22nd November 2015
The first reading is from Daniel, as it was last week. In chapter 7, we have a description of a dream in which there are four beasts who are, perhaps, representative of the four nations that dominated and suppressed the Jewish state. Israel thought of itself as the favourite nation of God and so found this oppression particularly devastating. But in the dream God overcomes the power of these beasts and in their place sets up a human being. This may well have referred to the hoped-for elevation of Israel. The meaning is confused and uncertain, however, because in the original language of Daniel the phrase for the human being (who replaces the beasts) is ‘son of man.’ Though it makes some sense in the context of a dream for a human to replace the beasts, when the phrase is translated word for word it can make one think of a particular individual who might save the people – and it was used in this way in our reading (Chapter 7:13-14) and by Jesus of himself according to the gospels,. But the extremely interesting notion in our reading, is that it is not just Israel that is favoured by God but absolutely all people; this is a truly radical vision for the Jewish author in the second century BC – the universality of salvation!
The second reading relates well to the above interpretation of Daniel’s dream. It is from the book of Revelation sometimes called the Apocalypse in Catholic literature – the two words mean much the same. The book begins with what we might see on the dust cover of a book nowadays – something like “This book by John is a revelation he had from Jesus, delivered by an angel; it is about what will happen in the near future. It will be a blessing to all who heed its message.” The text goes on in the manner of a letter (in those days the name of the sender first); something like “John to the seven churches in Asia, grace and peace to you from God and from Jesus…” and there our reading (chapter 1:5-8) begins. It follows with a prose and then a poetic statement from God the beginning and end of everything (Alpha and Omega); firstly, praise to Jesus whose life (His blood poured out) has saved us all from sin and, secondly, the announcement of his coming to us all; then a statement that everyone may see His glory, but seeing this can also make one sad. The author doesn’t say why we mourn, but maybe because He was literally pierced and this reveals the sin and inadequacy of us humans that brought it about.
The gospel is about Jesus questioned about His kingdom by Pilate who is, of course, in charge of the Kingdom of Israel at the time. The trial(s) of Jesus are reported in the Gospel of John, with a report of the exchanges between Jesus and the High Priest, particularly about his teaching; then He is brought before Pilate and this is extended considerably in this Gospel, where Pilate wants to hand the matter over to the Jews themselves – these verses are found on the very oldest fragment that exists from the New Testament writings (see here). Taking Jesus back inside, the evangelist puts into words an imagined conversation that Pilate has which makes up the reading for today (chapter 18:33-37) about the kingship of Christ – what kind of king is He? The reign of Jesus is spiritual over the realm of truth – the verse following our passage has the dramatic words from Pilate “What is Truth?” This is a most apt reading for this feast day and also climaxes nicely the two previous readings.