The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 14, 2021
Fr. José Maria Alvim Cortes, Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine, Washington, D.C.

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Sunday Reading Meditations

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree” (Mk 13:28). What does the fig tree teach us? It teaches us that God is nearby. He is concealed in reality. He is the hidden root of everything. The fig tree teaches us faith.  The fig tree symbolizes the Church, which has the mission of educating her children in the faith.

This is a time of crisis in the world and in the Church, a crisis of morals and faith. Some people become discouraged and feel lost, not knowing where to place their hope. To them, Jesus responds: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mk 13:31). We place our hope in him because, as the refrain of today’s psalm says: “You are my inheritance, O Lord!” We do not despair because our faith tells us that Christ is already victorious. In fact, today’s second reading says: “[…] and [Jesus] took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool” (Heb 10:13).

At the end of the liturgical year, the Church reminds us of the End Times and Final Judgment. Today’s first reading and Gospel describe the end of human history: the coming of the Son of Man and the Final Judgment. The apocalyptical literary genre is not intended to scare us but to remind us of our responsibility. God is merciful and just. Now we are living in a time of mercy, when we can either accept or reject God’s love because we are free. The arrival of the Son of Man will be the time of justice. It will only be terrible for those whose hearts are closed to God: “The Lord said: ‘I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction. You will call upon me, and I will answer you, and I will lead back your captives from every place’” (Jer 29:11,12,14). God’s mercy becomes God’s wrath due to our refusal of his love. Life is something serious. We need to realize that the time given to us is for us to return to God and grow in our love for him. God gives each human being the opportunity to be saved Nevertheless, salvation is a proposal and not an obligation. God has infinite respect for our freedom. Damnation is a human choice and a real possibility. The first reading says: “Some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace” (Dn 12:2).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the signs that will announce his coming. We are living at a time when some of those signs may already be evident. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.” However, we should be prudent and remind ourselves of Jesus’ words: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:32). These words invite us to be prudent and to avoid any kind of speculation or morbid curiosity. Jesus’ words are an invitation to be vigilant and await his arrival: “Take heed, watch and pray” (Mk 13:33).

The lesson from the fig tree teaches us to be vigilant and in a constant state of conversion. We seek Jesus’ face and we long for his coming because his arrival shall be the fulfillment of all things. The Church is the bride who is waiting for the arrival of her spouse. The last words of the Scripture are as follows: “The Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come.’ […] He who testifies to these things says: ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:17,20). We are awaiting Jesus’ final coming at the end of history but can already welcome him into our hearts. We ask him to come to the Church, to come to our country, to come to our families, to come to our places of work or study, and to come wherever we may be. If we pray for his coming, we shall change our lives for the better.

If we learn the lesson of the fig tree, we shall become wise and be like stars shining brightly in the firmament. The first reading says: “The wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever” (Dn 12:3).

Let us learn the lesson of the fig tree. Let us live by our faith and bear constant witness to our hope!  Amen.