“But of that day or hour, no one knows”

We send our prayers to the people of Paris and France after Friday’s horrific terrorist attacks.

One might be tempted to associate them with today’s reading. Mark 13: 24-32 relates to times of tribulation. The whole of chapter 13 is taken by many Bible experts as Jesus’ treatise on the end times. I’m not quite so sure it is entirely; he could have been forewarning his disciples of the difficult road that lay before them during his persecution, crucifixion, death, rising again, and his second coming. Jesus talks about “this generation” and “those in Judea.” He could be talking metaphorically about the sun, the moon, and the stars. But let’s see what the reading is before we go too far.

Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem and one of them marvels at the great buildings surrounding them. Jesus foretells of their coming destruction and after a longer discourse on coming difficult times (read this whole chapter), says:

“In those days after that tribulation
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

“And then 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.

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree.
When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves,
you know that summer is near.
In the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that he is near, at the gates.
Amen, I say to you,
this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.

But of that day or hour, no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

What strikes me is that very often in the Gospels, Jesus warns us that many false prophets will warn us that the end times are nearly upon us. Sometimes they pick a specific date. Just recently someone said the world would end in October, a “refinement” of an earlier prediction that also proved to be false. But if you read all of chapter 13, you will see that Jesus says there are always times of tribulation — wars and famine and difficult times will often happen. But that does not mean they foretell the end times. And no matter what our popular prophets of today tell us on mass media, they have no better idea of when the end times are imminent than any of us do. As that last line of today’s Gospel says, even Jesus himself does not know.

If you are tempted to think that ISIS’s attack on Paris and their war on the West is a sign of the end times, remember Jesus’ words above. Only the Father knows the day or hour. And as Jesus says in the rest of the chapter, and indeed has said elsewhere in the Gospels, be constantly ready for the second coming. Love God with all your heart and mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself, which Jesus said are the most important commandments. Be not afraid, be loved and be prepared in your heart. God loves you.

So far I haven’t heard any of today’s clergy claim that the attacks on Paris are part of the great tribulation to come. But it’s early on a Sunday as I prepare this, and the prophets of doom have yet to speak. If they do, take heart in God’s love. And be part of his movement of love rather than in the false prophets’ movement of fear. Pray for the people of Paris and France. Pray for the people of the world. Pray for all who are under attack, whether they are in the West or in the East, Christians or Muslims or anyone else. Spread God’s love. Jesus was compassionate with those who were not his own kind and we should follow in his example.

And remember that those who attacked Paris do not represent the vast majority of Muslims. Please reserve room in your heart for the multitude of Muslims who are as repulsed as you are at the barbarism of these attacks. ISIS is no more representative of Islam than the Klu Klux Klan is of Christianity.

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