Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 7: 2-14; Luke21:29-33)

It is difficult for most people today to appreciate apocalyptic literature. Certainly contemporary concerns -- keeping a job and educating the children – are legitimate, of course. However, they pale really in comparison to the woes of apocalyptic times. People engage in apocalyptic thinking when ravaging armies come into their lives and systematic servitude becomes a looming threat. Apocalyptic writers offered hope to victims of calamity by providing a vision of eventual triumph after a long, hard struggle.

The only example of a completely apocalyptic work in the New Testament is the Book of Revelation. There faithful Christians are assured victory over their Roman persecutors, “the whore of Babylon.” In the Old Testament the Book of the Prophet Daniel is the prime example 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 evidently working from a different manuscript to provide a sensible rendition of its meaning. The passage is apparently an alternative account of the reading from Daniel heard at mass on Tuesday; that is, the succession of empires leading to the everlasting reign of God.

We should not take apocalyptic literature as a literal description of the future. Then how are we to understand it? We might spiritualize its meaning: we must struggle against the evil in our lives, be it lust, greed, or hatred. Or we might allow it to remind us of peoples in the world live today suffering the same kind of oppression as the ancients: Christians in the Near East and Tibetans, Mynamarians, and Congolese in their native lands come to mind. Or, finally, we might appropriate the hope offered by these texts as our future when we take up God’s ways: a time of universal peace, goodwill, and friendship.