No sleeping on the job! Be prepared and stay alert.
Watch every day and while you wait, pray.


 

"Learn this parable from the fig tree. When its branch has
already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know
that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things
happening, know that it is near--at the doors! Assuredly,
I say to you, this generation 
will by no means pass away till
all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass
away, but My words will by no means pass away.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels
in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed,
watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is
like a man going to a far country, who left his house and
gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and
commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for
you do not know when the master of the house is coming--
in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster,
or in the morning--lest, coming suddenly , he find you
sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"

[{Luke 21:37} In the daytime Jesus was teaching in the temple,
but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain
called Olivet.]

                                                         Mark 13:28-37 NKJV, condensed


                                         God's Timetable 

The self-fertile and very productive fig tree is unique. Unlike most
fruit trees which produce all of their fruit at the same time, the
fig's fruit can be eaten at different times throughout the year. In
Palestine, tiny figs appear in the leaf axils in the springtime during
the festival of Passover when the tree puts forth its leaves. Some
of these little figs fall to the ground and can be eaten. The figs
which remain on the tree's old wood form the early fruit and
ripen in June. Then from August until the frost, a more flavorful
crop is produced on new wood. Thus figs can be eaten from
spring till the beginning of winter.

The fig tree with its long season becomes a metaphor for the
way we learn the holy scriptures. We don't digest it all at once,
but at a slow and steady pace, a little today and more tomorrow.
The fig tree also parallels how Jesus taught us to live. One day's
good fortune, like one day's trouble, is sufficient.

Mark began the discourse in this chapter with Jesus telling his
disciples some bad news. The temple they admired so much
would someday lay in ruin. That revelation piqued their interest.
What else could Jesus tell them about future events? Surely
there must be some good news to focus upon!

Jesus gave them a mixed forecast. Their situations would be
tough; so be wary, wise and watchful. Expect persecution. But
don't worry, he told them, the Holy Spirit will be with you at all
times, speaking and acting on God's behalf.

Future generations will have a hard time too. There will be wars,
earthquakes and terrible famines. People will flee for their lives
with nothing in their hands to sustain themselves. Pray. Pray.
Pray. Someday the Son of Man will come to gather up his own
and take them home. So stay alert and be ready.

Watch and pray--what does that look like? It might look like an
apprehensive spouse waiting for the surgeon's report. Or the
distressed parent at midnight scanning the darkness for
headlights that might be bringing their teenager home. But
these scenarios are full of dread, worry and fear; not what
Jesus had in mind.

On the other hand, watch and pray could look like the families
of our military men and women as they line up to welcome
our returning troops. Or like listening for the first notes of
the songbird which will usher in the morning after a chilly
night in the wilderness. These scenes are full of relief and joy. 
However, there's a long, unknown road ahead.

Another illustration is an involved grandparent who follows
the uneven twists and turns in the development of their
grandchild. Through thick and thin, in joys and in sorrow, they
are there to love and aid. Not a passive, nonchalant activity;
watching with prayer is a personal, energizing, hands-on
commitment.

The disciples were interested in signs. With Jesus about to leave
them, how could they know that God would continue to work
in their lives and in the world? How would future generations
be assured and maintain their hope in Christ?

Jesus calmed their anxious thoughts by saying, "Learn the
lesson of the fig tree. When the tender branches turn green
and the first buds appear, you know summer is near. So it is,
when you see the things I described, be confident. With each
generation, with each tribulation, God is near--at the door."

Look at it this way: A business tycoon decided to take a trip
abroad but was vague about his return date. Before leaving
he charged his employees to keep up with their usual
responsibilities in his absence. The grounds crew were to
mow the lawn on schedule. The CFO was to continue working
through the details of the company finances. The sales people
were expected to rack up some good deals. Toilets must be
cleaned, supplies ordered, and meals served daily in the
cafeteria. Every one in his hire was to carry on just as though
he were in the corner office.

So it is with God's servants, who plan for tomorrow by living
in readiness today. Amid the uncertainties of life, how are we
to watch and pray? Like the ever-present fig tree, with
nourishment for the hungry today and more for tomorrow.
Like the kindly grandparent, who faithfully prays with cautious
optimism for a good outcome. Like the self-motivated workers
who know the task is much easier if they work at it every day
without fail. So, too, we offer ourselves to God each morning
hoping that on the morrow we may do it all over again . . . till
he comes.

 

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker:  What is the first sign of spring where you live?

 

Name something you have "watched and prayed" for?
            How long have you watched and prayed for it?
            Are you still hopeful you will see its fulfillment?   
                    Why or why not?
Someone has said, "To pray is to watch for God."
            How does that statement fit with this text?

 

What happens in your workplace when the boss goes away?
            To what extent do you need an authority figure to keep
                    you on task?
Why would Jesus use an image from the workplace to illustrate what
happens as we watch and wait for his return?

 

What signs do you see that indicate God is alive and still working
in your life and in the world?
            Are the signs you see any different than the signs previous 
            generations witnessed?
                        If so, in what ways are they different?

 

There's a story about St. Francis planting a tree and while he was
doing so, someone asked him what he would do if he knew that
Christ would return that very day.  St. Francis replied, "I'd keep
planting this tree."
            How about you? What would you do if you knew Jesus were
            returning to earth today?

 

Regarding his return, did Jesus say we are to prepare or predict?
            Give some examples of people preparing for the coming
            of our Lord and examples of predicting when these events
            will occur.

 

Interestingly, Jesus said he didn't know God's timetable.
            Do you think he chose not to know?
Was this an expression of faith that his heavenly Father could handle
the end of the world justly and would do so in God's own good time.
Maybe he was echoing the sentiment of Abraham, "Shall not the
Judge of all the earth do right!"
            What do you think?   Would that be a good attitude for us, too?

 

Was Jesus expecting too much from us when he admonished us to
            never tire of waiting for his return?   Explain your answer.
Watching for the greening of spring is an annual event. Yet Jesus
held that out as a sign of the fulfillment of his 2,000 year old promise.
            What does this tell us about the absence and/or presence
                     of Jesus?                              

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