Israel was a tree that the Lord had germinated and then cultivated. Later the enemy came, armed with the lumberjack’s ax. They had smashed with merciless blows and reduced it to a bare and desolate trunk (Ps 74:5-6).
It is our history. We are at the mercy of the forces of evil that enslave us. They take away the light and breath from us. We become dried branches, unable to bear fruit.
But woe if we lose hope.
In the future days—the prophets assured—Israel will take root, blossom, and sprout and fill the world with fruit (Is 27:6). I shall be like the dew to Israel—the Lord says—like the lily will he blossom. Like a cedar he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow and spread. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance, like a Lebanon cedar.
Nothing is impossible to him that has made even the dry stick of Aaron to flourish (Ex 17:3).
According to the promises of the Lord, from the root of Jesse, a vigorous tree has sprouted—Christ—in which all are grafted. From him, the sap will come to maintain its lushness and will make every tree planted in the garden by God produce abundant fruit.
There are no desperate situations for those who believe in the Lord.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “We fear the axes of our enemies, but not that of God who removes the malignant plants from our garden.”
It is the threat that is still used by some preachers, as a deterrent—less and less effective—to distract us from evil.
The image of a judge God is present in the gospel, especially in that of Matthew in which it appears on almost every page. What’s the point?
The final showdown is too far away and too uncertain to make an impact on today’s choices. More importantly, this final judgment, of a forensic type, pronounced by God at the end of life will no longer be of help to anyone. At that point, it will be impossible for anyone to make up for the lost or badly used time.
We are interested in another judgment of God: the one he utters in the present.
Faced with the choice that we are all called to do, we listen to many judgments: that of friends, advertising, fashion, vanity, jealousy, pride, current morality … There is also… too often weak, muted, overwhelmed by other judgments, the judgment of God, the only one that shows the way of life, the only one that at the end will prove to be valid.
To keep watch means being able to discern, to be able to grasp this judgment that comes on time, although in the most unexpected ways and times.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Make me follow, O Lord, your judgments.”
When Emperor Tiberius governs Rome, John the Baptist appears along the Jordan River. What he says causes excitement, awakens expectations and raises hopes. The political and religious authorities were worried because they consider his message subversive. He says: The kingdom of heaven is near (Mt 3:2). After him, Jesus begins to travel through towns and villages announcing everywhere: The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is imminent (Mk 1:15). At times he says: The kingdom of God is already in your midst (Lk 17:21). The kingdom is the center of the preaching of Jesus: in fact, the New Testament mentions the theme of the kingdom of God 122 times and Jesus says it as many as 90 times himself.
A few years after his death, we find his disciples announcing the kingdom of God in all the provinces of the empire and in Rome itself (Acts 28:31). We would like the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles to explain to us the meaning of this expression, but none of them does. However, we notice that Jesus distances himself from those who politically and nationalistically interpret his mission (Mt 4:8). Nevertheless, his message contains an undeniable subversive load to the existing structures in society. Those in political and religious power considered him dangerous.
Starting as a small seed, the kingdom is destined to grow and become a tree (Mt 1:31-32). It is gifted with an irresistible force and will provoke a radical transformation of the world and of the people. The kingship of Jesus is difficult to understand. It has sent Pilate’s head in a tilt (Jn 18:33-38). It’s too different from those of this world. It has been misunderstood many times over the centuries!
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Thy kingdom come!”
In times of political upheavals, wars, famine, and pestilence follow suit. The situation of misery becomes intolerable. Rumors spread easily about the end of the world. To give credit to their ranting, the followers of the fundamentalist sects refer to some biblical texts. The most cited is this: “There will be difficult times in the last days. People will become selfish, lovers of money, boastful, conceited, gossips, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy. They will be unable to love and to forgive; they will be slanderers, without self-control, cruel, enemies of good, traitors, shameless, full of pride, more in love with pleasures than with God” (2 Tim 3:1-4). We encounter these uncomfortable situations in every age so those who want to make predictions about the end of the world do not have difficulty in establishing the dates. And this is what the Jehovah’s Witnesses do.
For the authors of the New Testament, the last times are not the ones coming in millions of years, but those in which we are living, the one initiated with Easter. It is not easy to understand the meaning of what is happening in recent times. Our eyes are veiled, clouded. Too many realities are shrouded in mystery: misfortunes, inexplicable absurdities, contradictions and signs of death. It is difficult to discern a plan of God in all this.
Using apocalyptic language and images, Jesus wants to remove the veil that prevents us from seeing the world through the eyes of God. When he seems to announce the end of the cosmos, he is not referring to the end of the world, but helping us to understand the end of the world. Apocalypse does not mean catastrophe, but revelation, unveiling. We need the words of Christ to illumine us and, among the scribbles drawn by people, let us see the features of the masterpiece that God is painting.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Lord, stay close to me, I place my hope in you.”