The Great Parousia
By Jude Huntz
Key Scripture Columnist
As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the Church provides us with readings designed to have us consider a topic we would rather not think about. The end of our lives and the end of the world are not cheerful topics, but they are both realities with which we have to face. The way a person approaches these realities determines their outlook on a great many things in life, as well as their final outcome in the life to come.
The first reading from Daniel and the Gospel reading from Mark present us with a stark picture of the end of time. Unsurpassed distress and great tribulations will define these times. We have to remember that these readings are a specific type of literature to ancient times known as apocalyptic. The purpose of writing apocalyptic was not to instill fear or even to determine the specific time of destruction. Rather, authors use this literary device to encourage their readers to remain faithful to the way of the Lord and to persevere during difficult times. Apocalyptic literature, then, was really a message of hope written for an audience experiencing great trial.
In the case of Daniel, the author of that work was encouraging the Jewish community experiencing persecution at the hand of pagan occupying forces in Israel at the time. Daniel is referring to those specific historical instances and uses them as a backdrop for a larger apocalyptic of cosmic proportions. Those who lead others to justice will be rewarded, while those who committed injustice will finally receive punishment for their crimes.
Similarly, the Gospel of Mark was written during the time of the Roman invasion of Judea. The holy city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the great Temple was razed. This event caused great distress to the early Christian community which was still intimately tied to their Jewish roots. With such calamitous events occurring, the early Christian community to whom Mark was writing expected Jesus to come very soon. Mark employs apocalyptic to encourage his community in the midst of these trials.
The writers of the New Testament used the Greek word “parousia” to refer to the final coming of Jesus. This term was used to describe the solemn entry of the Emperor into a city or province. He would then be declared the savior of that territory. These triumphal arrivals were usually the occasion for feasting and the beginning of a new calendar. (cf. M. Schmaus, Dogmatic Theology, VII, p. 134) The New Testament writers, then, were making a direct challenge to the political establishment of their time: it is Jesus alone who can bring us victory and peace. Jesus alone is our savior and upon his return will we feast, but not before. We cannot accept a political leader as our savior or a political program as our gospel.
Intimately connected with awaiting the coming of Jesus was the full establishment of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that exists now on earth, but serves as a sign of the one that exists fully in heaven. There, Jesus waits as our high priest, as Paul notes in the second reading, since he has already forgiven our sins. As Pope Paul VI noted, “The kingdom of God, which had its beginnings here on earth in the Church of Christ, is not of this world, whose form is passing, and that its authentic development cannot be measured by the progress of civilization, of science, or of technology. The true growth of the kingdom of God consists in an ever-deepening knowledge of the unfathomable riches of Christ, in ever-stronger hope of eternal blessings, in an ever more fervent response to the love of God, and in an ever more generous acceptance of grace and holiness by men” (Pope Paul VI, Credo of the People of God, 27).
As we await with joy the coming of Jesus and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, let our prayer be the joyful refrain from the responsorial psalm: “O Lord, my allotted portion and my cup, you it is who hold fast my lot. I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed….You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.”
Jude Huntz is Director of the Office of Human Rights for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.