26 November 2013. Tuesday of the Thirty Fourth Week
Dan 2:31ff. In a vision, Daniel sees four kingdoms destroyed by a stone falling from the mountain, which proceeds to fill the whole earth.
Lk 21:5ff. Take care not to be misled about the end of the world by self-proclaimed saviours. The end does not follow immediately.
First Reading: Daniel 2:31-45
“You were looking, O king, and lo! there was a great statue. This statue was huge, its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by human hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, were all broken in pieces and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
“This was the dream; now we will tell the king its interpretation. You, O king, the king of kings – to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the might, and the glory, into whose hand he has given human beings, wherever they live, the wild animals of the field, and the birds of the air, and whom he has established as ruler over them all – you are the head of gold. After you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over the whole earth.
And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron; just as iron crushes and smashes everything, it shall crush and shatter all these. As you saw the feet and toes partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but some of the strength of iron shall be in it, as you saw the iron mixed with the clay. As the toes of the feet were part iron and part clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. As you saw the iron mixed with clay, so will they mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever; just as you saw that a stone was cut from the mountain not by hands, and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. The great God has informed the king what sall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation trustworthy.”
Gospel: Luke 21:5-11
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he aid to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
What is it, that can last?
As we near the end of the church year we meet some of the most symbolic literature in the Bible, dealing with the end of the world, which also ranks among the Bible’s most popular parts among certain circles with a taste for the apocalyptic style. We must be careful in interpreting it, as the language is highly coloured and evocative. Jesus offers a word of caution when he declares, “Take care not to be misled.” The liturgy provides the surest way to apply these passages to our lives, bidding us take responsibility for our actions, examine where we are spiritually, and face God honestly. Yet the end gives way to a new beginning. With the imminence of Advent and four weeks later of our Saviour’s birth, we are given a new chance, a new lease of life. The end and the beginning, responsibly taking stock and then beginning over again by God’s mercy, are equally important.
As we look back, we may see so many efforts, badly inspired, controlled by personal interests and pride. We see a statue, similar to that shown in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision . This statue with its four principal sections represented the four great kingdoms, as the Israelites remembered them: of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians and Greeks. No matter how colossal they were, and seemingly invincible, they collapsed. A stone hewn from the mountains struck the feet of the statue which were partly iron and partly tile and smashed them. This stone stood for Israel. Out of seeming, insignificant people, whose bodies seemed dead and hopeless according to Paul (Rom 4:19), God creates new life, comforts the ruins of Zion, and fills the holy city with “joy and gladness.”
The bible’s message is that world empires, material wealth, political clout – none of these forces can last forever; and our faith will outlast them all. What God achieves in our lives through prayer and faith, through perseverance in the midst of trials, through obedience to his will and our conscience, becomes… a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. But the trials will be severe. We may pass through several difficult harvestings but eventually the good deeds, like the wheat, will be harvested by the Son of Man who comes on the cloud; all evil will be cut from the branches like ripe grapes and thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath. There will be times of accounting and taking stock, for God will not let things just drift for ever.
We must be people of sincerity and honesty, not just bluffing our way along. We have to attempt justice towards our neighbour, characterized by sympathetic understanding of the human situation. If we have been disappointed with others, perhaps cheated and lied to, we may tend to summon the end of the world for these people – no second chance, let them be totally condemned! Perhaps we need to look at them again, through the eyes of Jesus, who sees to the heart of things. Guided by his spirit, we, the stone hewn from the mountains, can become a new kingdom of God. We must extend this hope to others as well, as we look forward to a new year of grace, beginning in Advent.