Last Sunday we heard Jesus’ observation about the contributions being made to the temple treasury and the example of sacrificial giving that he saw in the poor widow’s offering. If we read Mark’s gospel continuously from that incident to yesterday’s Gospel, we also know about Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of the Temple, his teaching about the costs of discipleship, the woes that will accompany the end times and Jesus’ instruction to his disciples about the need for watchfulness so that they will not be caught unprepared for the final judgment.
This past Sunday’s Gospel continues Jesus’ teaching by offering signs to look for that will indicate that the coming of the Son of Man is near. His words and images draw upon Old Testament imagery, especially images found in the Book of Daniel. In the historical context, Jesus is actually describing the coming destruction of the Temple and the ruination of the nation, as both fall under GOD’s judgment at the hands of the Roman Empire.
Next, Jesus says: “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” The emphasis, of course, is not on what kind of tree – the warning is: WATCH. Jesus could have said citrus trees or olive trees. But, he says “fig trees” and happily for us we have a lot of experience with fig trees that we had right outside our dining room windows at the old monastery. When the branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, we know that another season of fruit is near.
After Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree, He gives several brief parables to show what the response one should have when the signs appear.
We know that Jesus’ words are not spoken to frighten his disciples, nor should they frighten us. The prophetic Word of God is as sure and secure as the rest of His message. They are offered to prepare us for the changes we will experience during our lifetime and at the end time. Our consolation and hope is found in the lasting nature of Jesus’ words and God’s never-ending love for us.
When you see the things happening that Jesus talks about, know that he is near, at the gates. “But,” says Jesus, “of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Then, He assures us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Or, said still differently, the coming judgment and destruction that Jesus predicts will be the very signs that will vindicate his message.
Let’s drill down a little deeper into one phrase of the text — “of that day or hour no one knows.” We do not know exactly what Jesus in his prophetic ministry would say to us in our moment of history, but we do know that the general thrust would be similar to what he has already said: In the face of struggle, persecution and difficult times, when the tide of public popularity turns against God’s people, I tell you: remain faithful even though you do not know the future, even though you do not know the day or hour of your deliverance.
So, how, as followers of the Jesus, do we prepare? In the face of struggle read the signs of the times. How well do you read signs? Can you train yourself to be more observant of the signs? By personality do you notice signs in nature? Road signs? How well do you read non-verbal body language? Do you work to sensitize yourself to recognize everyday signs? How do you heighten your sensitivity to spirit signs? Do you use Scripture, the Rule, the example of a favorite saint, a confessor or a friend-guide? What helps you to listen more keenly to your heart? In the quiet of the night – when sleep eludes you – or out walking or driving along a familiar road; riding alone in the elevator, climbing the stairs, passing through the hall at a leisurely pace; setting the table, readying yourself for communal prayer in the chapel – do you hear God’s whisper in your heart?
Cultivation of the inner spirit helps prepare us to see the direction of the cultural wind we face, whether agreeable or antagonistic. God does not usually shout to us in fury or in a tumultuous hurricane. Much of the time God speaks softly – so stay tuned. In the face of cultural garbage and shifting government structures or a changing church, we steady ourselves not to be tempted to hoard food and possessions. We guard against the temptation to build a hermitage and hide out. We pray to be strengthened to stay in the fray? Many things will just happen in our lives – things not scheduled by the calendar or our clock or our watches or the bell. With all the scheduled things to do we are called by today’s Gospel to also keep our hearts attuned to the significance things that just happen.
As individuals that form this community I believe we make valiant efforts to sift through all that bombards us and continue to make the choice (our corporate commitment) to meet the needs of the left-out, locked-out and dropped-out?
How can we do this day in and day out and year after year? By heeding Jesus’ directive to the disciples who accompanied Him in the garden the night before his death: stay here, watch and pray. Watch: seek GOD in and about the events of the day asking for GOD’s Wisdom to let us see GOD’s perspective so we discover our moment within our cultural context.
And, pray: clear off space in our lives for GOD. Remember, to pray is not to read books about God, about spirituality or prayer, or to think about those topics. To pray is simply – pray! We don’t even have to start the conversation. Simply let God in and sit in expectant silence, with a listening heart. A disciplined, determined prayer practice, sustains us (individually and as a community) in the battle of our heart’s faithfulness to the LORD.
Let us strive to keep in mind that we are called not so much to DO the Good News – though faith-in-action is important. We are called to BE the Good News – a model of all that is implied when we call ourselves Christian and Benedictine.