The image of the fig tree resonates with me quite strongly this season for very personal reasons. I have somewhere in one of my prayer books, a photo of me at four years old in front of a fig tree planted by my grandparents in their yard. Now, today, when I go to visit this house for the last time, as we prepare to sell it and walk away from a family history over 110 years old, that same fig tree towers over my head. I need to climb a ladder to harvest the many figs on its branches. I don’t even like figs all that much, but every time the image of the fig tree comes up in scripture, I see this tree again, and am connected to my family story. These feel like the end of days for this particular part of my family story.
Jesus is talking about the ‘end of days’ in this gospel passage. He is trying to help his listeners learn to recognize the signs of the times, so that they will be prepared for whatever comes next. He uses an example of a tree sprouting new green shoots as a sign that summer is near. In our part of the world, as the leaves turn colors and fall, we know winter is on its way. Pumpkin spice gives way to peppermint and woolen mittens, down coats and snow boots.
What of our world? What of our church? Surely we have witnessed many signs these past months, most of them seeming to speak of end times. What are we to do? How are we to be hopeful amidst so much that is terribly sad? Jesus gives us the answer quite clearly: “Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will NOT pass away.”
These are the days when we are called to double down on our faith in the Word of God. We need to look at the signs around us and discern with our inner heart those things that are of God, and those that are of man. If we can ignore the noise all around us and focus our hearts on God’s voice, on God’s call, that is where we will find our hope. God will not abandon us no matter how terrifying the end signs may appear.
These are the days when we need to be vigilant in our prayer. We need to ask God to lead us, to guide us on his path, and ignore the chaos around us. Now may be the time to pray even more with Scripture and hold on to the Word of God with both hands. Catholic social teaching is another guide for us here: See, Judge, Act! Can we look at the signs that the world puts before us, use our educated and informed conscience to make some prayerful decisions, and choose to act in the best way possible?We have so very much to pray for, don’t we?