Summer – Jett Villarin, SJ

Mark 13:24-32, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Winter is coming. I know. The egrets are here again on campus. They are here for the warmth and the light, to escape the cold and dark of the north. Their visitation will only be for a few months. Come summer, they will be gone.

Winter is coming. That expression of foreboding, from the medieval fantasy series Game of Thrones, is terse enough to send shivers down our spine. Even for most of us who’ve never seen winter, we know what it means. We know what it threatens.

Today’s Gospel gives us a variation of “winter is coming”. Jesus pronounces:

“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.”

Rather than shudder at the prospect of cosmic collapse at the end of the world, we are to take heart and not be afraid.

I know, easier said than felt. Who is not afraid of the end? Who is not afraid of losing everything? Who is not afraid of nothing at the very end? After all, as far as our senses can tell, there was nothing before we were born, only silence before life began. And now while we live, all sorts of things and sounds surround our present. Who will not be anxious about the prospect of nothing and silence again at the end?

Learn a lesson from the fig tree, the Lord tells us.

When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.

The tree does not teach us to worry or hide in fear. Unlike egrets, a tree cannot just fly to escape winter. It may teach us something about how merciless and brazen winter can be, how winter can steal its leaves and lash its limbs. But still, there it stands, enduring all this because it is rooted in firm ground. Winter may be coming. But it is not terrifying.

Learn from the tree, the Lord asks us.

When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.

The tree beckons us to read its branches and leaves; it teaches us to anticipate the nearness of summer from the green that grows from its limbs. Its lesson? Simply this:

Winter is not the end. Summer is. The end is summer.

In the language of his time, Jesus paints the end with images of stars falling, the sun and moon losing their light, the powers in the heavens shaken. In olden times, people did believe they were under the spell and control of gods and goddesses who took the form of these heavenly bodies. Actually to this day, some of us still consult the constellations.

The apocalyptic vocabulary is not to be taken literally. We know a bit more now of the physical workings of the universe. All this talk of cosmic upheaval is code for the collapse of all our deities and idols in the end. All the fake gods that we have allowed to rule our lives shall be no more.

When the Son of Man comes in the clouds, he shall reclaim his power and he shall dismantle these deities and idols that have long held us under their spell.

Should we then be afraid of the end? Only if you’ve fancied yourself a deity or idol and treated others as pawns to your godliness, I suppose you have reason to be afraid. Matakot kayong namamanginoon na walang takot sa Diyos at tao.

All this is to say that the end is not when darkness descends and winter has come. The end comes when winter is done.

This is the lesson we take from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender in the gathering light, we learn that winter is over and summer is near. When kindness radiates warmth, and we finally learn to grow tender in our mercies and compassion, for as long as our limbs give shade to the weary, when we see these things happening, we know that the Lord is near; our deliverance is at hand.

Perhaps we can learn a lesson too from the egrets. These birds are just here for a brief interlude. When the egrets go, winter is over, summer is near. When it is time to go, know that summer is near.

Glory to the Father and Son and Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end, Amen

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