33rd Sunday: WARNING SIGNS
The readings this weekend point our attention to the apocalyptic period. The emphasis on end time signs are prompted by two seasonal factors: the end of the liturgical year and the approaching end of the Gregorian or calendar year. But there is a deeper message in these readings, they reference the glorious coming of Christ known in theology as the Parousia or Second Coming.
Daniel sets the tone with the use of grave images in the first reading. The author highlights the signs that will mark the end, unsurpassed in distress since the beginning of time. Daniel points out the role of the great prince Michael, who will arise as guardian of God’s people. Those whose names are written in the book will be identified. There will be a separation of those marked for eternal life from those marked for eternal punishment.
Jesus picks up this title of apocalyptic warning in the gospel to present the approaching cosmic disturbances that predict God’s universal reign on earth. Images such as the sun darkening, the moon failing to give light, the stars falling from the sky, and the powers in heaven being shaken, form the picture of the apocalypse. This is the period following the tribulation presented in Mark’s gospel (chapter 13): the temple would be destroyed, followers of Christ would experience persecution, and impunity would unfortunately, characterize the day. Jesus warns the disciples to not be afraid, rather to detach from worldly allurements and focus on being saved. Then follows a period of cleansing after which the Son of Man comes in the clouds with great power and glory. The angels of God will be on a mission to gather the elect.
Two schools of thought seem to offer different interpretations on end-time prophecies in today’s world: those who blow up these messages and those who completely dismiss them. The first group interprets the messages about the end-times as if they are happening now. This group points to the chaos of the current times and interprets it to refer to Jesus’ warning about the destruction of the universe. They heighten fears by quoting Jesus’ saying, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes from place to place and there will be famines. These are the beginnings of the labor pains” (Mk. 13:8-10). This group uses the several negative forces of our time to project semblances of the warning which Christ gave. This group pushes for moral and spiritual consciousness against the pervasive attitude of evil and wickedness in the world. Perhaps, the language of fear befuddle the content of their message.
The second group gravitates towards a dismissal of end-time prophecies as unreal, creating messages that signal complacency. This group seems to reduce the words of Jesus to mere scriptural symbolism and would quickly implore the gospel passage, Mark 13:7, “When you hear of wars and reports of wars do not be alarmed; such things must happen, but it will not yet be the end.” For this group, there is no need to worry about anything regarding end-time.
However, it is important to get the message here, that the events of the current times in which we live could point to the possibility of the end times prophecies. But understanding this message from the point of view of the master, Jesus, is more significant than the personal interpretations of opinions. In this gospel passage, Jesus uses the image of the fig tree as an example of reading the signs of the times. The fig tree displays seasonal changes that can be predicted. When the branches of the fig tree sprout in April, people know that summer is near and that the figs will likely ripen in June. So, Jesus says to his disciples, “In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates” (Mk. 13:29). The nearness of the master invites the servants to prepare (cf. Lk. 12:39-40), not to be afraid or panic. It warns against a state of sloth as seen in the parable of the five foolish virgins. Therefore, Jesus warns, “Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Mk. 13:30). But in terms of specific times and dates, he says, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk. 13:32). The question is, what generation was the Lord referring to?
As a priest and a preacher, I am regularly faced with questions about the end-times. My answer is always the same , “do not be afraid,” and “do not take the words of Jesus for granted.” We don’t know when the world will end but we do know that our end, mine and yours, will occur in the not-too-distant future. How prepared are you to meet your Maker? Death comes like a thief in the night. Are you ready right now to step from time into eternity? At the moment of death, everything is sealed. How about starting with the sacrament of confession, why not have your mortal sins confessed? Make peace with God, then, peace with your loved ones. What about forgiving your enemies? This is what Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3:20) Maybe I should ask you which camp you belong, the camp that creates fear from God’s message or the camp that does not take God’s word seriously? Are you in the habit of procrastinating and downplaying the value of the gospel? Yes, nothing matters, so life goes on.
Let’s assume that the end comes tomorrow. What happens? Would you say you’re ready? Will He say, “I never knew you,” (Mt 7:23) or “well done my good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:23). Remember what Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 7:21). The demand is, “Enter through the narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13). These are very sobering moments that call us to reflect. Again, if your world were ending tomorrow, what are your options? Would you run to church and beg forgiveness for your sins? Or would you continue doing the dinner dishes in peace because you are at peace with God? Think of these times as a clarion call to make things right with God and with your fellow human beings -wife, husband, son, daughter, friend, in-law, colleagues, etc. We do not know the day or the hour.
Hence, the message for us is to wake up and be active in good works. Sit up and shun evil in all its forms. Be alert to the demands of faith through courageous witnessing. It doesn’t matter if the world is ending today or tomorrow, what matters is that we are found prepared. Remember that people of Noah’s time “were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark.” The world didn’t end but their world did. Jesus’ warning is real, but they are words for salvation not for condemnation. Wake up!