When the liturgical year finishes our attention is drawn to the end of time. Most of the biblical visions concerning it are associated with natural disasters like earthquakes, powerful storms, volcanic eruptions and so on. For centuries those phenomena were so unpredictable, damaging and powerful that people referred them to supernatural powers: gods and demons. In people’s minds those events usually expressed God’s anger and punishment. The people of Israel differed from surrounding nations just in one element: they ascribed natural disasters to the only God, while others had a pantheon of deities. Israelites shared the belief that God expresses his power through nature.
Since the Enlightenment developing science has helped us to understand better the world we live in. We’ve got to know forces of nature and relations between them; we understand direct and indirect relations and interactions of many elements in nature. This knowledge helps us to predict some phenomena, i.e. weather forecast. So we don’t need the Bible or god to find physical or geological explanations of natural disasters. That is the job of science.
However much we understand about our world we still are dumbfounded in the face of terrible events and we raise questions about the meaning of such things. Today’s gospel shows us that the same attitude was familiar with the people of ancient times. The people gathered around Jesus asking him about signs forecasting terrible events. His reply doesn’t leave any room for speculation: natural disasters, wars and other terrifying happenings shouldn’t be treated as signs of Doomsday.
Jesus in today’s gospel speaks about my personal readiness to meet the end of my world. A worldwide natural disaster is unlikely; but a local, personal disaster is a constant possibility in the life of each one of us. It sounds scary, but that’s the truth of life. The death of a loved one, a marriage breakdown, losing a job and many other happenings might be the end of my world as I’d known it. Personal disasters can be more devastating for a person than an earthquake.
Today Jesus says in the gospel that all these unpleasant things are inevitable; they are part of our lives and part of nature. He doesn’t promise to protect us against them; but he promises to be always with us helping us to face disasters and to cope with them.