Gleanings from the Text
When it comes to apocalyptic Scriptures, there seem to be two kinds of people. There are those who love to dig around in the symbols in order to find the “secret messages,” and those who skip over these texts as quickly as possible. But surely there is something useful here, some word we need to hear other than “hidden secrets.”
You know the setting. Jesus and his disciples (who are mostly small town guys) come into Jerusalem. The disciples are very impressed with the temple, its grand architecture and its seeming permanence. (Though this is the second temple, it has already been destroyed once in its history. This one was rebuilt by Herod the Great in 19 BC. Matthew says this same Herod killed the children of Bethlehem.) Mark routinely shows that the disciples do not quite get the point of this Jesus. They are still impressed with the “big things” – temples, crowds, and important people. While Jesus talks to them about an upside down kingdom of mustards seeds, children, and crosses. The theology of the cross is presented in this chapter in a different key.
In this apocalyptic passage in Mark, Jesus offers two warnings to his easily impressed disciples. “Take heed that no one lead you astray.” “Take heed…when they bring you to trial.” There is suffering ahead for the community and for the disciples. They are warned not to let the suffering be an excuse to chase off after phony solutions and false messiahs (we might say quick fixes).
They are warned not to lose heart. There will be wars and rumors of wars. There will be stacked courtrooms, rigged trials, persecution for the church as there will be for the Messiah. The reader is warned that trouble comes to the world, and to those who follow the Way of Jesus.
But there is also a promise. “Do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say (when you are before the rulers), but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” This rare promise of the Spirit in Mark’s gospel is given to those who suffer for their faith; who testify to their Lord. “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” There is a promise of help in our time of distress.
Food for Thought
What happens when our “great buildings” come tumbling down? There is an opportunity in this passage to think about our catastrophes: Hurricane Katrina; September 9/11; the collapse of the stock market; the collapse of a marriage. When we enter into an apocalyptic time, what do we hear God saying to us? How do we trust in the Holy Spirit when things are falling apart all around us?
There is also the opportunity to ask when is it that we are willing to suffer for the sake of this Jesus. What do we know about a witness to the faith that leads to our persecution? What do we learn from the voices of the persecuted church in other parts of the world or in other ages?
I usually connect Mark 13 with the first Sunday of Advent. What difference does it make when we read it during the “Thanksgiving Season” in November? Or during our Stewardship season in the congregation? Where are we placing our trust? What rock are we building upon? What cost of discipleship are we willing to bear?
Sink Your Teeth into This
Elie Wiesel in his book Memoirs: All Rivers Lead to the Sea talks about his childhood in Eastern Europe and the suffering of the Jews even before the Nazis came. His rabbi used to say, “Abraham, the first of the patriarchs, was a better Jew than you. He was a thousand times better than all of us, but the Midrash tells us that he was cast into a burning furnace. So how do you expect to breeze through life without a scratch? Daniel was wiser than you and more pious, yet he was condemned to die in a lion’s den. And you dream of living your life without suffering?” (p.19)
Charlie Summers is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Virginia.