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Proper 28 | Ordinary Time 33, Cycle B

Daniel 12:1-3

The composer of this apocalyptic text that we call Daniel wrote in this portion that “At that time, there will be great trouble and anxiety!” As we read this, it is important that we realize that the writer was describing events of the writer’s own time, not of our time nearly 2,200 years later. Whether we are reading apocalyptic texts such as Daniel, or the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation) in the Newer Testament, or any other text in our Bibles, we are reading about events that were occurring during the time in which the biblical texts were written. They were not written specifically about anything that is happening now. Do we, no matter how inspired we may be, speak, teach, and preach about events that will occur 2,200 years into the future? We speak, teach, and preach about events within our time, just as they spoke, taught, and preached about events within their time.

Therefore, we should be reluctant to accept unquestioningly what people say when they try to tell us that something written in the Bible was written with specific reference to someone or to something in our time and place. In our study and use of biblical texts we must always begin with learning as much as we can about the setting in which the texts were formulated. When we have done that, then it is necessary to bring what we have learned over into our time and place and make the appropriate applications. That is what we are called to do.

The Daniel traditions were formed by devout Jews who were living during the oppressive rule of the Seleucid dictator Antiochus Epiphanes within the years 167-164 BCE. That Syrian ruler apparently thought that the Hellenistic culture that he had embraced was far superior to any other culture and that the culture and lifestyle of the small minority of people called Jews was so hopelessly inferior that for the good of his realm and even for the good of the Jews Hellenistic culture should be accepted by everyone. Therefore, it was a period of great trouble and anxiety for Jews who wanted to remain Jews within that situation.

What do we have in our situations that is comparable to what is depicted in the Daniel traditions? What is there in our situations of economic, political, social, and religious catastrophes that can be compared to what is depicted in Daniel? What people and groups today are in situations that are somewhat similar to the situation of the Jews whose survival as a people was uncertain at the time Daniel 12:1-3 was written?

It is the hope and prediction of the writer of Daniel 12:1-3 that soon the Jews, the people of God, will be delivered from this threat to their lives and culture. This is expressed in terms of a return to life even of some who “sleep in their graves.” They will awake, some to a condition of eternal life and some to one of eternal contempt. It is not clear whether this expectation was intended to apply to the return to life of the Jewish people as a whole, in groups, or as individual Jews. Perhaps at first it was intended to apply to the Jewish people as a whole, then later to groups of Jews (the easier concepts), and finally to individual Jews, (the most difficult). At any rate, there is evidence that the hope of the return to life of individual Jews became the hope of some Jews, but not of all Jews, during what we as Christians call the intertestamental period.

This is the milieu in which the Jesus of history lived. It is the milieu in which Christianity was developed and formed. It is the hope for the return to life of individuals that has made Christianity and later Islam attractive to so many people. Certainly we are called to proclaim with personal conviction this hope in the resurrection to life of individuals. We are called to proclaim this hope with our lives and in the message that we share next Sunday and every day.

Psalm 16

The psalmist remains faithful to the Lord and the Lord provides guidance, security, and a meaningful life for the psalmist. In the presence of the Lord the psalmist has complete satisfaction and joy.

This was a good arrangement for the psalmist and it is a good arrangement for us. For us, of course, the Lord is God as we perceive God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of us perceives God in a special, unique way, as special and as unique as we ourselves are as individuals within the diversity of the Church, the “Body of Christ” in the world.

Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25

Our emphasis in our application of Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25 should be on Jesus as the Risen Christ sitting at the “right hand” of God and waiting until his enemies will be placed as a footstool under his feet. Part of our job will be to explain, if necessary, that the language of Hebrews 10:12-13 is taken from what was known at the time of the composition of this text about how ancient monarchs ruled from their thrones above the people with their closest subordinates seated on either side of the monarchs to give the orders and to do the “dirty work” that was necessary so that the monarchs could retain their power and authority. Then, perhaps we should use some other descriptive language more appropriate for our time to depict and to proclaim what is proclaimed in this text. It is important that we emphasize that the descriptive language used by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is descriptive, vivid language. It is, in a sense, “art” work. We should not necessarily expect in the life to come to see God the Father seated on a throne and Jesus as God the Son seated on a lesser but still ornate chair with his feet on a footstool comprised of his enemies and mimicking the practice of ancient potentates and their closest subordinates.

Mark 13:1-8

This introductory portion of the Mark 13 “Little Apocalypse” is most likely a mixture of statements that the Jesus of history had made on various occasions about catastrophes that would occur soon, both those that would involve phenomena in nature such as earthquakes and famine and those that would be political disasters such as wars and the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple within it, and experiences of Jesus’ followers after he had been crucified. The experiences of Jesus’ followers, including events that were occurring during the revolt against the Roman occupation by Jewish nationalists in 66 CE and the suppression of that revolt during the seven years that followed it, were incorporated into what Jesus himself had said. If the Gospel According to Mark was initially written among followers of Jesus who had fled among other refugees from Galilee and Judea as Roman armies were converging upon those areas to suppress that revolt, they could easily have added vivid historical details from reports that they received about the Roman siege of Jerusalem and of the destruction of the city and of its temple. We cannot, therefore, use the details about the destruction of Jerusalem in Mark 13 to determine the precise dating of the composition of Mark’s Gospel.

What is obvious from our study of these texts is that the Markan writer and community considered the tumultuous times in which they were living to be analogous to the times described in the Daniel traditions, and, like those who had compiled the Daniel traditions two and a half centuries earlier, they hoped for relief from the horrible afflictions imposed upon them by the world power of their time. Like those who had compiled the Daniel traditions, these followers of Jesus could not safely write directly against their oppressors nor identify them by name. They could not safely mention the name of the currently reigning Roman Caesar any more than the writers of the Daniel tradition could mention the name of Antiochus Epiphanes during their time.

1 Samuel 1:4-20

This portion of the 1 Samuel document provides the backdrop for the reading of the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 that is used with it. The oppression here is caused by the situation of barrenness of Hannah and by the initial inability of her husband Elkanah and of the priest Eli to help her to deal with her affliction. When Eli finally understood the reason for her weeping and blessed her, her affliction ended as she conceived and bore a son, who would become the great religious leader in Israelite life and politics, Samuel.

1 Samuel 2:1-10

The Song of Hannah, along with the Song of Mary (the Magnificat) in Luke 1:46-55 that is modeled upon it, is essentially a thanksgiving to the Lord God for the reversal of fortune as God breaks into pieces the military power of the oppressors and raises up from the dust the poor and oppressed. Such exaltation is understandable, given the conditions of oppression experienced. From the perspective of many of us for whom oppression is much less severe, we may hope that conditions of oppression could change without a complete reversal of fortunes. We are aware that oppressed people who come into power sometimes become oppressors themselves when they possess power.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen