by Father Mike Stubbs
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!
This shout used to greet the popular fantasy hero in movies and tv shows. It echoes the prediction that we hear in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mk 13:24-32:
“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.”
The resemblance goes beyond the appearance of this mysterious figure in the sky. It extends to the promise of salvation that he brings. Like the Son of Man, Superman is arriving to come to our help.
Of course, there is a big difference. Superman is a fictional character, while Jesus is the Son of Man, the Messiah.
That is why, when Jesus is being questioned before the Sanhedrin who will condemn him to death, he answers as he does:
“Again, the high priest asked him and said to him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?’ Then Jesus answered, ‘I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mk 14: 61b-62).”
Jesus is really set on making this prediction about the Son of Man coming in glory to our aid.
At the same time, the prediction in Sunday’s Gospel comes in the midst of predictions about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, about the persecutions that Jesus’ disciples will suffer, about the end of the world. It is difficult to sort out all these predictions.
To add to the confusion, Jesus makes another promise: “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”
At the same time, Jesus qualifies his prediction: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” That seems to throw timing out of the window.
We should keep in mind that Jesus may not have made these predictions in the sequence that the Gospel presents them.
The Gospel writer collected these sayings of Jesus and put them together in the written form that they now appear. These predictions share a common element: the distress that Jesus’ disciples will experience. This is the link that perhaps inspired the Gospel writer to join them together.
In the midst of the distress that the disciples of Jesus will experience, though, he assures them that he will come to their aid. That is the meaning of the prediction about the Son of Man coming on the clouds. He will appear when they least expect.
That is his firm promise: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”