St. Mark Chapter 13 from which our Gospel comes is often misunderstood and misrepresented by many who see it as a prediction of events that will take place at the end of the world. This writing is not a prediction of the end of the world and it is not meant to frighten us. Actually, no where in the Gospels does Jesus predict the end of the world.

The statements found in this chapter and elsewhere in the Gospels are not prophecies and do not refer to doom in the future. They addressed conditions with which the disciples would have familiar; this point is clearly stated in verses 30-31.

The Christian community at this time was experiencing great stress and pain. Its members were persecuted, killed, betrayed by family members and friends; for most of them life was difficult. The language of wars and rumours of war, earthquakes, famines, stars falling from heaven, darkened sun and moon, is an exaggerated from of language used to describe a condition of suffering familiar to his hearers. It is bad news. Jesus is reminding the disciples of the cost involved in discipleship and prepares them for the difficulties that will come after his departure. He is not predicting the end of the world.

The words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are comforting words to a suffering community. They instil hope and give strength to people who experience suffering in their lives. Reference to the fig tree is a message of hope. Very often people are having difficult time in life wish for their death, wish for an end to take them out of their misery. Jesus does not encourage this thinking; he tells them to stay calm and be certain that God will intervene on their behalf. This thought is found in the words ‘the one who endures will be saved.’ It is also given expression in the verses ‘so also when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates,’ and ‘heaven and earth will pass away, but my words, will not pass away.’

When people are going through painful situations in life we have to help them manage their conditions without becoming despair. This is what Jesus is doing in the Gospel. He is empowering people to take charge of their lives and inviting them to trust God to deliver them out of their predicaments. Let me restate once again that Jesus is not predicting the end of the world. As was said before Jesus never indicated if or when this world would come to an end. When pressed to make a statement he said not even the Son knows and he went on to warn of false prophets and messiahs who will appear making predictions of the end of the world.

When we meet people who are living in painful situations we cannot tell them ’don’t worry, be happy.’ They will not appreciate this kind of simplistic approach to life. It does not help them; it can make a bad situation worse. We have to be realistic about suffering. People do suffer. There is real pain and anguish in the world. We cannot do like some people and say that pain, sickness; sufferings and the like are conditions of the mind over matter. This is to trivialise what is real and factual. Never say to anyone who is going through a difficult time ‘don’t worry, be happy.’ It does not help them.

We can say to them don’t panic. By this we are telling them not to lose heart, not to give up. Panic prevents us from staying focus and it weakens us when we need to be strong. Panic saps our energy and causes us to lose confidence in our ability to conquer the forces of evil. Panic leads to undue worry and distress. Don’t panic Jesus us at the door. Yes, there will be wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes and dark moons and suns in our lives, but don’t panic. Jesus’ message to a troubled world is simply this, ‘don’t panic, your redemption is near.’

All is not doom and gloom. The evil we meet in our lives and the world does not deny the fact that God is Almighty and loving. God does not send evil on us but he allows it. We must confess that from a human perspective all evil is not redeeming. Yes, at times we question God’s goodness when we see destruction and calamity all around. The senseless killings and violence  in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and other parts of the world, the persecution of Christians, the financial difficulties some presently have and the natural and man made disasters, do test our faith in God. But for us, people of faith, we know that these experiences cannot prevent God from establishing his kingdom. There is something more glorious and lasting awaiting the saints of God. In this world of evil we have the comforting words of Jesus to give us strength, ‘your redemption is near.’ What ever your storm may be, Jesus says to you and me, ‘don’t panic.’

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