One of the reasons Scripture scholars prefer to talk about "the Scriptures" and avoid using "the Bible" revolves around their realization that the sacred writings are actually a library, not a book.

A library is a collection of books, written at different times and places by different authors. The signs displayed above the various shelves say fiction, biography, poetry, history, reference etc. Each section offers a different literary genre, that is, a different style or form of writing that the authors have chosen to convey their messages.

Only by recognizing a writer's genre can we understand the writer's message. Poets, for instance, can have animals and the wind talk, something biographers can't do. Novelists can describe in great detail a person's innermost thoughts, something a historian can only speculate about.

Apocalyptic form

The literary genre of Sunday's first (Daniel 12:1-3) and third readings (Mark 13:24-32) is apocalyptic. This form of writing normally originates during periods of persecution, when people find it difficult to concentrate on the pain their present situation brings.

Apocalyptic authors focus their readers' eyes on the future, describing the salvation God has promised to provide, all the time making certain their readers also understand the "cosmic" significance of the suffering they're enduring. Their distress isn't being ignored by God; on the contrary, He is using it to bring about a future in which the just will no longer suffer such anguish.

Apocalyptic writers often "predict" events that have happened years before they write. Although such a practice causes historical authors to cringe, it's as much a part of this genre as a scarecrow speaking to someone in a line of poetry.

The first reading, for instance, was composed several centuries after the Babylonian Exile it describes. By making it appear as if it were written in the sixth century before Christ instead of the second century before Christ, the author is conveying this message: Just as Yahweh delivered the Chosen People back then, so Yahweh will take care of them now, even if that care might not be evident until those people step into eternity.

The apocalyptic Gospel reading seems to have been triggered not so much by an actual persecution as by a general fear that persecutions were just around the corner for Jesus' disciples.

Employing the commonly accepted idea of how the world would one day end, the evangelist wants his people to understand that, no matter what, Jesus will be present, guiding and protecting "His chosen" from the distress others will experience.

In control

They should stop worrying about the unknown, painful future, and put their trust and confidence in Jesus. That's why Mark ends this section with Jesus' words, "As to the exact day or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven not even the Son, but only the Father." In other words, don't let your fear of something you can't control stop you from doing the things you can control.

After all, the author of the second reading (Hebrews 10:11-14,18) tells us, no matter what the future holds, the most important thing has already been taken care of: "Jesus offered one sacrifice for sins and took His seat forever at the right hand of God....By one offering, He has forever perfected those who are being sanctified."

Whatever genres our sacred authors employ, the Scriptures they produced consistently remind us both of what God has already done for us and what we are expected to do because of those actions.

(11/16/06)