33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
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.