The "end-time" - A vision of hope

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

In his book Seasons of the Word, Denis McBride has this interesting story to tell:

"The leader of a certain Indian tribe was dying. For many generations his people had been encamped at the base of a large mountain. The chief summoned his three sons and said: `I am dying; before death I must choose one of you to succeed me as the head of our tribe. I have the same task for each of you. I want you to climb our holy mountain and bring me back something beautiful. The one whose gift is the most outstanding will be the one who will succeed me.'

"The following morning the sons set out on their search, each taking a different path to the top of the holy mountain. After several days the three sons returned. The first brought his father a flower which grew near the summit of the mountain; it was extremely rare and beautiful. The second son brought his father a valuable stone, round and colourful, which had been polished by rain and sandy winds. When the third son approached his father, everyone saw that his hands were empty.

"The empty-handed son said to his father: `I have brought back nothing to show you, father. As I stood on the top of the holy mountain, I saw that on the other side was a beautiful land filled with green pastures. In the middle of these pastures there is a crystal lake. And I have a vision of where our tribe could go for a better life. I was so overwhelmed with what I saw and by what I could see that I could not bring anything back.' And the father replied: `You shall be our tribe's new leader, for you have brought back the most precious thing of all--the gift of a vision for a better future.'" (p. 366)

The above story is very appropriate for our reflection on the end-time or the "parousia", namely, the return of Jesus in power and glory at the end of the world (Mk. 13:24-32). The evangelist Mark placed this account before Jesus was to suffer and die in Jerusalem. Thus this account may be viewed as Jesus' final "vision" for those who accept Him in faith.

At the time of the writing of this account the early Church was beset with many serious problems. From within, many were convinced that the return of Jesus would be imminent. For this reason, some just loafed around and waited for the end-time. This outlook and way of acting caused unrest and stress in the Church. It came to the point that the apostle Paul himself had to admonish them saying that if they would not work they should not eat. From without, Christians - from Jerusalem to Rome - were being persecuted. In either case, there resulted a weakening of hope within the Christian community.

To counter this situation of weakened hope, Mark had Jesus speak of His return in power and glory at the end-time and this for only one purpose: to gather together the scattered people of God, the "elect". This notwithstanding the inescapable process of destruction and death due to the collapse of the cosmic order. For afterwards and in Jesus' words, "they will see `the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky" - for their just rewards. It is this certainty that enabled those in the early Church to endure their present situation to the end. In short, to live in hope.

When the end will come, no one knows. Today as it has been in the past, many cult leaders have capitalized on this indefiniteness of the end-time. They claim that they, through some mysterious ways, "know" when this "time" will be. What is most disturbing is that many people believe these predictions of the cult leaders despite the words of Jesus and the lessons of history.

For did not Jesus Himself say, "Of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father?" Indeed, the only thing we can be sure about in this regard is who will be coming, namely, Jesus in all His power and glory. Thus as followers of Jesus, let us ignore those who make such predictions. In fact, let us not allow the "time" of the end of the world to distract us from our most important task as believers: to live by the words and deeds of Jesus till death. Then we can look forward to the future with the hope that we will be numbered among the "elect."

As the early Church was encouraged and given hope by Mark's account of the end-time, so must we. And because we do not know the "day or the hour", we must remain vigilant and persevere in our belief to the end. For what we are at death, that we will be at the end-time. Then when our end or the end of the world comes - whichever comes first - we will be ready for "gathering" when the Son of Man will return in power and glory.