33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 18, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16:5, 8-11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
There was a strong Jewish belief about the end of the world and what that would look like. We hear some of it in our first reading from the Book of Daniel: great distress, some rising from their graves to eternal life, some to eternal horror and disgrace. In our Gospel, Jesus quotes other Old Testament passages: the Son of Man coming on the clouds, sending his angels; the sun and moon are darkened, stars are falling. This is the cliché doomsday prophet’s go-to passage. Here it is, scripture telling us how terrible the end of the world will be. But they often skip over the most important part. Our first reading mentions someone in particular: the wise one, one who will lead others to justice. Or as our Psalm points out, the one who will show us the path to life, the path to the fullness of joy!
And while the doomsday prophets may glance over this, the Jews did not! They had a strong hope for this figure, for the Son of Man to come and inaugurate this end of time. They were ready for a great and powerful figure to come along and lead them triumphantly down the path to life and the fullness of joy. And so, when Jesus starts quoting all of these passages, when Jesus starts applying all of these prophecies to himself, you can almost start to sense the excitement the Apostles must have had. “Here he is! Here we go! Glad we’re on his team!”
But then, as we continue to read Mark’s Gospel, everything seems to fall apart. Right after this, the narrative of Jesus’ passion and death begins. As quickly as Jesus begins to hint at the fact that he is the Son of Man who will come to inaugurate the end times, as soon as he hints that he is the one who will triumph over all, he seems to go in the exact opposite direction. Instead of gaining more and more power, conquering, overcoming enemies—instead of all of that, he begins to sink deeper and deeper, to get closer and closer to destruction. And then, almost ironically, Jesus arrives at his moment of glory: hung upon a tree, condemned to death. Jesus’ glory is the cross. The eternal sign of this Son of Man is the cross.
The Apostles’ initial impressions were wrong. Jesus wasn’t predicting the signs that would accompany the end of the world; he wasn’t trying to clue us in on what the literal end of this world would look like. No, Jesus is hinting at the fact that in his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension—in what we refer to as the Paschal Mystery—in all of this, the final age of the world is inaugurated! In his Paschal Mystery, history has reached its culmination! And it has reached its culmination in the most unimaginable way: the Son of Man willingly walking to his death.
This is what the Apostles couldn’t understand! Over and over we see it when Jesus predicts his passion: they just can’t understand it. This is the one who is supposed to lead them to freedom, to the fullness of joy and lead them along the path to life. And what happens? He walks as a prisoner, broken and sorrowful, walking the path to death. What is going on? Well, exactly what Jesus said was going on: the Son of Man is leading us to glory, he is walking the path to glory, and it is the path to the cross. It all centers on the cross.
The Carthusian monk’s have a motto which I think sums it up well. Their motto is: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, which means, the Cross stands still as the earth turns. Or, in other words, as life continues to go on, as history continues to progress, the Cross of Jesus Christ, the Cross of the Son of Man, continues to stand at the center of all of history, at the culmination of all of history. The Cross stands still as the earth turns.
When we hear readings like the ones we have today, we can easily make the mistake of starting to worry about the literal end of the world. When really, what Jesus is trying to make clear is our need for a change of focus! Stop trying to worry about the future, or the second coming. Rather, focus everything, your entire life, your entire existence on one simple thing: the cross of Jesus Christ. Center your life on this great mystery, his cross, which leads to the fullness of joy, which is the path of life.
The big question, though, is “how.” How do we center our life on the cross? Sounds pretty abstract. But really, it’s incredibly simple. Because the cross is nothing other than the Son giving himself in complete love to everyone around him. The cross is the sign of complete and perfect obedience, obedience even to death. The cross is the revelation that the path to life and the fullness of joy comes not through power, but through lowliness, through poverty. That’s the first beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the Kingdom of God. Jesus, though he was God, became man; he took on our human condition, he became weak, a slave. And then, he became obedient, even to death. But because of this, God exalted him, raised him up in glory. And now we proclaim: Jesus Christ is Lord! (c.f., Philippians 2).
And so how do we do this in our own lives? Well, that where we have to count ourselves incredibly blessed to be in the Diocese of Wichita, where our path is given to us in the form of the Stewardship Way of Life. Today, we finish our annual Stewardship renewal. Stewardship gives us a very concrete and real way to live our lives centered on the cross of Jesus Christ, centered on giving ourselves in love to every one around us. Stewardship allows us to acknowledge that the fullness of joy does not come through trying to provide for yourself or take over the world, but by humbling yourself, by placing your gifts at the service of one another.
Next week, we will celebrate the feast of Christ the King. And this King’s throne is nowhere other than the cross. As Pilate wrote on his cross, “Jesus Christ, King.” Our King’s throne is the cross. And so we center our lives on the throne of our King, on the cross of Jesus Christ. Our lives center on this altar, where his cross is made present once again.