‘This Generation Will Not Pass Away …’

Reflections on forthcoming Mass readings by Tom and April Hoopes.

Nov. 15 is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B, Cycle I).

Papal Plans

Pope Benedict XVI will visit the Rome headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization for the opening day of its World Summit on Food Security.

The Holy Father’s visit highlights the Church’s interest in feeding the hungry, particularly in Africa, where nearly a quarter of the population is undernourished.

Advent Coming

Plan now for Advent, which starts Nov. 29, the week after Christ the King Sunday.

At NCRegister.com, type “Advent Activities” into the search field to find Register resources about Advent. You may have to order — or plan — now for some of these items:

Advent wreath. Remember: Catholics use three purple and one pink candle.

The empty manger. For each act of service, sacrifice or kindness done in honor of Jesus as a birthday present, the child receives a piece of straw to put into the manger.

The Jesse Tree. Children put a symbol a day on a tree and remember a story in salvation history leading up to Christ’s birth.


Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16:5, 8-11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32

Our Take

Today’s Gospel is popular among Bible debunkers.

Scripture scholar Bart Ehrman recently propounded the theory that the Gospels are at variance with each other over who Jesus is and who he thought he was. Ehrman uses a line from today’s Gospel, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place,” to claim that Jesus in the Gospel of Mark expected an apocalyptic event to happen very soon. Later, when it turned out he was mistaken, the theory goes, other Gospel writers had to rewrite the story.

It’s easy to see how someone could make Ehrman’s mistake. So we asked Mark Zia in Benedictine College’s theology department how to understand these passages.

“I see no reason to be overly creative in interpreting this passage,” said Zia. “The violent and heartrending destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. took place roughly within one generation of when Jesus uttered these prophetic words, and for the Jew, the destruction of the Temple is akin to the destruction of the world itself, since the Temple was a microcosm of Jewish existence. The image of the army of Titus coming to besiege Jerusalem satisfies that somewhat metaphorical description found in this passage of the Gospel, and it can be argued that most of what the Book of Revelation depicts also refers to this same event.”

But this Gospel also describes the Son of Man coming in glory on the clouds, I pointed out.

He said, “It might be helpful to realize that some understand this passage not as ‘this generation will not pass away ...’ but ‘this race will not pass away …’ which, scholars tell us, is possible according to nuances of the term ‘genea’ employed in Greek.  If we understand it according to the latter, then the same Jewish ‘race’ to whom Jesus was speaking is still in existence today.”

But how can it be both? I asked.

The key, he said, is that Scripture is the inerrant word of God and that Christ was the Son of God. Our job isn’t to try to “outsmart” the text, but read and absorb what it means.

“I see no problem with a partial fulfillment with the Temple, and then the complete fulfillment at the Parousia,” he said. “I would be very wary of attempts to limit the understanding of the Son of God in his prophecy, or the suggestion that Jesus could only have intended one level of meaning.”

As the year comes to a close, the Church gives us this Gospel to remind us what is really important. The world we live in isn’t our final destination. The powers that loom large in our life are piddly compared to God’s power. Some day time itself will end, and at that point, the grand struggles that we see now will look like a brief prologue to eternity.

Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas.