Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

Reflections on the Readings

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost - November 15, 2009

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him... (Revelation 1:7)

The lesson of the fig tree is that when it puts forth its leaves you know that summer is near.  Likewise, Jesus said when all these things begin to take place, know that he is near, at the very gates. The predictions Jesus made were for a specific period in time and for a specific reason; occurring during the first generation of the Church.

We are familiar with the expression, "It's a dark day."  By that statement we could mean the clouds are hanging close to the ground, and its bleak, dreary, and dark.  

There is another way we use this familiar phrase.  For example we recall the events of 9/11 as a 'dark time,' as a 'dark day.'  It was a day filled with violence, treachery, and death.  In the language and poetry of prophetic scripture we might say the sun was darkened.

Jesus said some important things to his disciples before he ascended to forever take his seat at the Father's right hand.  Explaining that only the Father knows the day and the hour, he outlined the things that would befall his followers and the Temple of the Old Covenant within the first generation of the Church.  He said, "This generation shall will not pass away until all these things have taken place." (Mark 13:30

The beginning of those calamities upon the Temple began when Jesus was on the Cross.  You recall that the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the Temple was torn from top to bottom when Jesus cried with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. (Matthew 27:50-51)

Earlier in Mark 13 Jesus states this time during the first generation of the Church would be marked with great unrest.  Describing wars, famines and earthquakes as the beginning of sufferings, he also spoke of false Messiah's, persecution of Christians issuing from synagogues and political powers; betrayal and hatred heaped upon his disciples all because they bear the name of Christ.

The culmination of this time would be the destruction of the Temple.   In AD 70 the foreign and pagan Roman armies desecrated the Temple and destroyed it; the fulness of God's displeasure upon the apostasy that rejected the Son of His Love.  Jesus told his followers in that day, "Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."  

In Matthew 23 Jesus speaks of what will come upon 'this generation.'  Jesus laments, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!"  The house in this context is the Temple.

The shortening of those days was for the 'sake of the elect,' those immediately before him whom he had chosen.  Remember he said, "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you."

Upon the closing of the door on the Old Covenant and the destruction of the Temple, the Christian era came into full view.  A gathering of the elect from the four winds has been the mission of the Church for two millennia.  

The language of prophetic scripture is poetic.  The powers of heaven, meaning the sun, moon and stars, are symbols of the religious and the political entities on earth.  Given that, such scriptures continue to provide language to describe whenever the leadership of the Church becomes unfaithful or the leadership of government becomes oppressive.  

So for those looking for specific language in scripture to support theories of massive atomic blasts and or the invasion of the Killer Bees, or some other end time speculation, today's gospel is non supportive.  

No, the same stuff as always is what either plagues the Church or persecutes the Church.  Whenever the way of the Lord is rejected and unfaithfulness to the Lord is left unchecked, it's a dark time; a dark and lonesome night.  During systematic persecution, the political powers bring upon the Church a day when the sun is darkened and the moon turns into blood.  

But there is one thing we have not looked at, and that is the clouds.  The clouds are a symbol of the presence of the Lord.  Whenever 'these things' take place, the lesson of the fig tree includes the fact that the Lord is near.  During times of trial and tribulation it is the sustaining presence of the Son of Man who always comes to us in the bread and wine, his own body and blood and will one day in the fulness of time come in the clouds with great power and glory.  

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, the protector and defender of all who love you, ever protect and save us in the mighty name of Jesus who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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