BY MARY ELLEN JOHNSTON
DIRECTOR OF CARE MINISTRIES
For the past fifteen years, I’ve been a “tree-enthusiast” volunteering at environmental projects within the Chicago Park District. I’ve learned so much pruning and planting trees in historic Jackson Park, Washington Park and Douglass Park. These are some of the oldest and largest parks in our nation, which were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Calvert Vaux, Jens Jensen and Daniel Burnham. The parks protect the natural and open spaces of Chicago and are available for all to enjoy. Trees are incredibly beautiful as their branches lift upward toward the sky. During various seasons of the year, it feels wonderful to be outside in the parks observing the buds, the blossoms, the shade, the brilliant colors and the falling of the leaves.
In today’s world, we may feel that we live in challenging times. However, at the time this Gospel was written, it was a difficult time in history as well. Mark’s writing seems ominous and is filled with coded language and symbols. We have to study Jesus’ powerful words carefully in order to interpret the message about God’s final judgment.
This reading starts with “In those days after that tribulation” – here Jesus uses imagery to foreshadow the destruction of the temple and the persecution of the disciples. Jesus describes a day when the sun will be darkened, the moon will not shine, the stars will fall from the sky and that the earth will shake. This apocalyptic theme sounds like the end of the world. Jesus then switches gears and describes a hopeful scenario of how God’s power will reign and how angels will be sent out to gather his elect. If we remain true to our faith and take Jesus’ words seriously, then we must believe that God has prepared a beautiful life for us in eternity. While Jesus’ words are encouraging, they are also very demanding. Jesus is calling us to endure and to be watchful.
Using a parable, Jesus fills it with imagery of nature. He references a fig tree as a sign and asks his disciples to learn from it. Jesus ties spiritual truths to the seasons of the year. He describes the fig tree “when the branch becomes tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near; when you see these things coming to pass, know that it is near.” If we look at the surrounding region of Israel, most of the trees are evergreen or coniferous – their needles do not fall off during the year. Here, however, Jesus describes a different type of tree – a fig tree, which is deciduous – its leaves shed annually and fall off near autumn. Jesus points to the fig tree as a sign of what is to come. He is telling us to be on guard and watch. The fig tree blossoms late and signals that summer is near. By describing a blossoming fig tree, Jesus provides a hopeful sign – – that there will be a day of salvation, and that it is near. In addition, the fig blossom represents Jesus, who will bring new life to the faithful. Jesus warns us not to detach from nature’s lessons – be at peace with the seasons and cycles of life – do not get discouraged – instead give praise to God.
Jesus tells his disciples to watch, keep alert and pray. No one knows the day or hour – only God. Jesus emphasizes the need for us to be vigilant and be spiritually prepared for his glorious return to earth. In times of darkness, Jesus will provide the light. He is coming soon and until then, we need to open our hearts, share his message and serve those most in need.
During November, let’s get out in nature, be like a fig tree and live fully!