But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will no longer shine; the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the Son of Man will be seen coming in clouds, with great power and glory. And he will send forth the angels and gather together those chosen by him from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven. Learn something from the comparison with the fig tree! As soon as its branches become juicy and sprout leaves, you recognise that summer is near. So, you too, when you see this happening, recognise that it is near at the door. Amen, I say to you: This generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father.
The Coming of the Son of Man
Today is the penultimate Sunday in the cycle of the year. The liturgy guides us throughout the year through the individual mysteries of salvation as sources of our strength in following Christ. At the end of the church year, we are led towards the goal, the return of the Lord. We know this text from childhood, but I believe that precisely because we know it, we no longer take it seriously. Not least because of our scientific attitude, it contains for us pure images that no longer mean anything to us. We no longer understand the signs of the times. It is therefore all the more important for us to listen carefully to this Gospel.
Jesus speaks on the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple. Between the Mount of Olives and the Temple lies the Kidron Valley. This text is Jesus' last speech before his suffering. This text is preceded by various warnings of Jesus to his disciples, namely the warning that they should not be deceived in this time before his coming. It will say: "There is the Anointed One, there is Christ, there is He". And Jesus says: "Do not believe this! Do not be deceived!" This kind of seduction is very concrete today. How many Christs are standing up? How many say they are the reincarnation of Jesus, etc.? How many messiahs suddenly appear in the form of gurus and the like? We live in this time of which Jesus speaks here. But many of us are already deceived - all the more important to listen and to return. Today's Gospel begins with a transition to something entirely new. It says:
"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will no longer shine; the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken." (cf. verse 24-25)
So, where there are temptations, where there is the danger of apostasy, something completely new is now coming. Those days" no longer mean the days of the great tribulation, but the days after the great tribulation. The great tribulation is about seduction and apostasy. We are experiencing a great apostasy today, without exaggeration. Whoever does not see this is blind. Right into our villages. Right into the hearts of those who may even still go to church. How much real substance of faith is still there? This great apostasy is followed, as it were, by cosmic changes. These external signs, e.g., the extinguishing of the heavenly lights, are the signal for the coming of the Son of Man. They are suddenly recognisable to everyone like a flash of lightning. Jesus says in another passage: "For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." (cf. Mt 24,27) Therefore, we need not be misled. When the day of judgement comes, everyone recognises it. This is a very important sign. The heavenly powers indicate the day of judgement.
"Then shall the Son of man be seen coming in clouds with power and great glory." (cf. verse 26)
We do not need to be seduced beforehand. When the Messiah comes, we will see him, and everyone will see him. It says: Then "one" - meaning the opponents of Jesus and the opponents of his disciples - "will see the Son of Man coming in clouds". The indefinite plural in this passage expresses the everywhere perceptible revelation of the Son of Man in his radiance of power, in his might and glory. The expression "with great power and glory" stands for the fullness of glory of the returning Lord, the Final Judge. In clouds" is always an expression for the presence of God. The cloud that hides is a paraphrase and sign of the presence of God. In the cloud God descends upon the temple, etc. So, all - all opponents - will see him. All persecutors, even the persecutors of the disciples, will see him. It will be revealed.
"And he will send forth the angels and gather together those chosen by him from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven." (cf. verse 27)
This is the second act of the day of judgement. It is introduced in Greek with an expression for "second step". The first is the appearance of the Lord. Then the angels are sent out as the harvesters, and they are to gather the elect, and that from all the four winds. This is a very comforting promise. No elect will be forgotten in this gathering, no matter where they are. The angels will be sent to gather them, to fetch them. We will be fetched! What a wonderful expression! God invites us. He appears and he sends his angels to fetch us from where we are, no matter where. And no one is forgotten. It is such a beautiful expression of God's love, actually an expression also of that word that is in the other Gospel: "When this begins, straighten up and lift up your heads, for your redemption is at hand" (Lk 21,28). It is a day of rejoicing. If I have lived with Christ, it is a joyful thing to be able to see him when he comes. And to be able to wait to be picked up personally. We are allowed to imagine this a little, to sense the background, the meaning, the very personal. It is not simply a gathering of masses, but the chosen ones are gathered and fetched, each one individually, from all four directions. And these angels are sent out -, apostelein" -, which is the same word Jesus used to send out the apostles. So, he sends them out like the apostles, so with authority, with the authority to lead us into the kingdom of glory.
"Learn something from the comparison with the fig tree! As soon as its branches become succulent and sprout leaves, you know that summer is near." (cf. verse 28)
Unlike the numerous other trees in Palestine, which are always green, the fig tree sheds its leaves in autumn and sprouts new ones in spring - just like our trees do. In this way it can indicate the season. So, the final judgement here is not compared to autumn, which we might expect, but the final judgement is compared to spring, to summer. When it puts on leaves - that is in spring - then the coming of the Lord is near. A wonderful expression, because summer means life. Life is near! When the Lord comes, life, eternal life, is nearby. This is what the image of the fig tree wants to tell us - it is an expression of the beginning of "new life". That is why Jesus uses this tree in his comparison and not trees that keep the leaves all year round.
"So, you also, when you see this happening, recognise that he is near at the door." (cf. verse 29)
All the signs that Jesus has described so far point to the nearness of the end. When you see this happen", what Jesus has described there, then the Lord is "near at the door". The final consummation will take place with the coming of the Son of Man. The expression "this is how it begins" and "this is how you shall know" shows the strong emphasis of the statement: By these signs of the times, you will know the nearness of the end. Jesus only lists a few signs here. If you consider how powerful these signs of the times are - here only a few things are listed, in Matthew and in the other evangelists Jesus lists completely different signs of the times - and if we look at what Paul also writes about the signs of the times, then you will notice: We are experiencing such signs on a massive scale today - earthquakes, floods, storms, fires. These are all things that keep mankind under a spell all year round. Scientists also confirm that, in their opinion, there has never been such an abundance of catastrophes in the history of the world. With these events in creation, Jesus sets a sign. We are to see them as a sign: He is at the door. This should actually give us food for thought, and we should not simply live thoughtlessly in spite of the signs. The world should sense that we are living towards a coming one. That we don't just live our lives as if life were everything, but that we expect something, just as people wait for a wedding, just as a bride and groom wait for their wedding - with an uncanny excitement and enthusiasm. This is how we want people to experience us: We are waiting for the marriage of the Lamb with his bride, the Church, which we are. We are waiting for the arrival of the Bridegroom, for the arrival of the Lord. It is precisely the signs of the times that should encourage us again to be waiters. After all, we pray in every Holy Mass after the Lord's Prayer that we await the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. But is that true at all? Here, too, we often experience a discrepancy between prayer and faith.
"Amen, I say to you: This generation will not pass away until all these things take place." (cf. verse 30)
Again this "Amen" - this absolute confirmation. "Amen" means "sure of death", so a very strong emphasis on this prophecy that Jesus is now pronouncing, that this generation - in the singular - will not pass away until all this happens. The human race - that is this generation of humanity, the human race, in the singular - will not die out before then. Nor will it be extinguished before then, but it will experience all this. That is the prophecy. So, when the Lord comes, humanity will not be wiped out - as we often fear - by nuclear weapons and not by man's craziest means of mass destruction. No, this generation will not pass away until all this happens. I understand this as a guarantee that people cannot and must not exterminate each other until the Lord comes. The human race will not die out or be wiped out before then. Let us read the Holy Scriptures - what God has told us. This prophecy is under the "Amen", so it is deadly certain.
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (cf. verse 31)
In this sentence it is affirmed that the word of Jesus never loses its validity. Nothing about it can be explained away. The word of God says. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. - and that is all the words of the Holy Scriptures. Let no one mislead you and make you believe that you should not take all the words of Scripture seriously. Then at the end Jesus says:
"But that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father." (cf. verse 32)
Jesus has stripped himself of his divinity. As a human being, he does not know the time, but only the Father knows it. The disciples always ask about the times - just as we do. In another passage of Scripture, they ask Jesus, "Tell us, when will these things take place, and what is the sign that all these things should be accomplished?" (cf. Mt 24,3; Mk 13,4; Lk 21,7) The question about the time is pure curiosity. Why do I need to know the time? If I am waiting for Jesus, if I am attuned to him, then he can come at any time. Why do I need to know the time? It is always nice to be surprised.
And even being surprised by something pleasant is more wonderful than knowing everything beforehand. Christmas is a typical example of this. If I already know everything I'm getting as a present, well, maybe I'm still looking forward to it. But when I'm surprised by something I didn't expect, that's much nicer. Let's let ourselves be surprised and not always try to ask curiously when and how it will happen. Behind this questioning is often a lack of willingness to repent. We want to postpone it a little longer. Today, people run to wherever there is an alleged message about the future, and when a fortune teller says something about the future, everyone is excited. But no one converts. If we are honest, with our questions: "When will that be?" we actually only want to hedge our bets. Because if it's not until a hundred years from now, then I don't even need to reckon with it, I don't need to turn back - or not until shortly before I die - although that's very risky! Because my life is decisive, very decisive, and so will be my death. We shouldn't fool ourselves about this. So only the Father knows the time, and we should not calculate a time, but rather respond to Jesus' message - namely, to rethink, to repent, to live towards Him. Then he can come when he wants. Then he can surprise us at any time. ∎