Read Daniel 12:1-3, Ps.16:5,8-11, Hebrews 10:11-14,18, Mark 13:24-32
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:2-3)
With our celebration of the Feast of Christ the King next Sunday, we are saying bye-bye to this liturgical year. Even the very fact that this year is coming to an end teaches us one lesson: “whatever has a beginning must also have an end.” Beginnings are sweet but endings are real. As the end approaches, today’s readings have been carefully selected to help us reflect on the end and more precisely about what scares us the most: Death.
1. What is Death? Why do we die?
Death is a separation of the physical body from the soul, a separation from the world of human beings, from loved ones, and from the everyday business of life. With every separation, we are given a chance to taste death, for instance, when we suffer from heartbreak. Even our sleeping and waking every day is a preparation for the ultimate sleep of death.
The number of our age is not only an achievement, it is also a reminder of how close we are to death. Death is part of what makes us human beings. Our bodies are not designed to last forever. Our first reading today speaks of how we shall sleep in the dust of the earth. Death is simply inescapable.
2. The Fear of death.
As children, we often lied about our age increasing it as much as we can. But as adults, we catch ourselves lying again about our age reducing it to the barest minimum. Why do we do this? The fear of death or better put, our desire for self-preservation. We don’t want to know how close we are to our death. We are very scared of death. It may interest you to know that our readings today (just like what we find in the book of revelation) were addressed to people just like us who are afraid of death; people who were experiencing severe persecution by the government in power.
Far from being prophecies of the end of the world, these writings were intended to give consolation and relief to those who knew they would soon be killed for their faith. Much of the writings are therefore put in coded forms so that even their persecutors would not understand. Unfortunately, many of us still cannot understand them today. These writings had one purpose: to prepare the people on how to face death.
3. How do we prepare for Death?
The first step in preparing for death is *accepting the fact that we cannot escape death.* Do you notice that both Daniel in our first reading and Jesus in our Gospel passage did not shy away from the fact that we shall die? Death is a reality no one, no matter how holy can escape.
The Second step we must take to prepare for death is *to become one of the wise ones whose names are written in the book of life.* As one popular Nigerian musician sang: “is your name in the book of life?” This question calls for an examination of conscience: “If I die right now, how good am I for heaven?”
Daniel speaks about the wise shining like the brightness of the firmament. In order for us to understand what Daniel meant, let us remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (John 3:19-21).
The brightness Daniel was talking about is the brightness of good deeds: our holy life, our love for one another, our rendering of help to the needy, our genuine worship of God, our faithfulness to sound Christian living, etc. These good deeds are lights in the midst of the darkness of sin enveloping our world today. If we don’t start shining now, we will not shine when we die.
The Third Step in preparing for death is found still in our first reading. Daniel makes a distinction of *those who turn many to righteousness* shining like the stars forever and ever. This means apart from merely making efforts to be good, we must devote our time and resources to ensuring that we rescue as many people as we can from the darkness of sin. Turning many to righteousness is exactly what Jesus said in Mark 16:15-16, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Heaven is not for selfish people; we stand a better chance of going to heaven when we carry others along with us.
4. When do we start preparing for death?
This is precisely the question Jesus set out to answer in our Gospel reading today. Far from describing how the world would end, Jesus was talking about when we are to start getting ready. He says: “from the fig tree, learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender…you know that summer is near.” Put simply, Jesus is saying: *NOW IS THE TIME TO GET READY.* As for the date the world will end, no one knows but as for you, start preparing now, no more procrastination.
If nothing changes in you today, at least change your fear of death. Death is not as bad as we see it. Death is very sweet when we prepare for it. Dear friends let us begin to live not as people trying to avoid death but as people who look up to death as an opportunity to start enjoying a better life.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, help me to shine with goodness and brightness by a holy life. Amen.
Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Daniel 12:1-3, Ps.16:5,8-11, Hebrews 10:11-14,18, Mark 13:24-32).