Tuesday of week 34 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Rev 14:14-19

Today’s passage, whose meaning at first sight seems puzzling, is a vision of gathering together the righteous and the good, followed by judgement on the wicked. The actual destruction of the wicked pagans will be treated more fully later on (19:11ff but not part of our liturgical readings). Our reading today is inspired by a short passage from the prophet Joel (3:13) based on the grain and grape harvests: “Put in the sickle / for the harvest is ripe. / Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. / The vats overflow, / for their wickedness is great.” As we shall see, the grain represents the good and the wine the bad.
In his vision, John, sees “one like a son of man” sitting on a cloud. The “son of man” refers to Christ and the cloud indicates a divine presence; it is God’s throne. He wears a crown of gold on his head, representing a golden wreath of victory, his victory over death and sin.
In his hand, he carries a sharp sickle. The sickle, used by the Israelites for cutting grain, consisted usually of a flint or iron blade attached to a curved handle of wood or bone. The sickle is the tool for harvesting and Christ as Judge comes to reap his harvest, gathering in, first of all, the elect, those who have been faithful to his Word.
“The harvest of the earth is ripe,” says a second angel, or messenger from God. In other words, it is the time for the final judgement and the gathering in of the righteous. So, the “son of man” wields his sickle over the earth and brings in his harvest.
In the second part of the reading, we see another angel, also with a sharp sickle, coming out from the “temple in heaven”, the place where God has his dwelling. And, with that angel, is another “in charge of the fire”. In Jewish tradition various angels were responsible for particular aspects of the world, including wind, water and the bottomless pit. Here, fire is closely associated with the idea of judgement. Fire both destroys the bad and purifies the good.
The angel of fire left the altar where the prayers of the persecuted and martyred are carried up to God. Now judgement comes on those who made them suffer.
The One with the sharp sickle is then instructed to cut and gather in all the ripe grapes which are then put into a huge winepress to be crushed. The context suggests (in contrast to the harvesting sickle mentioned earlier) the smaller grape-knife with which the farmer cut the clusters of grapes from the vine. The traditional winepress was “a rock-hewn trough about eight feet square with a channel leading to a lower and smaller trough. Grapes were thrown into the upper vat and trampled with bare feet. The juice was collected in the lower vat. At times mechanical pressure was added.” (NIV Study Bible).

The treading of the grapes was a common symbol in the Old Testament for the carrying out of God’s judgement. In Isaiah 63:1-3 there is a vivid image of God treading the winepress of judgement: “I have trodden the winepress alone, / and from the peoples no one was with me; / I trod them in my anger / and trampled them in my wrath; / their juice spattered on my garments, / and stained all my robes.” So, today’s reading speaks of the “winepress of God’s anger”.

Our reading concludes at this point but there is one more verse in the full text: “And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about 300 km.” The pagans are to be destroyed outside of Jerusalem because bloodshed would defile the city. Jesus too was executed and shed his blood outside of Jerusalem (cf. Heb 13:12ff). This said two things: Jesus and the New Covenant had been rejected and, in his dying, he identified himself with the sinner whom he came to reconcile with God.
The theme of the final judgement is one that goes right through our readings as we approach the end of the liturgical year. It is a time for reflection on where we stand before God and before each other.
These reminders are not meant to frighten us but to help us to prepare and, above all, to be ready at all times. For our judgement is as close as the day of our death, which can come up on us like a thief in the night. Every day we read of people whose lives have come to a totally unexpected end. But, if we are always ready, there is nothing to fear.

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