Gospel for November 15th, 2015: “The Coming of the Son of Man,” “The Lesson of the Fig Tree,” and “Need for Watchfulness”
Mark 13: 24-32
But in those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather [his] elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
“But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Advent is coming, a time to watch for the “parousia,” the coming of Jesus. Today’s gospel gives us a preview, a teaser if you will, of the Church’s season of keeping watch, strategically placed before Christmas, our celebration of Jesus’s first coming into the world. The day will come when he returns to “gather [his] elect from the four winds” (27). And so Advent will remind us to be alert for His return.
This reading is part of Jesus’s preview to his disciples of His passion, crucifixion, and resurrection that makes up the entirety of Chapter 13 in Mark’s gospel. He is preparing them to understand a fate for their Messiah they could not possibly expect without His help. In His divine wisdom, He knows they will need this help to hold on to their faith through dark events that await them. Their salvation, like ours, depends on maintaining a faithful relationship with Jesus when times are dark, and He appears beyond our reach, as would certainly have been the case during and immediately following His crucifixion.
The lesson of the fig tree Jesus teaches us that the signs of His coming will be daunting and hard to understand: “…[T]he sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (24). We must not perceive such signs as our savior abandoning us, but rather, that He is close to arriving. What a wonderful turn in logic! What an incredibly hopeful message! Jesus is nearest to us precisely in our moments of deepest despair. This knowledge piques our interest in all the despair and suffering we encounter in the world. We should not turn away or eyes in fear. Instead, we should watch for Jesus at these moments since He is indeed very close. It is in these moments when we can be of most help in loving our neighbors in need, and even our enemies, if only we stay alert to Jesus’s nearness. And ultimately when He comes a final time, “of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (32), we will know Him and He us so that we will be gathered in for eternity. Therefore, I pray that our anticipation of our savior be heightened for the coming Advent season, for we will know Jesus is near if only we stay alert to the signs.