by Br Julian McDonald cfc
“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 things happening, know that the Son of Man is near…Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Mark 14, 24-32
Every generation has had its fair share of doom-sayers ready to predict the end of the world or to warn against one kind of evil or another. The city of Sydney has had any number of them. Last century, there were more than sixty of these notables walking Sydney’s streets. One was a poet, publisher and crusader by the name of Sandor Berger, whose large sandwich board proclaimed: “Psychiatry is an evil and must be stamped out”. Another was Arthur Stace, a reformed alcoholic who eventually found Christianity. Between the time of his conversion at the age of 42 and his death at the age of 85, he used chalk to inscribe more than half a million times on footpaths all around the city the word Eternity. In the very fist century of the Christian era, members of Mark’s community were convinced that Christ would return to judge the word in their lifetime. That’s why part of today’s gospel reading is written in apocalyptic language. Mark was urging his community to make sure they were ready for Christ’s second coming.
I suggest that the way into understanding today’s gospel reading is exactly the same way as for any other passage in the Gospels, and that is to avoid limiting it to one particular period of history. The Gospels are meant to speak to every generation. Today’s reading refers to the end times. End times belong to the lives of all of us. Our generation will come to an end, just as there will be an end to the life of each of us. Jesus is surely saying to his generation and to us in our generation that, rather than worrying about when the world will end, we would do better to focus on how to live healthily in it right now. We have only our own life time in which to grow and bear fruit. Looking at the fig tree can lead us to hope. Just as the fig tree bursts into bud and sprouts new leaves, so we too can witness to one another and to our world fresh life and hope by the way we live and act.
Today’s first reading from Daniel offers us a similar message on how to live productive, influential lives: “Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightness, as bright as stars for all eternity” (Daniel 12, 3).
What is vital for us all as disciples of Jesus is that we live aware of and attentive to God’s word and be attuned to the world in which we live and to its people, despite the conflicts, wars and calamities taking place around us. All are in God’s care. We are urged to keep trusting in God no matter what comes tumbling down around us. All that comes our way carries with it opportunity for growth. Every encounter we experience with others is potentially an encounter with the divine, if only we have eyes to see.
One thing we do know is that we are all part of the ongoing life and death of the cosmos of which we are only a tiny, but precious, part. We have not earned our existence. We have all been loved freely into life, but we cannot do anything that will give us a gilt-edged guarantee of life. We know that we will die, and that generations unheard of will probably live for many, many years after our passing. The challenge then is to make the most of our limited time, reflecting to others the goodness and love of the God who loved us into life and to develop our relationship with that God who is the source of all life and love.
Perhaps the biggest single hurdle for all of us is change, something that is often difficult, fearful and even traumatic. Things around us sometimes crumble and decay. We know the anxiety that comes when our health falters. Yet Jesus assures us that the love and life of God will always be constant and there to support us. Possessions, fame, achievement and reputation will all eventually disappear. However, the love we share, the care and compassion we extend to others, the affirmation and encouragement we offer and the forgiveness we show will last forever.
Since we do not know the day or the hour when our lives or our world will end, the best we can do is live each hour, each day to the full, spending ourselves loving and evoking love whether we are in the prime of life, working a full day, semi-retired or living in a nursing home. Learning to live the love in our hearts is the challenge of a life time.