November 11, 2009

Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Brian Pizzalato *
First Reading – Dan. 12:1-3
Responsorial Psalm – Ps. 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11
Second Reading – Heb. 10:11-14, 18
Gospel Reading – Mk. 13:24-32

We must begin by considering the context of this Sunday’s first reading which is taken from the prophet Daniel. Daniel is a prophet who spoke during the time of the southern kingdom of Judah’s exile in Babylon. The Babylonians had overtaken Jerusalem and destroyed the city, its walls, and most importantly, it’s Temple.

The Kingdom of Judah would return from exile seventy years later and build a new temple, but spiritually they were still distant from the Lord. God told the prophet Daniel that even though the Jews would physically return after seventy years, they would still be spiritually in exile. Daniel says, “Seventy weeks of years have been decreed concerning your people and your holy city” (Dn. 9:24). This is about four hundred and ninety years. He also mentions how “an anointed one shall be cut off…” (Daniel 9:26). It is not by coincidence that when Jesus comes he proclaims “liberty to captives” (Luke 4:18).

With this background we are led to the passage of Mark in this Sunday’s Gospel. God came in judgment upon Israel and Judah in 722 B.C. and 587 B.C. respectively. He would also come in humility, with the coming of Jesus in the Incarnation. But when Jesus came he met a generation he would call “evil and unfaithful [adulterous,]” (Matthew 12:39) which indicated that the Jews are still spiritually in exile. Thus, Jesus too would have to administer words and deeds of judgment.

What does the larger context of our passage from Mark tell us? In chapter 11, Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem and one of the first things he does is to mete out a preliminary judgment upon his generation through his cleansing of the temple. This is a foreshadowing of things to come.

In chapter 13, Jesus, as he makes his way out of the temple, foretells of its destruction, “There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down” (v. 2).

In v. 24-27, he once again foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple with a bit different language, “But in those days after the tribulation 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.” This points ahead to the end of time, but, first and foremost, it is a reference to Jerusalem, and the temple in particular. How so?

The type of language used by Jesus is not new. It is used by the prophets in order to foretell the destruction of a nation. For example, Isaiah prophecies the destruction of Babylon with these words: “Lo, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and burning anger; to lay waste the land and destroy its sinners within it! The stars and constellations of the heavens send forth no light; the sun is dark when it rises, and the light of the moon does not shine” (13:9-10). The sun, moon and stars were the way the ancients told time. This prophetic language is a way of saying, “your time is up.”

Jesus was foretelling the destruction of the temple. Among many important things that can be said of the temple is that it represented the cosmos; it was the universe in miniature. The cosmos was also seen to be a macro-temple, that is, the whole of the universe was seen as a temple. By referring to the sun, moon and stars, this was a way of saying that the old temple will be destroyed in judgment in order to make way for the new temple, Jesus and his body, the Church.

As foretold, the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed this second temple. Jesus had said, “Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Mark 13:30). Forty years was considered to be a generation in Jesus’ day. Within a generation, in 70 A.D., all these things had taken place and Jerusalem was still under the Romans.

Knowledge of this context is integral to understanding Sunday’s Gospel reading. Jesus tells his followers to be ready, to be prepared, and to be watchful because they would not know when this would take place. However, they were called to read the signs of the times. Jesus said that when the many things he predicted would begin to take place, his followers (Christians), who are in Judea and Jerusalem, should “flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:16). We are told by the first century Jewish historian Josephus that one million Jews perished in the siege of Judea and Jerusalem under the Romans, but that he cannot account for the death of one Christian.

However, as mentioned earlier, all of this also points ahead to the end of time when we will all undergo judgment at the resurrection of the dead. We, too, do not know when the Lord will come in glory. What we do know is that we must be on the watch, and to be on the watch we must be alert and we must certainly not be caught asleep spiritually. We can prepare for Jesus’ real presence at the end of time by being in a state of grace and receiving his real presence in the Eucharist here and now.
Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate, Diocese of Duluth and is a faculty member of the Philosophy department of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England.

Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on

Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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