A message of hope

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 13:24-32

A message of hope. A message of hope cast in the shadow of tribulations, darkness, and failing foundations. A message of hope found in the leaves of a fig tree. A message of hope solidified by a promise. The promise that the Son of Man will come again in great power and glory. A message of hope that, at times, appears far off and distant, like a flickering flame in an overwhelming darkness. A light so faint and barely distinguishable, especially when the forces, influences, and currents of division and strife pull us away from the moorings of truth, and love, and peace. Today’s Gospel, my brothers and sisters, in spite of its imagery, illusion, and mystery is most indeed, a message of hope.

Today’s Gospel out of the 13th chapter of Mark is a portion, an excerpt, of an apocalyptic discourse Jesus had with his 4 disciples Peter, James, John, and Andrew. Jesus, sitting on top the Mount of Olives overlooking the great Jerusalem Temple, issued warnings, predictions, described cosmic catastrophes, heavenly signs, and the future judgment of God. At the center of his discourse lies the foretelling that the Temple of Jerusalem will ultimately be destroyed. This event is specifically referred to in the Gospel as the “abomination of desolation.” A prediction that would have most certainly and most unequivocally caused worry and concern among his devoted disciples.

Ancient historical sources confirm that the utter destruction of the Jewish Temple did indeed occur. In the year 70 A.D. the Romans, in their campaign to quash the Jewish uprising and to regain control of the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and killed over 1 million Jews. An event that must have truly represented to those who had heard and remembered the words of Jesus as the “abomination of desolation” that he had prophesized.

Almost 2000 years later, we the modern-day disciples of Christ, still ponder the meaning and intent of his words and predictions. These words found in today’s Gospel, and similar apocalyptic New Testament writings, have been the source of mistreatment and the cause for manipulation by numerous false messiahs and false prophets. Throughout our history there have been countless evils and atrocities inflicted on humanity in the name of Christ and his imminent return. Yet, here we are here today, struggling to find value and meaning in these eschatological words of Jesus.

In today’s Gospel reading we are told that there will be tribulation. A forewarning of turmoil, struggle, hardship, and suffering. We are told that darkness will prevail, the sun and moon shall no longer offer their light, the stars will fail, and the foundations of heaven will be shaken.

We are also told that the Son of Man will come with great power and glory and he will gather his own “from the four winds” and from the “end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

We are told to “learn a lesson from the fig tree.” To learn and to understand that to everything there is a season and a time. We are to trust in the promise of our Lord and Savior believing that there is a time for the fulfillment and realization of the Kingdom of God. A kingdom which was inaugurated on Calvary and evidenced for all who believe by an empty tomb.

We are called to be watchful and on alert. Though that day and hour will indeed come, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, when God the Father will fulfill the promise and establish his new heaven and his new earth.

This is the message of hope which is found in today’s Gospel.

A message founded upon Jesus, the Son of Man.

We ask who is this Son of Man? A question that continues even to this day. As we search for an answer it is important to know that this title was not unique to Jesus. This term, the Son of Man, appears over 100 times in the Old Testament. In many instances this phrase functions as an idiom, meaning something like “human being” or “mere mortal”, and can be applied to individual men like the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel.
In the Gospels, oftentimes Jesus speaks of himself in this way, to emphasize his full solidarity with humanity. Jesus is the “Son of Man” because he possesses a true human body and has the capacity for human activities like resting, eating and drinking, suffering, and even lying in a grave.

However, the expression “Son of Man”, in certain contexts, stretches beyond human limitations. In the Gospels, when Jesus refers to himself in this way, he is claiming a divine prerogative. As the “Son of Man”, he has the authority to forgive sins, suspend the Sabbath, judge men for their deeds, and is sent down from heaven. And, most specifically in today’s Gospel, the “Son of Man” will come down from above, in power and glory, and gather all of his elect, his chosen people, to himself. It is in him, the “Son of Man” in which rests all our hope.

Today, as we prepare ourselves to receive our Lord and Savior offered to us upon this altar, we are challenged to rely upon whom we have placed our hope. Our hope, in spite of the darkness, the division, the discord, and the discouragement which can so often extinguish the light, the light of the promise of Christ, must unequivocally and without exception rest in the yet to be realized truth that Christ will return and with him so does our vindication and reward. Yes, indeed, my brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel message is a message of hope.

I Have a Chair in my House

Gospel of St. Mark: 1:29-39
I have a chair in my house that sits in the corner of my living room next to a large book case full of books, a small table on the other side, and a lamp that my mother-in-law gave to us. I set this chair in the corner of the living room for a purpose. I wanted a quiet place. A place to sit peacefully, undisturbed, and alone so that I could study and pray.
I remember that the first time I sat in this chair. It was early in the morning, still dark, and the house was quiet. I had a book that I had been eagerly wanting to read and I wanted to pray. The light from the lamp was warm and soft, the atmosphere and environment were perfect, and it was exactly the space that I intended it to be. I opened the book to begin my study and pray, and PROMPTLY FELL ASLEEP. In fact, I was so comfortable in my perfectly designed space of prayer and study that I did not wake up until my wife shook me awake asking if I was intending to go to work that day because I had less than ½ hour to get there.
I tell you this story this morning as an example of the exact opposite of what we read in the Gospel of St. Mark.
Today’s Gospel could best be described as “A day in the Life of Jesus”. In total, scholar’s tell us, that Jesus’s ministry lasted approximately 3 years. Therefore, the stories we read in the Gospel are not a comprehensive biography, but rather reflect moments and events in the ministry life of Jesus. Each of the writers of the Gospels chose moments and events in Jesus’s life in order to communicate a specific message and theme, and the theme for today, I propose, is ordinary.
Now, I am not saying that what Jesus did was ordinary, or that he himself was ordinary. The healing of St. Peter’s mother-in-law, the casting out demons, and relieving suffering are indeed extraordinary, but for Jesus, this is why He came. Jesus came for that purpose. The purpose to preach the Good News that God’s Kingdom has come, to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and make the lame walk. These extraordinary miracles were, for Jesus, an ordinary day’s work.
So, if you would allow me a little artistic freedom I would like to put today’s Gospel into a more modern context in hopes that we might gain a better understanding of the theme of today’s Gospel:
On the Sabbath, Jesus and his recently recruited followers Peter, Andrew, James, & John, head over to the home of Peter’s mother-in-law, in order to chill and process the events that just occurred in the Synagogue. If you remember from last week’s Gospel Jesus had stood up in the Synagogue, preached with an authority not previously heard by anyone, and then capped off his brilliant homily by casting out a demon from a possessed man with a single word. Imagine if you will that Jesus sort of did a “mic drop” in front of a stunned and amazed audience and then walked out of the synagogue.
They are over at Peter’s mother-in-law’s place and she has got a fever and is not doing very well. Jesus goes to where she is lying down, grabs her by the hand, helps her up, and bam!, she feeling great. She heads to the kitchen to start getting dinner ready and Jesus and his followers just sort of hang out in the living room talking about stuff.
The sun goes down, Sabbath is now officially over, and people are free from rules that limit activity and travel on the Sabbath, and Peter gets up from the couch and looks out the window to see the whole town standing on the front lawn. Now what I am about to say next isn’t recorded in the Gospel, but I am pretty sure the conversation went like this. Peter said, “Whoa…Jesus there are whole lot of people standing on the lawn.” Jesus, gets up, looks outside, and says, “Cool. I got this.”
Now it’s late, Peter has chased the last of the people off his lawn, and they are all tired and go to bed. It’s morning, Peter and the rest of the followers, wake up and can’t believe what they saw the night before. All those people getting healed…all those demons getting cast out, and they start making plans. Peter starts looking for venues in town that will hold a lot of people, because the neighbors will start to complain if all these people show up on his lawn again. James gets a hold of a printing company to order t-shirts that say “fishers of men” on them and sell them for $10 bucks a piece. John, is setting up a Facebook page, and Andrew’s putting together a backup band in order to keep the crowds entertained between performances. In essence, they are putting together the “Jesus Show”.
Now they have all this stuff set in motion and then they realize something, or more importantly, someone, is missing from their activity…Jesus. They frantically search the house. They go outside, organize a search party, and eventually they find him, all alone, in a quiet place, praying. They run up to him and say, “Jesus, man that was awesome what you did last night. Wait till you see what we have set up for you. We booked the event center, made t-shirts, got a band, and you have already 10,000 likes on your Facebook page.”
Jesus says, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come”, and he walks to the next town.
Jesus came to heal the sick and relieve suffering. He came to make the extraordinary ordinary. He came that those who follow him would also follow his example. Our challenge this day is to do the same. We are to engage in the ordinary. The ordinary work of providing comfort and relief to those who are suffering. To heal with a touch or a kind word. To provide comfort to the suffering. To help those who need help. To share what we have in abundance with those who are lacking. We are to treat each day and each encounter as an opportunity to share his love to those who are in need.
We are to also pray. We are to pray for our families, friends, associates, and, yes, even our enemies. We are to pray for the church and those who serve. We are to pray asking God for his mercy, grace, and strength so that we can engage in the ordinary work to which we have been called.
We are to be ordinary so that He can be extraordinary. Today, I encourage you, to do the work. Do that to which you have been called to do. Get up early to pray. Stay up late helping a neighbor. Take a moment to visit a friend. Share what you have with someone who has not, and engage in the ordinary so that Christ can do the extraordinary.