We are coming close to the end of one church year and the beginning of another. Next Sunday is the feast of Christ the King, and the following Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent.
Today's Scripture readings lead us to consider "the last things" or what is often called "eschatology." In the biblical context eschatology includes the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, rewards and punishments and the fullness of God's kingdom.
Westerners love to plan for their future. They invented future planning, believing they can estimate and cause events to take place within the next five or twenty years. They too, like the disciples, would like to know and try to calculate when the end will happen. "No one knows, but only the Father". And He's not telling!
It's helpful to remember that St. Mark is writing at a time when there is widespread oppression and persecution of the Christian community in Rome. No doubt Jeus' followers are wondering if the end is near. Thye are uncertain how things are going to turn out.
Jesus reminds us that "Heaven and earth will pass away."
Scientists tell us that our universe began at a point in the past, fourteen billion years ago, and that at some time, in billions of years, it will come to an end. It is certain: the earth, the sun, our galaxy and, indeed, the entire universe, will reach the end of their lives one day.
We do not feel affected by that, because the time spans are so astronomically vast. Concerning our own earthly pilgrimage we cannot know when "the day and the hour" will come.
It could be today or not for years. It is certain only that one day, I, too, will come to that. But when will all that happen? Is the end right around the corner? Are there signs to tell us, indicators, so to speak, whose flashing will alert us that the last hour has come?
Jesus says: Nobody knows the hour! So there is the end to speculation about the end of the world! Only God knows when that will be. Jesus could do so, but he does not want to, since it has to be clear that that is the business of God the Father alone.
If that is how it is, then why worry about the end? We can do nothing about it, after all.
Well, and at the moment we are busy making things worse, all over the world. Global warming, the destruction of the "lungs of the earth," the tropical rain forest and many other things that do not actually bring about the end of the world, yet nonetheless inflict lasting damage to life on earth.
We have to recognize the seriousness of the situation. How fragile is human life! Things that look so safe seem to be threatened. In the autumn, the whole of nature reminds us how things pass away. "My words will not pass away," says Jesus. We can hold fast to him. When everything else is tottering, he still remains.v
No one but the Father knows the precise time of the end of the world and our own end in death; hence the necessity of constant vigilance.
Jesus foretold wars, earthquakes and famines, and identifies these as "the beginning of the birth pangs:" the prophesied events signal the painful advent of the new age, which comes about even as the powers of the old age struggle to prevent it.v
We can hear the moaning of an old world that is dying, at the same time we are unable to hear the cries of the new order that is being born.
We are invited to fix our gaze on Jesus: "When you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
The testing of the Church-Christians will take a variety of forms.
First, there will be betrayals. Just as Jesus was "betrayed" or "handed over" to the hands of sinners for testing, so Christians will be "betrayed" or "given over" to councils and called to give testimony before governors and kings. They will be "betrayed" even by their fathers and children, their own kin! Look at how religion is treated by the Media and how the church seem to be the chosen targets for the criticism of mass media.
Second, false "Christs" and false prophets will appear, to "lead many astray." These deceivers will promise deliverance and perform signs and wonders so as to trick people into abandoning their faith in Jesus. It comes to my mind the new ideologies which dream of a world without religion and eventually, without God.
Third, "spiritual drowsiness" : Christians are in danger of failing to "watch," and of falling asleep. They are threatened by "the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things," which choke out the seed before it matures, as from the parable of the sower.
So we have been warned: all who want to follow Jesus will be put to the test. They will be tested by great affliction or by powerful seducers who do signs and wonders to lead them astray. They will be tested by the ordinary routines of daily existence and by fleshly desires.
Whatever the form of the tests we face, Jesus tells us that we must remain vigilant and pray, for if we have divided minds and hearts, we will fail the tests and so be unprepared to greet the master and be vindicated before him when he comes.
We shall be put to the test, but we need
not fear, for Jesus has changed forever
the context in which testing occurs.
Christians have to bear in mind that they do not have to replicate Jesus' faithfulness in time of trial by the sheer force of our own will. We do not have to face satanic tests devoid of divine power. Jesus of Nazareth has changed our situation forever.
Mark phrases the Good News in terms of the
empowering of believers that takes
place in prayer.
The Christian community is empowered to engage in prayer that cannot be derailed by fear, grief, persecution, or deceptive powers at work in the world.
Jesus has undermined the very powers that seek to separate humans from God. Therefore all things are possible when we come to God in prayer.
That is why it is so important to be firmly established in the Word of God.