As we anticipate the Thirty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time liturgy, Franciscan spiritual director Fr. Paul Gallagher offers us Gospel Reflections. This content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection November 14 2021. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Jesus said to his disciples: “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, 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. “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
The text for last Sunday was taken from the end of the twelfth chapter of Mark’s gospel. In that text Jesus warned of false leaders who seek respect and honor. He then called attention to one of the lowliest in their society, a widow, who gave only two small coins, and said she was worthy of the honor that others were striving after.
The Sunday lectionary passes over the first 23 verses of the thirteenth chapter in providing this Sunday’s text. However, it is helpful to at least be aware of how Mark is unfolding his narrative before reflecting on the text for this week. The thirteenth chapter begins with Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:1-2). In private, he then instructs a few of his disciples that there will be a time when some will see war and destruction and conclude that the final time is at hand (Mark 13:3-8). Jesus forewarns them that they will be persecuted, and he speaks of “… times of tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of creation until now…” (Mark 13:19). This leads into the part of Jesus’ instruction to the disciples that is the gospel text for this Sunday.
Jesus’ admonition here is within a Jewish apocalyptical tradition. This type of literature developed during periods of persecution and crisis. Symbols and timetables are used to describe the ultimate victory of those being persecuted. It was meant to offer hope to those who understand the symbolism. Those who do not understand the symbols perceive the text to be strange and meaningless. Here Jesus tells his disciples that the events that will precede the final days will be marked by cosmic events that will be on the scale of creation itself – they will be unmistakable. He draws on the image of the Son of Man that goes back to the book of Daniel:
“As the visions during the night continued, I saw one like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
In this text from Daniel, the image of the son of man is a celebrated sign of the new age of glory. It is not seen as an image of destruction and woe. Jesus then turns from cosmic images to the ordinary fig tree. Fig trees are abundant and figs are a staple fruit of the region. Everyone was familiar with the cycle of the fig tree, from blossoms to ripening of the fruit. Jesus is saying that the signs of the age to come will be just as obvious as the cycles of the fig tree. Mark describes Jesus making use of familiar images of God, who has power over cosmic forces, and the totally familiar fig, to reassure the disciples and give them hope as he moves toward his passion in the gospel. For us, we are being prepared to celebrate next Sunday, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the last Sunday of the Church year.
- How does the approach of winter, the resetting of clocks from daylight saving time, and the other changes taking place in nature affect your lifestyle, your demeanor, and your prayer?
- Do you also notice in nature signs of preparing for spring?
- What feeds your sense of hope and trust? What feeds your fear and doubt? Which source do you turn to more frequently?
- Why does the Church have us read these verses of Mark’s gospel at a Sunday Liturgy?
- Take some time to sit with Jesus and his disciples and read through this reading slowly. You might envision that you are among the followers as the sun begins to set and the heat of the day gives way to the cool night. You are on a hill outside of Jerusalem and slowly the lights of the fires in the city become more visible. You and Jesus have been making your way toward Jerusalem for several days, and you are aware of the things that Jesus has said will happen there. Much has been said and much more has been left unsaid within you and among the disciples. Just as the last bit of the sun sinks below the horizon, Jesus breaks the quiet, saying, “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened,…” Read the rest of the gospel slowly, paying attention to what your spirit feels within you, and bring it to God as the text unfolds.
- Can you take some time talking with God about your relationship with God, and your hopes and fears of what awaits you, and those you love, and all of creation?