- 1Samuel 1:4-20 and 1Samuel 2:1-10
- Heb. 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
- Mark 13:1-8
First Reading: Birth of Samuel
The RCL turns to 1Samuel for its reading from the Hebrew Bible this week, and that is a natural sequel to the last couple of Sundays with their focus on Ruth.
Samuel is the dominant figure in the first of the books that now bear his name, even appearing from the other side of the grave to deliver his final condemnation of King Saul (1Sam 28). This birth narrative features several puns on the name of Israel’s first king, since sha’ul is the Hebrew word for ask or petition:
- 1:17 – “Go in peace, the LORD has heard the sha’ul you have made to him …”
- 1:20 – She named him Samuel (God hears), for she said, “I have asked (sha’al) him of the LORD.”
- 1:27 “… the LORD has granted me the sha’ul that I made to him …”
- 1:28 “… I have lent (sha’ul) him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is sha’ul to the LORD.”
The presence of such a strong theme within the text has led some scholars to ask whether this may originally have been the birth story of Saul, rather than Samuel.
Apart from providing a suitably auspicious birth narrative for Samuel, the tale also serves to introduce the Song of Hannah which is used as this week’s Psalm and may have been the model for Luke when he composed the Magnificat, or Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55).
These songs both express an eschatological perspective, although it is most likely that neither is explicitly “apocalyptic” in tone. Still, they affirm a vision of hope and the expectation that God would act to bring justice to the people.
The book of Daniel is a key apocalyptic text within the Hebrew Bible, and it was a book that continued to grow as time passed. We know from the additions found in the Greek versions of Daniel that this archetypal man of faith, who could serve as such a positive role model for the young scribes that studied the book as part of their own training, continued to attract new episodes in which his wisdom and faithfulness were celebrated.
Daniel seems to have been a legendary figure in the West Semitic cultural tradition, as he features in the texts from Ugarit from before the time of the Exodus as well as getting a passing mention (along with Noah and Job) in Ezekiel:
even if Noah, Daniel, and Job, these three, were in it,
they would save only their own lives by their righteousness, says the Lord God. [Ezek 14:14]
The text is well chosen as a preparation for this week’s Gospel as it represents an earlier version of a similar tradition. Several classic literary features of an apocalyptic text are to be seen here:
- Michael, the archangel, will be the savior of God’s people
- unparalleled troubles just before the End
- timely deliverance of the faithful
- a book of life with the names of the faithful recorded
- resurrection of those who sleep in the dust of the earth
- final judgment leading to bliss or punishment
- unsuccessful attempts to calculate the timing of the End
Second Reading: Jesus the eternal high priest in Hebrews
The extended metaphor of Jesus as a priest continues this week, but it seems best to focus on the apocalyptic and eschatological themes that will be so prominent between now and Christmas.
Gospel: Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse
The major western lectionaries all draw upon Mark 13 for this week’s Gospel:
- 13:1-8 = RCL
- 13:14-23 = ECUSA
- 13:24-32 = RC
This interest in eschatological themes alerts us to the proximity of Advent, with its focus on the One who comes and the associated themes of judgment and salvation.
All of these excerpts are from a discourse on eschatological themes that Mark attributes to Jesus, and which both Matthew and Luke retain with some amendments (see Matthew 24 and Luke 21).
There has been considerable debate among scholars concerning Jesus’ relationship to the well-attested apocalyptic eschatology of Second Temple Judaism. Some definitions may be helpful as we consider these issues:
- eschatology is theology with a focus on the “last things” (Gk: eschaton = end) and deals with doctrines about the end of the world, judgment, afterlife, etc. Essentially, eschatology introduces a sense of meaning by reference to the goal or purpose of life, and there is no need to suppose a significant delay between the present time and the inauguration of God’s reign (a.k.a., “the kingdom of God”).
- apocalyptic eschatology is a common variant of “endtime theology” and its particular hallmark is the assumption that the anticipated future golden age will only arrive after a cataclysmic intervention by God to punish the evil and to vindicate the faithful. Apocalyptic preachers and their writings are typically concerned to stress the extreme evil of the present world in contrast to the idyllic conditions of the world to come. That information usually rests upon some special revelation conveyed to the seer by God through the agency of a vision, or an angelic visitation.
John the Baptist is widely recognized as a 1C Jewish apocalyptic prophet, but it is not clear whether Jesus belongs in that tradition, or more in the tradition of the sages and miracle-workers of ancient Judaism.
While the majority view among NT scholars seems to be that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, the Jesus Seminar has adopted a dissenting opinion.
Whether or not Jesus himself was an apocalyptic prophet, the most influential interpreters of Jesus certainly were, foremost among them Paul and Mark. As a result, the Gospel of Mark attributes to Jesus the classic early discourse on the end of the world now found in Mark 13 and parallels:
13:1-2 Temple’s doom
13:3-8 The last days
13:9-13 Trials and persecutions for the faithful
13:14-20 The desolating sacrilege
13:21-23 Confusion over the Messiah’s appearance
13:24-27 The coming of the Son of Man
13:28-32 This generation will see it all
13:33-37 Appeal to stay alert
The point of such apocalyptic traditions (including the Book of Revelation) was to encourage the faithful in the face of persecution, not to publish a theological puzzle to confuse and alarm readers. The apocalyptic writings explain the present chaos and lawlessness of human society while assuring the faithful that God will act on their behalf in good time.
Long after apocalyptic had settled into a domesticated role within Christian theology, the association of Jesus with the prophecies of the end time can be seen even in the Muslim traditions about him:
/71/ The disciples said, “Christ of God, look at the house of God—how beautiful it is!” He replied, “Amen, Amen, Truly I say to you, God will not leave one stone of this mosque upon another but will destroy it utterly because of the sins of its people. God does nothing with gold, silver, or these stones. More dear to God than all these are the pure in heart. Through them, God builds up the earth, or else destroys it if these hearts are other than pure. (mid-ninth century CE) [Tarif Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus, p. 91]
- 002 Jesus Apocalyptic Return: (1) 1 Thess 4:13-18; (2) Did. 16:6-8; (3) Matt 24:30a; (4) Mark 13:24-27 = Matt 24:29,30b-31 = Luke 21:25-28; (5a) Rev 1:7; (5b) Rev 1:13; (5c) Rev 14:14; (6) John 19:37.
- 008 When and Where: (1a) Gos. Thom. 3:1 & P. Oxy. 654.3:1; (1b) Gos. Thom. 51; (1c) Gos. Thom. 113; (2) 2Q: Luke 17:23 = Matt 24:26; (3) Mark 13:21-23 = Matt 24:23-25; (4?) Dial. Sav. 16; (5) 1Q?: Luke 17:20-21.
- 049 Temple and Jesus: (1) Gos. Thom. 71; (2a) Mark 14:55-59 = Matt 26:59-61; (2b) Mark 15:29-32a = Matt 27:39-43 =(!) Luke 23:35-37; (2c) Acts 6:11-14; (3) John 2:18-22.
- 062 Spirit under Trial: (1) 1Q: Luke 12:11-12 = Matt 10:19-20; (2) Mark 13:11 = Matt 10: 19-20 = Luke 21:14-15; (3) John 14:26.
- 064 The Last Days: (1) Did. 16:3-5; (2) Matt 24:10-12; (3a) Mark 13:3-10,12-20 = Matt 24:3-22 = Luke 21:7-13,16-24; (3b) Matt 10:17-18; (3c) Luke 17:31-32.
- 265 Within this Generation: (1) Mark 13:28-32 = Matt 24:32-36 = Luke 21:29-33.
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.