“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The opening lines of this gospel sound like a generic TV news report on any given day and on any given channel. It is that which links the two paragraphs of this scripture for me.
As I see it Jesus is warning the disciples against missing the signs because they are either too frightened or alternatively too forgetful. Possibly both. There is after all only so much stimulation the brain can absorb before it begins to filter the input. It goes numb and dumb. As an ex-serviceman I have witnessed first hand what the American GI’s termed “the thousand yard stare”. That almost catatonic state where the mind self medicates and anesthetizes itself against the horrors witnessed.
The opposite is often also true. We are so numbed by our boring routines that we go in search of something to fear. Some imaginary phantom or foible to scare us into feeling something.
I remember a very sad alcoholic I knew years ago who would spend her days watching the Crime channel. The horror and violence she saw there evoked at least some feeling in the fog of her existence.
Jesus is suggesting that neither perspective is helpful. Neither, numbing and dumbing nor freaking and flipping are the place of discerning wisdom.
Instead Jesus suggests a careful almost contemplative consideration of whatever phenomena may arise. Not being fearful nor forgetful like neurotics or drunks but rather alert and observing what is really going on with the eyes of faith.
I have to admit here that I probably learnt more useful techniques in this regard from my Buddhist and Hindu friends than from Christians. Not that there are no neurotic Buddhists or Hindus! Au Contraire you can be too precious in any religion!
The point though is that the Eastern practices cultivate mindfulness and awareness of what arises in the mind. This is most helpful. Another angle would be to say that in this passage Jesus encourages exactly this grounded prayerful approach to all of life that finds a ground of being that does not get swayed by outside information and experiences.
It would seem that even in this information saturated age, Jesus encourages us to be grounded in the changeless, the unchaotic, the non-warring, non-judging, non-divided place. That place is the domain of God’s reality and presence. It is found at a manger, at a cross, at an empty tomb.
It can also be found in the alert and faithful heart.