When? Now!

moonAt this time when we near the end of another liturgical year, the Lectionary includes gospels about the end times that call for us to look far into the future. These gospels inevitably paint a dark and dismal picture of calamity and doom, and so we often dismiss them. The apocalyptic (the word “apocalyptic” comes from the Greek which means to “uncover” or “reveal”) imagery of this Sunday’s gospel (“sun will be darkened,” “moon will not give its light,” “stars will be falling from the sky,” and “powers in the heavens will be shaken”) is no exception. We are tempted to ask, “When, Lord?” Jesus’ answer, “no one knows,” ought to bring us to pay more attention to the present. Now is an opportune time for the in-breaking of Christ. Now is what counts. The future is now.
We think of Jesus’ Second Coming as a future event. In fact, the darkening of the sun and moon and stars is already happening in the trials and tribulations that not only beset the first disciples, but also are part of our own lives. Jesus promises that all these things will happen. He fur¬ther promises that he is “near, at the gates.” This gospel is about the ultimate victory over darkness that belongs to those who are faithful. That victory is now. The future is now.
What ought to startle us into sober reality is that we know the end will come. Like the gospel, Daniel’s vision describes in the first reading “a time unsurpassed in distress.” Also like the gospel, his vision reveals the victory of those “written in the book” who are the elect, those who have been faithful. We have all the means at hand to face darkness and evil with confidence, assured that one day we “shall live forever.” The future holds no fear for us; rather than fear, we anticipate our future with joyful expectation, because the one we await is within and among us now. The future is now.
In previous gospel passages, Jesus’ teaching about future events dealt with his impending suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus predicted several times the coming end of his earthly life, which was not too far into the future. The disciples could not hear what Jesus was teaching; they could not envision a future such as Jesus predicted. In this gospel, too, he teaches about the future; however, this time his words deal with an unknown, distant future, with cosmic events, which his final coming in power to overcome darkness, and with his drawing the elect into the light of his final glory. Jesus uses the image of the greening of “the fig tree” when summer is near as a sign that “he is near.” Summer is a time of life, growth, fruitfulness. Those who hear and heed his words are in the greening of their lives; they choose for themselves life, growth, fruitfulness. For them, the future is now.
We must remain focused on Jesus, and when we do so the end times hold no fear for us. We remain focused on Jesus, for example, when we continue to study and pray over his words; when we remain faithful to the dying and rising rhythm of life; when we see his face in the goodness of others, in the surprise of an unexpected gift, in those we encounter each day. Immersed in the now, we find him always near. In his nearness, the new world order dawns anew each day.
Just as big calamities are not what the future is really about, neither are big deeds what our present is about. Our present is about doing the little things well, and we know how we “lead the many to justice” (first reading): by listening to Jesus’ words. Jesus has already given us all we need to have our names “written in the book.” We just need to live like he did: with compassion and understanding, wisdom and care, love and hope.