This Sunday we hear what initially sounds like very bad news from the book of Daniel(12:1-3) and from Jesus in Mark 13:24-32. The great suffering and frightening,often cataclysmic, signs of the times are as real to us today as they were in the times of Daniel and later,in the times of Jesus the Christ. Daniel and Jesus both spoke to the faithful in secret messages to give them hope and get them through the bad times. (See Rev. Bingle’s definition of apocalyptic writing below). They did it with what the poet Walt Whitman called “faint indirection”, veiled messages, with the use of poetry, symbols and hidden meanings due to the times of persecution they lived in. The references in Daniel’s work related to the times in which he lived and told of earlier times where the faithful overcame terrible times. An argument can be made that although we do not all face religious or national persecution, a world armed with nuclear arsenals and leaders with short fuses is a much more scary place to live. A world where total greed determines the waste of resources needed for clean air and water and stable climate may indeed perish. Even the violence of our day is more frightening-war and violence is no longer just person to person but modern weapons can wipe out hundreds with one tiny effort. In my time street gangs inhabited ghettos like they do today. But zip guns that were handmade and killed a rival gang member or innocent bystander killed one by one. Automatic machine guns used by gang members and unbalanced killers today are a lot more lethal. Yet the people of Daniel’s day faced the kind of raw and senseless persecution that the Syrian Christians and others face today. Daniel wrote to get them through it. .
Daniel talks about a time of unspeakable great suffering in the life of the Hebrew people. But the good news is the first news of resurrection in the Hebrew Scriptures. God’s faithful will be rescued and “some who lie sleeping(dead) will rise up, some to life everlasting.” Moreover, “the wise will shine like the bright heavens,and the leaders of justice like the stars forevermore”. The author of Daniel, a pious Jew, wrote during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes 167-164 Before Christ, Before the Common Era. To encourage his fellow sufferers he retold the stories of Daniel that were written down and took place earlier during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and the days before and after the Persian conquest. According to Lamsa (Idioms in the Bible Explained) the “four great beasts” in Daniel 7 and 8 are the four great imperial powers: the Chaldean Empire, The Persian Empire (the Ram);the Grecian Empire (and Alexander the Great-the he goat) and the Roman Empire. The “Ancient of Days” is the Messiah. The people hearing the stories would have known what and who the code names stood for and basically gotten the message: faithful and loyal Jews will have victory over their enemies even as Daniel and his friends had victory over Nebuchadnezzar. The Messiah will come. But even more than this, death is not for ever, some shall rise again, and those who lead in justice will shine among the the living and the risen. And that message is clear, for then and for now: if the people of God fight for justice they will prevail and shine brighter than the stars. Yes, times are hard. Yes, maybe worse than ever. But FIGHT, fight for JUSTICE, and you will prevail. No, no one person or group will change the direction of the world, but each one fighting for justice combined with the next one will make a mighty effort that may turn things around. As Rev. Beverly Bingle noted, all is interconnected, a group fighting for trees to live, is fighting for the poor to be employed as well, and so on. The perspective is ecological, all in creation is dependent and interdependent upon other things-nothing is isolated. So an impact for justice in one place has a ripple effect that can be astronomical. Don’t give up, says Daniel, fight for what is right and keep on keeping on.
But what of great personal suffering? what does Daniel, and Jesus in Mark 13 have to tell us about that? In the last few months we have been walking with a family who has had difficulty upon difficulty and tragedy upon tragedy. After barely recovering from several hospitalizations and difficult diagnoses, as I write this both parents are in the hospital, different hospitals at that , for life threatening illnesses. The grandmother and extended family are caring for the children and the children are caring for each other. The stress of losing a job due to this recurrent illness, having a car repossessed and the threatened loss of their home certainly has contributed to the onslaught of ill health, but the onslaught just seems so endless. At the same time young relatives are shot and struck down by gang warfare. Their only peace in the midst of this is that our church has pledged to walk with them and not to let them become either “carless” or homeless. ( A car has been donated to them and the rent and utility bills have been supplemented). And members from our church are on a community task force to analyze the causes of gang violence and suggest remedies. Life hits hard yet God provides and is always there.
As Jesus says in Mark 13:29 when the green fig tree begins to bear fruit, “the Promised One is near, right at the door”. As each of us ripens in faith and wisdom and begin to bear fruit for God’s kin(g)dom, that is love and justice translated into everyday life, God is very near. Love in families and between friends and in church communities makes all the difference. In my extended family there is a young couple with two beautiful children.They have strong and active faith in Christ and the support of marvelous parents and siblings who love them and the children completely. Recently the young mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her response was noteworthy and amazing: to be thankful for her life and all of the love in her life, and to remain strong in her faith. She has blogged each day of her faith journey. The tumor was removed surgically and most of it is out. They now await news of the biopsy. Wendi Lee’s faith is strong as they wait. She is an inspiration. She has complete trust in our loving God. One can marvel at her mature faith and know “The Promised One is near”.
One of our church elders and one of my dearest friends faced the knowledge of blood clots in dangerous locations last week. Another lives with dialysis three times a week and directs her attention to others. Another faces the decline of her beloved husband with end stage cancer whose faith and fight have kept him going for years beyond expectations. And another faces breast cancer with devout faith, no family to help but the wealth of a few faithful friends. Another faced the loss of a parent and an only sibling within months. These are the personal cataclysms that require faith in the resurrection and that the Promised One be near. For each, faith and love keep them going. For another dear woman, after facing cancer and treatments as difficult as the diagnosis, she is having terrible dental issues and must attend to having teeth pulled in the midst of cancer treatment. Today her tears just could not stop as she shared her literal and other pain with me. Her dental work is not fully covered and she worried that she could not afford it. she also cannot afford the supplements she feels will help save her life. She cried again when she learned that “we have her back” all she needs we will assist with. I explained to her that “this is the good news in the midst of suffering: God has got your back. God has provided people and resources to help you”. Whether in times of cataclysmic suffering throughout the world, specific suffering of persecuted peoples, or seemingly endless suffering in the lives of individuals and families-the just will rise again to “life everlasting” beginning now and lasting forever, and the Promised One is near. God has not forsaken you. This is the Good News in the midst of bad news. And it changes everything.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP-USA-East
Co-Pastor, the Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in fort Myers, Florida website: goodshepmin.org
The love of friends and family and church is evidence that the Promised One is near-no matter what.
Rev. Beverly Bingle’s Homily
What’s all this end-of-the-world stuff about?
Our first reading gave us Daniel’s vision of the end-times.
Then we heard the passage
that’s referred to as Mark’s “Eschatological Discourse,”
presented as if Jesus is teaching it.
It helps to know that this kind of apocalyptic writing
was a common way of talking about change and renewal
in ancient times.
The Greek word apocalypse means “uncovering.”
It’s a lifting of the veil, a revelation.
As if the events haven’t happened yet,
the apocalyptic writer recounts historical events
up to the moment of writing,
then vaguely writes about future cosmic events
and how God will reward the just
and condemn the unjust.
Scholars say that it’s highly improbable
that Jesus ever used apocalyptic images
in the way Mark puts them together.
Mark frames Jesus’ message about the reign of God
in apocalyptic language to encourage his own community
to stay alert and follow the Way,
At the start of this chapter, Mark had Jesus describe
the “tribulation” that starts today‘s reading,
citing events that have already happened.
Mark has Jesus say that the Temple will fall,
not one stone left on another.
The disciples think it will last forever.
It’s too big to fail.
But Jesus sees it differently.
He sees the foundation cracking and the facade crumbling.
It’s not God’s dwelling place; it’s a den of thieves.
It needs change, not repair.
Over time our institutional church has ignored the message
that Jesus was trying to communicate.
We were taught a literal interpretation
telling us that we can earn after-life in heaven
if we unquestioningly obey church rules and church rulers.
We can see the dangers of that approach
in the wrongs committed in the name of our Church
throughout history—the massacres of the Crusades,
the silencing of Galileo and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,
to name some of the more notorious of the past,
and in recent times the expulsion of progressive priests,
the suppression of theologians,
the Vatican investigation of the U.S. religious sisters,
clergy sex abuse, and the coverup by church officials.
It seems that Pope Francis was trying to teach Jesus’ real message
last Tuesday in Florence,
looking at the Temple that is our church
and saying that “Catholicism can and must change.”
Francis said that it’s not useful
to look for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism.
He said it’s not useful
to try to restore “obsolete conduct”
or forms that are no longer “culturally significant.”
He said that doctrine is not a closed system;
it generates questions and doubts.
He called for open and honest dialogue.
He called for a church which is poor and is for the poor.
He said that “We are not living an era of change
but a change of era.”
Whenever a new way of thinking takes over,
it overturns the established order.
For people used to the old way, it feels like the world is ending—a
Today we’re experiencing a new reality
in the global spread of communication, technology, and trade.
In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews Jesus is the new reality of his time.
The old order had passed away.
In our time the old order of Roman Catholicism is passing away.
As Francis says, we’re entering a new era,
a time of transition in our church and in our world
that is troubling and challenging…
and at the same time promising.
Winter is upon us,
but even now the buds are forming for next year’s sprouts.
Just as the signs of nature are clear,
so are the signs of this new era.
Our scriptures, ancient wisdom that they are, show us the way:
we must watch and listen and,
as the book of Daniel tells us,
lead the way to justice.
Our local “Tree Toledo” project
to mitigate climate change by planting trees
takes another step this week and next
with the planting of 2,000 more oak seedlings
in the Metroparks.
It might seem like we’re just another bunch of tree-huggers,
but a closer look shows that we’re
making a more just world for future generations,
those grandchildren and great-grandchildren
who will breathe the oxygen
given off by the trees we’re planting.
We’re working to keep them from suffering the climate catastrophes
that are even now disrupting lives
and killing people around the world.
In the old world, the light seemed to focus
on those who worked for their own good
without thought or concern for the common good.
The old world rewarded those who profited on the backs of others.
This new world is different.
In this new world, the ones who will shine like the stars
are those who do justice.
Ohio citizens are there, shining in their vote
for an end of gerrymandering of state legislative districts.
The students and faculty and even the football team
at the University of Missouri are there,
shining in their insistence on an end to racial injustice.
The MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio is there,
shining in its work for religious tolerance
and building a more compassionate community.
We’re there, too, shining, with our Tree Toledo effort
and our pleas for divestment from fossil fuels
and our parish community contributions
to programs that give the poor a hand up.
The old world is passing away.
The reign of God is at hand, here, among us and within us.
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m.
Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue (Washington Church)
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006