We seem to have a dual message coming to us from the Scriptures for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The first part of the message seems to be about alertness, while the second part seems to be about hope.
Jesus often uses the rhythms of creation, the lessons from the agricultural world and our understanding of God’s creation. Now, He asks us to notice and learn the lesson from the fig tree. We do know that during the time of Jesus, having a fig tree was a sign of stability and prosperity. Conquerors really couldn’t have a fig tree, since the trees take time to grow and bear fruit. There are other lessons to be learned from the fig tree, many of which we have come to understand since the time of Jesus. The sprouting of the leaves of a fig tree gave warning that summer was near. This is Jesus calling us to be alert and attentive.
The use of apocalyptic literature both in the Mark’s Gospel and the Old Testament book of Daniel give us some hints about the intention of the Church, as these readings are placed on the second last weekend of the Church year. The readings present cataclysmic images of times of great distress, movements in the sky and in the heavens and the dead being awakened from the earth. We are encouraged to watch for stars falling from the sky, the sun being darkened and all of these ushering in days of tribulation. These moments and events have happened many times during the past 2,000 years. We have all seen falling stars, eclipses of the sun and moon, great hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes, and yet we remain here and it is not yet the second coming of Jesus. As you can tell from these readings, somebody is trying to get our attention. Somebody is trying to get us to wake up and take notice. Somebody is trying to get us to quit wasting the days of our lives and to use each moment to bring about the kingdom of God.
Fear is not a great motivator for the long-haul, but it does get our attention in the short term. We also know that we have many opportunities to learn the lessons of life through small experiences of loss and hurt that come day by day. Most of us are awakened when something makes us stop in our tracks. Some huge loss or disappointment usually gets our attention.
We are living in a time of great division, great outbursts of hatred and violence and disintegrating connections between people and nations. There is a high level of cynicism, sarcasm and hopelessness. This is a time for us to wake up, become aware of the opportunities to make Jesus Christ more present in the world rather than being His hypocritical disciples in society. Our temptation right now is to strike out against others, to circle the wagons and become defensive as well as ceasing to listen to others, especially those who are different than we are.
It is still God’s dream that all may be one. We are called to be the builders of that dream here on earth as it is in heaven. We are called to be hopeful when others have given up hope. We are the ones who are called to be builders of connection rather than destroyers of unity. We are the ones, who, like Jesus, love no matter what the cost. We are the ones who wash the feet of those who we think should be our servants. We are the ones who are to abide with others, especially those who have been abandoned or ignored.
Now is the moment to act in the name of Jesus. Now is the time for us to give an example for others to follow, examples of forgiveness and compassion when it doesn’t seem to be deserved, examples of generosity when nothing is expected in return and examples of inclusion when others would cast people aside as useless. Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of our salvation.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.