A curious thing about different faith expressions’ reading the bible is that different denominations strongly adhere to different themes. Today’s readings present a good example.
Some evangelicals plug deeply into “end of the world” theology - properly called “apocalyptic” – the name given this “end time” writing form. These are the people who are often portrayed in cartoons carrying signs: repent: the end is near. They attempt to compute precisely when the world will end -- and then revise their predictions when their predicted time passes, and we are all still here. The most famous was in 1999 waiting for - to use an old term, Y2K; ‘Millennium frenzy” was rampant. Because of computer failure, some expected planes falling from the sky at the stroke of midnight.
Others believe - or act as if they believe - that either the world will never end, at least not in their lifetime - or they act as if they are never going to die. Some seem to think that there are no eventual consequences for what they do, or fail to do.
Achieving a sense of balance is as necessary in bible reading as it is in tightrope walking. What is the balanced view? Mark tells us in this “little apocalypse,” that even Jesus did not know when the end of the world would happen. We cannot let the distortion of some shape our spiritual views. Date setting is an exercise in futility.
Throughout his short Gospel, Mark portrays Jesus as a man of action, not words. There are few teachings. Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ only extended talk presented in Mark’s Gospel.
Today’s readings are a reminder of something that is a certain reality, our personal death and judgment. The time of our demise is unknown and often unexpected. St. Francis de sales wisely said that our death usually comes earlier than we expect.
We need to realize and acknowledge our own mortality! This is not being maudlin, it is facing reality. While the end of the world may or not take place in our lifetime, our personal end surely will. Pope John XXIII said it so well: “ I keep my bags packed.” That implies: first, we know we will be going on a trip. Second, we do not know our departure time. The simple and clear spiritual implication is that we need to express our spiritual readiness by living our Catholic-Christian life all the time. Jesus’ words are meant to cause us to be watchful in an ongoing way.
Our Father loves us with an everlasting love; today’s readings invite us to plug our “rechargeable power pack” of spirit into our source, Jesus’ transforming love. An image of his transforming love is captured in the life of the caterpillar. The caterpillar inexorably spins its cocoon and later emerges as a butterfly. If we are to become the changed persons that the lord calls us to become, we must allow ourselves to be transformed. Eucharist is his greatest gift of transportation to him - at least once a week. We need to let his presence transform our presence. That is grace.
Eucharist is transforming only if we cooperate. St. Francis de Sales suggested that when the celebration of mass is ended, we should heed the “sending forth” by the priest or deacon and carry his presence in Eucharist within us out of church as if carrying a vessel filled with liquid, with one eye on who we are carrying and the other eye on where we are going. Francis thus provides an image of being conscious of our living Jesus when mass ends. We carry his Eucharistic presence with us as we move into our personal worlds.
In living this mystery, we have no fear of his second coming or our personal encounter when we go to him --- whenever that will be.