Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
(Daniel 7:2-14; Luke 21:29-33)
We have difficulty appreciating apocalyptic literature. We live in a time where the main material worry is over the Dow-Jones average. In apocalyptic times people worried about ravaging armies and systematic servitude. Apocalyptic writers offered hope to the victims by providing a vision of eventual triumph after a long, hard struggle. The only example of a completely apocalyptic work is the Book of Revelation in which faithful Christians are assured victory over their Roman persecutors. In the Old Testament the Book of the Prophet Daniel is one of the prime examples of the apocalyptic. Written during the oppression of the wicked Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Daniel foresees an eventual reversal of lots. Israel will overturn its oppressor, and God will reign over it forever.
Interestingly, the grotesque passage from Daniel that we read today makes sense when it is interpreted with the aid of the Book of Revelation. The text at hand is obscure. But John, the visionary of Revelation, cites the same passage but works from a different manuscript which provides a sensible rendition of the passage’s meaning. It tells the same story as the passage from Daniel that we heard on Tuesday: the succession of empires leading to an everlasting reign of God.
This background should warn us not to take apocalyptic literature literally. Then how are we to understand it? We might spiritualize its meaning: we must struggle against the evil in our lives, be it lust, pride, or hatred. Or we might allow the stories to remind us that other people in the world live today with the same kind of oppression as the ancients: Tibetans, Chechens, and Mynamarians come to mind. Or we might appropriate the hope offered by these texts as the future of the earth: a time of universal peace, goodwill, and friendship among all nations under God.