33rd Sunday in OT / B
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
As we come closer to the end of the Church’s liturgical year, our readings begin to focus on "the end." We see this in our first and third readings today—a reading from the Book of Daniel, and one from the Gospel of Mark.
We call this type of literature apocalyptic. The word apocalyptic, or apocalypse, normally makes reference to the "end of the world" or the "destruction of the world." But the Greek word apocalypse literally means, "pulling back the veil" or "to uncover." In the Latin, apocalypse is translated revelation—to reveal, to pull back the veil. Something revealed to us—we see beyond the veil. We see a different world.
This is certainly the case in the Book of Daniel, which was so important to the early Church as they tried to understand the person of Jesus. The Book of Daniel can be a little puzzling—filled with symbols, dreams, visions, and mythical characters. Those who would interpret Daniel try to "pull back the veil" in order to "reveal" the truth.
You might think that you are not very familiar with Daniel, but you’ve probably heard these familiar stories: 1) Daniel in the lion’s den; 2) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace; 3) the strange handwriting on the wall at Belshazzar’s Feast; 4) the rape of Susannah by the elders (the first detective story in literature).
But the Book of Daniel is also about dreams and visions—of great interest to early Christians who saw Daniel as "pulling back the veil" to reveal. For example, in Daniel 2, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that greatly disturbs him—he saw a giant statue whose head was gold, chest was silver, belly was brass, and "feet of clay."
The wise men of the court couldn’t interpret the dream, so the Hebrew captive, Daniel, is called in. He said the statue represents 4 consecutive kingdoms (including Babylon), all
of which will be destroyed and replaced by an everlasting kingdom, God’s kingdom. The early Christians took note of this.
In Daniel 7, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is confirmed by another dream. Daniel himself dreams of four powerful beasts who emerge from the sea: a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a terrible animal with 10 horns (just like a dream!). Then, one called the "ancient of days" (God) appears and destroys the four beasts—taking away their power.
This paves the way for one "like a Son of Man" (today’s Gospel) who is given dominion, power, and glory. All the nations serve him. The dream basically repeats Nebuchadnezzar’s dream—with a "Son of Man" whose kingdom that will last forever.
Sound familiar? The early Christians understood the four kingdoms, and the four beasts, to be Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Jewish calculations of numbers—the veil pulled back—told them that kingdom of the Son of Man would arrive about 500 years after the exile. That is exactly the time of Jesus—who came preaching "an everlasting kingdom," the one who will come "in the clouds of heaven with great power and glory."
A vision from the Book of Daniel—a vision fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Our readings today helped the early Church recognize Jesus as this "Son of Man," as the Son of God, as the Messiah who is to come.
In two weeks we will celebrate the First Sunday of Advent—preparation for the first coming of the Lord—and preparation for the second coming, in glory. May we be ready to welcome the Savior.