33 Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Daniel 12: 1-3; Psalm 16: 5, 8, 9-10, 11; Hebrews 10: 11-14, 18; Mark 13: 24-32.
At this early hour, you might have missed the last line in today’s Gospel.
Were I not preaching today, I probably would have missed it myself.
Our ancestors in faith from the fourth century, however, did not miss it.
Here it is again:
“But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven,
nor the Son, but only the Father.”1
That day and that hour, according to the Gospel, is the last day and hour,
the moment when all “will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds
with great power and glory.”2
The reason this made it on to the fourth century radar was because
it appears to suggest that Christ, the Son, lacks knowledge that the Father has.
Commence fighting!
Over here we have Arius and his followers who see this verse as confirmation
of their position that the Son is subordinate to the Father.
In other words, because the Son is ignorant of something the Father knows,
the Son cannot be made of the same stuff as the Father.
The Father takes the gold medal;
the Son, the silver;
and the Spirit…presumably the bronze.
Now over here we have St. Athanasius and those who, along with him, disagree.
When Jesus says this, they argue, he is speaking of his human nature, which
like our human nature, is limited in what it knows.
But because he is also fully divine, Christ does, in one sense, know everything that
the Father knows, including when that day and hour will arrive.
The three persons in one God, because they share one substance,
are going to share one medal. And that medal will be gold.
This disagreement was profound,
resulting in exiles, condemnations, and, in some instances, death.
But beneath it lies a deeper agreement on the question that must be answered:
Who is Jesus?
Maybe the fourth century was not so long ago after all,
for we ourselves are still asking this same question.
Today’s gospel offers one answer:
Jesus is one who reveals to us truths that we have long known,
but his revelation spurs us into new action.
I assume, of course, that the three basic points of today’s gospel were not news to us:
Mark 13:32.
Mark 13:26; cf., Daniel 7:13.
first, that the world as we know it will not always be just as we know it now;
second, the full realization of the Kingdom will effect this transformation; and,
third, the moment when all this will happen is not Google-able.
At the very least, we can be sure that Mark’s original audience,
plagued as they were with persecution, surrounded as they were by martyrs,
would not have scratched their heads in confusion at Jesus’ words.
Indeed, this message must have been truly good news for them.
It likely made some sense of the pain and suffering they were enduring.
And it surely plotted out a course of new action:
Take courage!
The sufferings of this world will soon be over,
and the banquet of the new creation is prepared.
This is one reaction to the apocalyptic language we find in today’s gospel.
But now, as we become Mark’s audience,
an audience not facing the constant threat of martyrdom,
nor believing that the end of the world is imminent –
Mayan predictions notwithstanding –
I would like to suggest still another way of proceeding: the way of gratitude.
Do not be fooled: giving thanks, being grateful for the gifts of my life, is not a cheap grace.
It is not an easy out.
In a way, it demands a dying to myself,
an implicit recognition that my life, as I know it now, will not always be thus.
When I look at the blessings and the sufferings of my life,
it quickly becomes clear that I am not the master of all that happens in my world.
If I am honest, I know that I must pause and give thanks to so many people,
give thanks to God as well,
for what I have and for who I am.
Thanksgiving, however, is more than a nice thought or even a touching verbal formulation.
It calls for action.
Consider two examples.
We pray today in a church dedicated to St. Ignatius Loyola,
the founder of the Society of Jesus
and the author of the Spiritual Exercises,
guidelines for a retreat made by all Jesuits,
and by many parishioners here as well.
After literally 30 days,
or as we do it in this parish, 30 weeks of prayer,
the one making the retreat finally arrives at the very last exercise of them all.
Ignatius makes the goal of that prayer, what he calls the grace of that exercise, quite clear:
I should ask “for interior knowledge of all the great good I have received,
in order that,
stirred to profound gratitude,
I may be able to love and serve the Divine Majesty in all things.”3
For Ignatius, as this quotation makes clear, gratitude,
giving thanks,
leads to action.
So in the face of today’s gospel, I can easily imagine Ignatius’s reaction:
The sun is darkening? The moon is preparing to no longer give its light?
Then give thanks; and while you are at it, do thanks for the gifts of your life.
Ignatius’s words would put him in the company of Jesus, my second example.
For Jesus, giving thanks, or, in the Greek, eucharistein, always meant doing thanks as well.
The Last Supper,
an event that we re-member “as often as we eat this bread and drink the cup,”4
was not just about saying thanks for food, drink, and shared time,
and then moving along.
We call what happened that night the Lord’s Supper because Jesus showed us that
Eucharist, eucharistein, was about much more than bread and wine.
It was about how he lived, loved and served;
it was about how he died;
and it was about he rose,
to live again; to live now; and to live forever.
The words of today’s gospel should not surprise us because
Jesus is one who reveals to us truths that we have long known.
But this gospel and the Gospel should challenge us because,
whenever Jesus speaks,
he tries to spur us into new action.
For us, especially this week,
may we make gratitude –
saying thanks and doing thanks –
our action, ever anew.
Spiritual Exercises, §233.
1 Corinthians 11:26.