2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: The Second Coming (Mt 24:32-44)
32 “Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33So with you when you see all these things: know that he is near, at the very gates. 34I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 36But as for that day and hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father only.
37 “As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. 38For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, 39and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. 40Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; 41of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.
42 “So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. 43You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. 44Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
2. 1- Explanation
In a fifth and final discourse, Jesus teaches his disciples on the theme of the Last Things and the coming of the Kingdom. The discourse begins following a question from the disciples: “Tell us, when is this going to happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world?” (24:3). And so, Jesus responds in the next two chapters (Mt 24 and Mt 25), without interruption, until 26:1, indicating in apocalyptic style, how the end will come, and bringing together at the end four parables (the conscientious steward, the ten bridesmaids, the talents, and the Last Judgement), emphasizing the importance of preparing for the Lord’s Second Coming, through work, wakefulness and prayer. Jesus did not respond in his discourse to the question of “when”, he taught instead about “how” the end will be and the necessary attitude to prepare to receive it.
Among the characteristics of apocalyptic literature, which spans three centuries (from 200 BC to 100 AD), there are the characters of secrecy, symbolic language, and the theme of the Son of Man. This type of literature, born during persecutions and tribulations, is a message of encouragement to the faithful, a confirmation in faith, and a promise of God’s final victory. The apocalyptic language is full of metaphors and obscure images – he does not name things by name – and it borrows symbolic names from the Old Testament. All this happens because it is a reflection of the dangerous circumstances at the time of writing. For early Christians, the eschatological discourse focuses on two important events: the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the end of the world with the coming of Jesus as judge. Indeed, these two events have been mixed up to such an extent that it has become difficult to know whether such verses speak of such an event or not. But the theological truth is that the destruction of Jerusalem is a sign of the establishment of the spiritual and definitive reign of God, in place of the Jewish and temporal one.
In today’s Gospel (Mt 24:32-44), we find two images: the fig tree and the Flood. Before this, Jesus had spoken of the end in other images: misleading of the faithful, the falling of stars from the sky, the cooling of love between people, etc. From these images, Jesus stresses the importance of signs and their reading. “as soon as its [the fig tree’s] twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near” (v.32). The importance of the signs lies in the reading and interpretation. On the second day after Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem (21:18-22), he cursed a fig tree because it bore no fruit. As for the image of the fig tree, there are symbolic dimensions: this is the face of the Jewish people from whom the Lord had waited for the fruit of faith, but which was not produced, just like the vine, which also yielded no fruit (Isaiah 5). The second image in today’s Gospel is that of the flood (vv.37-39); this also speaks symbolically of the second creation, which is completely outside our expectations. This creation will come to us, not during sleep, but during our waking and working hours (two men in the fields; two women at the millstone grinding). Jesus ends his teaching with the emphasis on the importance of vigilance, because the time of the end – the end of our life (death) and the end of the world – is not known to any person, just like the burglar who comes unexpectedly during the night.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
The end will come one day. The Lord wants us to prepare for our eternity with our own selves. He asks us to be attentive and vigilant. This state of readiness means behaviour consistent with our faith, showing the veracity of our spiritual attitudes. To be ready always requires on our part a heart that is wakeful. Apathy and laziness (Parable of the Conscientious Steward 24:46), not filling our lamps with oil (Parable of the Bridesmaids 25:3), and not developing our talents (Parable of the Talents 25:26) are reasons that show that our behaviour is not consistent with the criteria of the Kingdom.
In apocalyptic literature, the theme of “time” occurs. The coming of the Kingdom is near, but we don’t know exactly when; it may be now or after a certain time. Jesus asks us to live our present life as if we are already at the end of time, not in the far future, but rather in the present time. This requires immediate repentance and a change of lifestyle now, not tomorrow, knowing that God is the Lord of history, that He is beyond time, and he sees our present and our future. The Word of Jesus is immutable: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never away pass” (24:35). The good news of salvation shall not change, despite the changes of time and place of its proclamation, and we should live as if each moment is the last one in our life, ready to meet the Lord; indeed, he will not delay his coming!