by Father Mike Stubbs
Flying in an airplane has always been a lot of fun for me. Since my father had a pilot’s license, I have fond memories of his taking me up for a spin when I was a young boy.
There’s something intriguing about climbing high above the earth, so that the cars on the highway look as small as ants, and the trees look like sprigs of parsley. Pretty soon, you’re traveling amid the clouds. That in itself creates an otherworldly feeling.
In the Scriptures, clouds often indicated God’s presence. That is only natural, since clouds are ordinarily located up in the sky, in the heavens, the place where people imagined God to dwell. When God would come down to earth, that often would take place through a cloud: “Return, O Lord, you who ride upon the clouds, to the troops of Israel” (Nm 10:36). Similarly, a cloud could also indicate God’s continued presence: “In the daytime the cloud of the Lord was seen over the Dwelling; whereas at night, fire was seen in the cloud by the whole house of Israel in all the stages of their journey” (Ex 40:38).
Sunday’s first reading, Dn 7:13-14, shows a mysterious figure arriving “on the clouds of heaven.” The mention of clouds emphasizes the otherworldly dimension of this person, who is not identified by name, but only described as “one like a son of man.”
This should sound very familiar, since only last Sunday we heard the Gospel reading state something very similar: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mk 13: 26). Jesus’ prediction in Mark’s Gospel echoes the prediction in the Book of Daniel. Even though neither prediction explicitly names who the Son of Man is, we identify him as Jesus, since on other occasions Jesus made that connection.
In presenting himself as the Son of Man, Jesus made an enormous claim. In light of this prediction from the Book of Daniel, Jesus would be revealing himself as the celestial figure coming from God to rule the world forever: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.” In other words, Jesus would be revealing himself as the Messiah. Many Scripture scholars believe that Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of Man constituted his most daring claim about himself, that it inflamed the anger of the authorities and ultimately led to his death.
As we celebrate the feast of Christ the King this Sunday, we recognize Jesus as the Son of Man who one day will arrive on earth “on the clouds of heaven.” On that day, the kingdom of God, which he proclaimed through his parables and which he anticipated through his miracles of compassion, will be revealed in its fullness.