Lectio: 33rd Sunday of ordinary time (B)
1. Opening prayer
Shaddai, God of the mountain,
You who make of our fragile life
the rock of Your dwelling place,
lead our mind
to strike the rock of the desert,
so that water may gush to quench our thirst.
May the poverty of our feelings
cover us as with a mantle in the darkness of the night
and may it open our heart to hear the echo of silence
until the dawn,
wrapping us with the light of the new morning,
may bring us,
with the spent embers of the fire of the shepherds of the Absolute
who have kept vigil for us close to the divine Master,
the flavor of the holy memory.
a) The text:
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."
b) A moment of silence:
Let the sound of the Word echo in us.
a) A few questions:
- After that tribulation. Life bears the signs of labor, the seal of a death pregnant with new life. Can we count ourselves among the elect gathered from the four winds?
- The Son of man coming in the clouds: Will we be capable of raising our eyes from our miserable things so as to see Him coming on the horizon of our story?
- From the fig tree learn: We have so much to learn and we need not look far. Nature is the first book of God. Are we willing to go through its pages or do we tear its pages, thinking that we own it?
- All things pass away; only the Word of God remains forever. How many are the vain words, the dreams and pleasures inexorably swallowed by time that carries away everything that has an end! Is the rock on which we have built our lives the rock of the Word of the living God?
- Of that day or that hour no one knows: it is not for us to know. The Father knows. Are we open to putting our trust in Him?
b) A key to the reading:
The great change of the cosmos described by Mark lies between metaphor and reality and proclaims the imminence of the end of time as an introduction to an immensely new world. The coming of the Son in the clouds opens up for humanity a heavenly dimension. He is not an intransigent judge, but a powerful Savior who appears in the splendor of divine glory to reunite the elect, to make them share in eternal life in the blessed reign of heaven. Mark does not mention a judgment, threat or sentence…so as to bring hope and increase the expectation, he proclaims the final victory.
v. 24-25. After that tribulation the sun will be darkened… a new reality is contrasted with the great tribulation. The Evangelist thinks that the parousia is near at hand, even though the hour of its coming is uncertain. The confusion of the cosmos is described in terms typical of apocalyptic language, in a stylized and accurate form: the four elements are ranged two by two in a parallel manner. The reference to Isa 13:10 is clear when he speaks of the sun and the moon being darkened and to Isa 34:4 when he speaks of the shaking of the powers in heaven.
v. 26. Then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. This is the peak of Mark’s eschatological discourse. The time of expectation is over; this is the time for restoring everything in Christ. The end of the world is no more than the promise of the glorious parousia of the Son foreseen by Dan 7:13. The clouds point to the presence of God who in all His self-revelations uses clouds to come down to earth. The attributes of divine sovereignty, power and glory, mentioned by Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Mk 14:62) are not a threat to humankind, but the solemn proclamation of the messianic dignity that transcends the humanity of Christ.
v. 27. And then He will send out the angels, and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of heaven. By this first act of the Son of man, the meaning of the true parousia is made clear: the eschatological salvation of the people of God spread throughout the world. All the elect will be reunited. No one will be forgotten. There is no mention of punishment of enemies nor of punitive catastrophes, but only of unification. It will be the only place because from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven the angels will gather people around Christ. This, indeed, is a glorious meeting.
v. 28. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. The parable of the fig tree points to the certainty and nearness of the proclaimed events, especially the coming of the Son of Man, prefigured in the imminent passion, death and resurrection. The imperative addressed to the listeners, Learn!, reveals the implied meaning of the similitude: it is an invitation to penetrate deeply into the meaning of Jesus’ words in order to understand God’s plan for the world. When the fig tree loses its leaves in late autumn, later than other plants, even past springtime, it announces the coming of summer.
v. 29. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that He is near, at the very gates. Human beings may know God’s plan from the events that take place. What are the things that have to take place? Mark spoke of the abomination of desolation in v. 14. That is the sign, the sign of the end that is the parousia, the coming of the Son of man. Those things that are the beginning of woes will bring humankind to a new birth, because He is near, at the very gates.
v. 30. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before these things take place. Many hypotheses have been put forward concerning the meaning of this generation. It is more a Christological expression than a chronological affirmation. The early Church kept affirming the uncertainty of the precise moment, even though it held on to the hope that the Lord would come soon. Every believer, in any age, who reads this passage, can think of him/herself as being part of this generation.
v. 31. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. The certainty that the words of the Lord will never pass away adds confidence to whoever reflects on the decline of the world and the things of the world. To build on the Word of God means that the abomination of desolation will not last and that the sun, moon and stars will not lose their splendor. The present time of God becomes for human beings the only way to their own being because, if in their speech the present never becomes the past, then they need not fear death.
v. 32. But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. The end is certain, but the knowledge as to when it will come is reserved to the Father. Jesus never made any precise statement on this matter. Thus, anyone who pretends to have some presumed teaching of his own is lying. The end is one of the many unfathomable secrets that belong to the Father. The mission of the Son is to establish the kingdom, not the revelation of the fulfillment of human history. Thus Jesus shares deeply in our human condition. Through His voluntary kenosis, He even complies with the possibility of not knowing the day or the hour of the end of the world.
Tribulation is like daily bread in human life and it is the sign of the coming of the Son of God. A life pregnant with a new face cannot not know the pain of childbirth. The children of the Most High, dispersed to the ends of the earth, far from one another, will be gathered from the four winds by the divine breath that breathes over the earth. The Son of Man comes in the clouds, whereas our eyes are fixed on the ground, on our puny works, lost between the tears of delusion and those of failure. If we could raise our eyes from our miserable things to see Him coming on the horizon of our history, then our life will be filled with light and we shall learn to read His writing in the sand of our thoughts and will, of our falls and dreams, of our attitudes and learning. If we have the courage to leaf through the pages of daily life and there gather the seeds fallen into the furrows of our being, then our hearts will find peace. Then vain words, pleasures swallowed by time, will only be a lost memory because the rock on which we would have built will be the rock of the Word of the living God. If no one knows the day or the hour, then it is not for us to go guessing. The Father knows and we trust in Him.
Wisdom 9:1-6, 9-11
O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy,
who hast made all things by Thy Word,
and by Thy wisdom hast formed man,
to have dominion over the creatures Thou hast made,
and rule the world in holiness and righteousness,
and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul,
give me the wisdom that sits by Thy throne,
and do not reject me from among Thy servants.
For I am Thy slave and the son of Thy maidservant,
a man who is weak and short-lived,
with little understanding of judgment and laws;
for even if one is perfect among the sons of men,
yet without the wisdom that comes from Thee
he will be regarded as nothing.
With Thee is wisdom,
who knows Thy works and was present when Thou didst make the world,
and who understand what is pleasing in Thy sight
and what is right according to Thy commandments.
Send her forth from the holy heavens,
and from the throne of Thy glory send her,
that she may be with me and toil,
and that I may learn what is pleasing to Thee.
For she knows and understands all things,
and she will guide me wisely in my actions
and guard me with her glory.
Lord, I gaze upon the tender branch of the fig tree that is my life and I wait. As the shadows of evening lengthen along my path, I think back on Your words. What peace floods my heart when my thoughts dwell on You! In Your own good time, my waiting for You will be fulfilled. In my time Your expectations of me will be fulfilled. What a mystery is time, past, future and the eternal present! Today’s waves break on the burning experience of Your presence and remind me of games in the sand that are always washed away by the sea. And yet, I am happy - happy that I am nothing, happy with the sand that will not last, because once more Your Word goes on writing. We seek to pause in time, writing and talking, achieving excellent works that stand the ravages of centuries. You, however, pause to write on sand to achieve works of love that have the perfume of a caressed gazelle standing still, that have the sound of formless voices that are the basis of daily life, the taste of a doused vendetta of a returned embrace… works that do not last except in the heart of God and in the memory of the living who are sensitive to the flight of a dove in the heaven of their existence. Tender love of my soul, may I, each day, look up to the clouds and be consumed by the nostalgia of Your return. Amen.