Mark’s Gospel today begins with: ‘In those days”. Those days came like a thief in the night for the 129 victims of that terrible massacre in Paris two nights ago. For these innocent people the sun has already gone out and the moon no longer shines. And let’s not forget the huge loss and grief of their loved ones left behind. Such tragedies however, pull us all up short and leave us wondering about ‘those days’ that we too will have to face sooner or later. We are left with the very same questions that are at the heart of today’s readings, namely, what shall be the outcome? And where is the world headed to?
For the most part the victims of last Friday were ordinary citizens out for a meal, a drink or a football match. They were mostly young people, lovers on a date, alive with the promise of amazing futures in front of them. It probably never crossed their minds that they wouldn’t return to their homes that night. The evangelist Mark, however, was writing to a group of believers who were only too well aware that they didn’t know the day nor the hour. They were living in times of persecution in Rome where being a Christian meant there was a price on their head. They were spied upon and had to be prepared at all times to die as well as live for their faith. Mark’s intention in writing therefore was to give his people hope and encouragement in these perilous times. This makes Mark very relevant because today we too are experiencing a time of troubles. We too are wondering what will be the outcome? Where are we headed to?
At first sight Mark doesn’t seem to be very consoling. He speaks of great destruction at the end of the world – a spectacle so frightening that even the very powers of heaven will be shaken. Where’s the consolation in that? However, if we look closely we will see that he is drawing up the bigger picture for us where, despite all the great upheavals, everything is in God’s hands for those who hold steadfast in the faith. We mustn’t understand his words too literally, but try to discover the faith contained in those images and symbols that today are so strange to us.
To begin with human history as we know it will pass away. We have here no lasting city. The sun which marks the succession of the years will go out. The moon which marks the rhythm of the months will no longer shine. There won’t be any more days and nights, no more time. In addition, the stars will come falling from the heavens. According to the scientists, Mark is spot on here. Long after we die the earth will be drawn back into the sun and burn up. The sun itself will burn out and collapse in on itself under its own dead weight, and then explode to become stardust for the formation of new suns and planets. The point to remember, however, is that sooner or later we’ve got to face the fact that this life that we now experience isn’t forever.
The second point is that Jesus will return and his followers will be able to finally see his long awaited face: “they will see the Son of man”. Yes the sun, moon and stars will go out, but the world won’t be left without light. Jesus will be the one who illuminates it forever, putting truth, justice and peace in our human history that is today so enslaved in abuses, injustices and lies.
The third point is that Jesus will bring with him God’s salvation. He will come with the great and saving power of the Father. He doesn’t assume a threatening stance. The Gospel writer avoids speaking here of judgments and condemnations. Jesus comes to gather his chosen, those who faithfully await their salvation.
And finally, Jesus’ words “will not pass away”. They won’t lose their saving power. They must keep nourishing the hope of his followers and the spirit of the poor. We aren’t walking toward nothingness and emptiness. What awaits us is God’s embrace.
How encouraging these words must have been to those early disciples and what magic they had in helping them withstand the great persecution! Can we not also take them to heart today? Taking them to heart means we must be proactive. We cannot sit back and let it all happen. If we are to meet Jesus in the future we must begin by meeting him today so that we will recognise him when he comes. The Lord comes to us in many ways, both to gift us and challenge us. Welcoming him is what really makes us Christians, sharing the spirit of his first followers who said “Maranatha” — “Our Lord, come!” We are invited to live our lives within an awareness of eternity, seeing this life as preparation for and building towards an endless life with God.
Sunday, 15 November 2015