Today’s author is Prince of Peace member, Carol Swanson.

Mark 13

The longest speech Jesus makes in the Gospel of Mark is chapter 13. We heard portions of it on Sunday, but with its length, we skipped over the middle third of it.  As an apocalyptic text, it is supposed to comfort us and give us hope in dire times of wars, persecutions, natural disasters. As you may know, apocalyptic texts also look to the Day of the Lord, God’s final judgment, often seen as vengeance against enemies.  But here in Mark chapter 13, we hear what Jesus has to say on the subject. How is his message different?

Once again, I appreciate the insights of A. J. Levine in her book, A Gospel of Mark, A Beginner’s Guide to the Good News.

The disciples ask Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”  Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Instead, he refocuses the disciples thinking. He tells “how” to live in the expectation of what some call the “end times.”

He warns us to be skeptical: Beware of those claiming to be the messiah returned or a prophet knowing “when.” (I think, what is my theology? If I believe God is divine love and Jesus models this, this can guide my recognition of dangerous influences and false authority figures.)

There will be war, earthquakes, famines… “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Jesus offers a metaphor of giving birth to speak of suffering, yet suffering that can lead to new life, to joy. (I believe God suffers with us. But God can also bring forth new life out of the wreckage. We have hope.)

Beware for ourselves, yet still proclaim the good news of God.  There is a cost of discipleship. Trust in the Holy Spirit for the right words. Endure. (Help me, Lord. Give me words, faith, and strength to share your love and vision for our world.)

Times can be so terrible that Jesus advises one to flee. And to pray for those who flee and for those cannot flee. (I think of all the refugees who need our prayers and our help. And if I ever have to flee, will there be someone to help me? Lord, give me compassion.)

Jesus talks of the sun and moon darkening and stars falling. These are metaphors also found in Isaiah, Jeremiah Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, and Revelation. Does this reflect the depth of God’s suffering with us? God’s grief as creation seems to fall apart? Levine says this darkening of skies is alluding to Genesis 1, Let there be light. Levine says, “At the end time, the darkness returns, and the separation is removed. To re-create thus requires un-creation. The re-creation under the authority of the Son of Humanity, then becomes the final victory over chaos.” (p 124) God can renew creation and create anew out of the wreckage.

And where the prophets looked for crushing vengeance against enemies, Jesus doesn’t say this. He only speaks of angels sent out to “gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” (I trust in God’s promise that we live in God, and we die in God. As Paul writes (Romans 14:8), “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”)

Jesus continues to advise us to learn, to learn from the fig tree, to see the signs. (Can we figure out how to anticipate and prevent disasters in the first place? Political, social, environmental? Can we find real solutions to our growing issues?)

And lastly, Jesus says, beware, keep alert, keep awake. (Do not be complacent, as Steve Sveom said in his sermon, God hasn’t given up on the world yet. Nor should we. It’s a partnership between God and all of us, between Loving Creator and creation.)

The Jews and early Christians believed the end time was near, perhaps before some of them would experience death, and so Mark writes (13:30-32) that Jesus said, “Truly I tell 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 about that day or hour no one knows…only the Father.”  (The end of time has not come. But surely in multiple places across the globe, every generation has experienced horror and dread, and can take comfort in knowing that “God is present in all that rubble,” as Steve said.)

Steve had started his sermon with, “Contrast. Paradox. Juxtaposition…. Mark makes good use of these tools in his gospel, using the life and word of Jesus and placing them alongside the deep-seated values of the disciples and the world, us. Those values that need shaping and molding to become more Christ-like.” 

The kind of power the world values is not the kind of power that Jesus values. Empower us, Lord.

We can see this contrast earlier in Levine’s comments of Mark 9:1. And [Jesus] said to them, “Truly, I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”  Is this also anticipating the end times, or is there another way to look at it? Levine writes, “For Mark, the Kingdom had already come, is coming, and will come, with power. It has already come, powerfully, in the healings and exorcisms…. We can see the Kingdom has come, in power, when people act in compassion rather than in selfishness, in generosity rather than in greed….The Kingdom has come when we repent of our mistakes and work to do better next time.” (57)

Let us pray, reflecting on words from Sunday’s service:
Empowering God of all creation,
Shape and mold me to be more Christ-like.
Bless me with your vision.
Lead me to care responsibly for your world.
Use my small love to do your great work.
Wake me up to be your disciple. Amen.