Rooted in His kingdom – Friday, 34th week in ordinary time – Luke 21:29-33
In Luke 21, Jesus reminds his followers that there is always more going on than meets the eye. There is more to reality than we might see at first glance. The illustration of the fig tree is often referred to as a “parable”. In the RSV translation it is more appropriately titled as the ‘ lesson of the fig tree’.
Once again Jesus draws a spiritual lesson from nature. In the scriptures of the last few days Jesus has been telling us about the passing of things and the dreadful events associated with the ending of things as we know them. Today he sums it up with the story of the fig tree. Deciduous trees sprout leaves indicating an upcoming change of seasons. When the branches of the fig tree become green and tender, you know that summer is near.
This “parable” is really more of an observation and a warning. The immediate context seems to refer to the fig tree in a natural (not symbolic) sense. While it is clear in scriptures that Israel is symbolized, at times, by the fig tree, the usage here simply seems to be that of a tree and the lessons it offers us. The imagery of the fig tree sprouting new leaves heralds the coming of the Son of Man, calling the listener to have eyes to see the signs, and the good sense to be ready.
Jesus is telling us to notice the signs of the times for it indicates the arrival, the advent, the presence, and the power of the Kingdom of God; like new leaves sprouting on a fig tree. This observation will help us to discern between what is of true value in the kingdom of God and what is passing. Hence there is a need to be watchful. The Christian must never come to think that he is living in a settled situation. He must be a man who lives in a permanent state of expectation.
This parable could also be used to illustrate what we mean today by “discernment”. The word is applied to a process of searching for God’s will and deciding how to respond to it. Through gospel contemplation we allow ourselves to absorb the attitudes and values of Jesus. These then become the criteria by which we evaluate the situation in which we find ourselves and the particular issue calling for a decision. In a way we are all looking for “signs”. These will not be cosmic disturbances in the heavens but inner movements of spiritual consolation or desolation.
But today’s Gospel also comes with an assurance for the faithful believer. We are told that the world in which we live will one day disappear, but the words of Jesus, words of truth and life will be forever valid. These words represent a vision of life and those timeless values which we understand as coming from God. They will for all time be our guide to living the way of Jesus. So even if the world around you falls apart remember that there is a voice that speaks from the eternal realm and what it speaks of will never pass away. So root your soul in what will last.
As we come to the end of the Church’s liturgical year, it is time for us to consider whether we want to belong to the kingdom that Jesus is inaugurating and not only to belong but also to make it our life’s work. Then, no matter when he comes to call us, we are ready.