Jesus and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’
We only have for our Gospel text today the second half of Chapter Thirteen of Mark. If we look at the chapter as a whole we will see that Christ predicted three things: the destruction of the Temple; the end of the world; and his second coming.
The destruction of the Temple took place about forty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Jews revolted as a result of heavy taxation and the Romans sent in their troops and laid siege to the Holy City and after seven months or so managed to overcome the rebellion and laid Jerusalem waste. Actually, the rebels were not united among themselves and this led to them being unable to repel the Roman army.
It definitely wasn’t the intention of the future Emperor Titus, who led the invasion, to destroy the Temple; he wanted to convert it to Roman worship. But the building caught fire when a Roman soldier threw a burning stick over the wall and this is what led to its destruction.
This prediction of the destruction of the Temple by Jesus as they sat on the hillside looking at the splendid buildings was surely very shocking but, if we see it in context, we realise that the fulfilment of this prophecy gave authenticity to the other predictions made at the same time about the end of the world and the Second Coming.
Jesus is very clear that we will not know the day or the hour when the end will occur, but you can imagine that the early disciples once they saw the destruction of Jerusalem and its mighty Temple were sure that the end of the world couldn’t be very far off. This thought filled them with trepidation but it also gave them great courage and helped them to face up to dreadful persecutions. Thinking that the second coming was just around the corner made them feel that they had little to lose in bravely standing up to their persecutors.
Of course, two thousand years on, the people of today don’t think like those early disciples. We tend to have the opposite problem; our temptation today is to think that the world will exist for thousands more years. Believing this we tend not to think overmuch about the end of the world or even for that matter about the end of our own lives.
But we definitely should think about these things. We are mortal beings and as surely as we had a beginning, a birth, we will most certainly have an end, a death. And our death is something that we need to prepare for. We do not like to think about it but we could easily step out of this Church and be mown down by a car as we cross the road. So, we need to prepare for our death, we need to put our lives in order, we need to confess our sins, we need to get ourselves in shape from a spiritual point of view so that we are ready to meet our maker whenever that day comes.
But our death and the Final Judgement, while it is something we need to prepare for, is not something that we should be afraid of. Indeed, it is the very opposite, it is something we should hope for, something we should rejoice in. When we are eventually called by Jesus it will not be to face a severe headmaster but to embrace a loving Saviour. If we die with words of repentance on our lips we are assured of a merciful judgement.
Rejoicing in the fact that Jesus has brought salvation to the world we should be also happy when we are finally ushered into his presence. It is those who reject the salvation that Jesus brings us who ought to be afraid. They have good reason to fear their death and the end of the world. But we who embrace God’s love and who want to walk in his ways, however imperfectly we may do it, have nothing to fear.
As the Prophet Daniel says in our first reading today, ‘The learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity.’ That word learned doesn’t mean the clever, it is rendered in other translations as ‘wise’ or ‘those who impart wisdom.’ If our lives are imbued in the faith, if we communicate the Gospel to others especially to our children then there is nothing for us to fear. That great day when the whole universe comes to its fulfilment will be a day of rejoicing, a day of salvation, a day of love and hope.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket