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NOVEMBER 15, 2009: THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Daniel 12:1-3
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

One of the objections to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s evolution-based theology about the end of the world revolves around his omission of any earth-shattering, all-destructive, eschatological battles or natural disasters preceding the event. In Teilhard’s vision, the final transition from this world to the next will be relatively peaceful. When the “omega point” eventually arrives, all of us will simply become one with Christ and Christ one with us.

Neither our Daniel passage nor our Marcan pericope depict the cosmic end of our planet in Teilhardian terms. The Daniel author warns, “It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until this time.” Mark’s Jesus tells his followers, “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heaven will be shaken.”

Both authors composed these readings in the apocalyptic genre which I explained two weeks ago. That style of writing was, by far, the most popular type of religious literature between 150 BCE and 150 CE. Collections of the apocryphal writings which didn’t make it into the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are chockfull of apocalyptic books. Considering the sheer volume of such literature, it’s amazing that there are only two such books in our Sacred Scriptures: Daniel and the Book of Revelation; plus a few individual chapters and verses in other books. Today’s chapter 13 of Mark is an example of the latter. By and large, mainstream Judaism and Christianity didn’t seem to think apocalyptic writings were an appropriate tool to help people of faith understand their faith.

It’s important for us to understand that biblical apocalyptic authors simply bought into the widespread - but not specifically divinely revealed - belief that titanic wars, destructive natural phenomena and other great disturbances would precede “the end.” Even non-believers were convinced the world would one day meet its end accompanied by such phenomena.

As I mentioned in my All Saints article, the main difference between the apocalyptic book of Revelation and Mark’s apocalyptic chapter 13 is that in the latter God (or Jesus) doesn’t start or take part in this cosmic destruction. Mark’s Jesus simply includes them in the chronology of his Parousia. “They come first; then I arrive.”

Mark’s main point isn’t to teach us that these calamities are an essential part of Jesus’ arrival, as much as to tell us that Jesus will be here among us even in the midst of such upheavals. Because modern theologians, like Teilhard, look at the cosmos from a completely different perspective than that which theologians 2,000 years ago employed, many of them talk about Jesus arriving without all the wars and earthquakes our ancestors in the faith once believed were an essential part of “the show.”

We find one of the reasons for their new theology in today’s Hebrew’s selection. Though the author is giving his readers an insight into the person of Jesus which only a Jewish Christian can appreciate, he ends this passage with a comment which all Christians - even Gentiles - can understand: “Where there is forgiveness... there is no longer offering for sins.” In other words, Forgiveness changes the world order as we know it. Love, not punishment, is the reason for Jesus’ Parousia. Love, not destruction, will precede his arrival.

Teilhard’s unique definition of evolution was “centro-complexity.” According to him, whenever and wherever living entities become more one, yet more complex, evolution is taking place. Can you come up with any action more centered and more complex than the act of forgiving?