The language of the Gospels can be dramatic and other-worldly (take the opening descriptive words in today’s Gospel) and can feel beyond our comprehension. Stars falling from heaven, the moon losing its brightness: all of these images were written in a comparably primitive culture as a way of portraying the expanse of God’s message, of his second coming.
Sometimes, we risk hearing such dramatic words and forgetting what is behind them. It is not necessarily through falling stars that we come to a better understanding of the Word of God and our part in it, but through the words of Christ. It is his words to which we resonate. They, too, are dramatic: they were chosen to astound, to impress, to rile, to challenge. Jesus used parables to help his listeners come to a better understanding of his teachings. He placed his meaning into the context of a poor, downtrodden farming community, because it was such language that his followers understood best.
There is a theme in the Gospels of remaining awake and we hear it in today’s Gospel Acclamation. We are advised to stay awake, to stand ready, and the resulting image is dramatic. In today’s parable, Jesus likens the Word of God to a newly sprouting tree. We are asked to watch, to listen, to wait for change, and to respond when we recognize it.
Why is this dramatic? Well, it makes the kingdom of God alarmingly close to us. Christ is telling us that the Kingdom of God is here, now, and we have a choice of whether or not to respond. This is an extraordinary thought, that we are so bound into the intricacies of God’s grace and plan.
At the time Jesus spoke these words, people imagined that he was talking about the second coming being within their lifetime. We cannot quite comprehend what this felt like, this imminent waiting for something just around the corner. Our critics will say, “Well, he was wrong: those things did not take place within a generation.” But that is not quite accurate. In fact, the glorious unfurling of God’s plan is taking place now, and we are part of it. Were we to wait, to listen, to watch more assiduously, then we would know better the life of faith and demands of sanctity.
We do these things by prayer, by living good community life and by caring for others on a dedicated level. We do them by letting humility shine through our words and deeds. And we do them by making a personal, prayerful exploration of the Gospel. We may take each verse, each chapter, as a journey, a walk that may be repeated. And, as all avid walkers know, the same walk is different every time. The word of God prepares us according to where we are, and the same passage may offer us varied graces down the years. They are what we may call the seasons of God’s mercy.
Yesterday we celebrated the wonderful feast of All Saints of the Benedictine Order. The first word of the Rule of Benedict is ‘Listen’. Let us listen, then, for our master’s instruction and attend to it with the ear of our heart. Amen.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 13:24-32
Glory to you, O Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven 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; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.
‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you, when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.’
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.