28 November. Tuesday, Week 34
Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, "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."
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus 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.
The poet, Percy Bysse Shelley, in his poem Ozymandias, invites us to contemplate the broken pieces of a once-mighty statue of an Egyptian Pharao, now lying, half-covered in sand, on the desert floor. On the statue’s pedestal, these words appear: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" It throws into question all human pride and aspirations to make an immortal legacy in this world
As we near the end of the church year we meet some of the most graphic and 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.
In past history and also in our own times, we see so many human efforts to dominate others, controlled by personal interests and pride. We see examples of pride and dominance, like what was symbolised in Nebuchadnezzar's vision. The statue he dreamt of, 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. The message is that world empire and prestige, material wealth, political clout, none of these can last forever. The only thing that lasts is what God achieves in our lives; this becomes; "a kingdom that shall never be destroyed." But we may pass through many difficulties before eventually the good deeds, like the wheat, will be harvested by the Son of Man when he comes in glory.
As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the readings tend to focus on the darker side of human experience, the experience of destruction, of loss, of conflict, of deception. It is as if the liturgy is in harmony with the dark days of the end of the month of November. When we begin the new liturgical year next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, the days remain dark, but the liturgical readings take on a much brighter hue as they invite us to look forward to the coming of the light. This morning, Jesus speaks of the destruction of the wonderful Temple in Jerusalem, as well as of other dark events. No one looking at the temple in Jerusalem in Jesus' day could ever have imagined it being destroyed. After all it had taken nearly fifty years to build, and it wasn't quite finished in the time of Jesus. But even the strongest and finest buildings only last so long. Today's gospel calls on us not to get too attached to what does not last. Instead, we are to attach ourselves to the one who says of himself in one of the gospels that "something greater than the Temple is here." When all else fails and disappears, he endures, and through our relationship with him we too endure.