Our passages today focus on reconciliation, the hard work of forgiveness. It might not look that way at first glance, as the passages have more finger pointing in them than words of forgiveness. However, if you dig deeper you will find that the theme of forgiveness and the restoration of relationships is at the heart of the passage.
Scripture: Mark 13: 1-8
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Mark 13 is a troubling piece of scripture to read. It speaks of war, violence, destruction, deception and betrayal. If that isn’t bad enough Jesus says these things must happen and alludes to the fact that they are only the beginning. We only read the first eight versus, but the whole chapter is dedicated to this discourse.
For us as modern readers we have ascribed much to this passage that is probably wrong and harmful. Ched Myers notes, “There is perhaps no single chapter of the synoptic gospels which has been so much commented upon in modern times as Mark 13.” (Myers, Ched. Binding the Strong Man: a political reading of Mark’s story of Jesus. 2008, p. 324).
While our lectionary reading today only has the first eight versus, much of my comments cover the whole of Mark 13. It is a singular unit and an interesting intrusion in Mark’s gospel.
As modern readers, people have tried to ascribe and use Mark 13 to prophesy about when the end times will come. Think of all the bad Christian fiction about the rapture and the second coming of Christ. Much of which is recent scholarship, the last century or so, is poor theology but very easily captivates the imagination. The result is that what is really a fringe mode of thought has captured the imagination of many people outside the Christian faith. The reality is it makes for great fiction and television, and if they make movies about it, well then it must be what we believe.
Mark 13 is Often referred to as the “Little Apocalypse” even if it isn’t actually apocalyptic literature as we might understand that biblically. This passage from Mark freely draws from Daniel 7, 9, and 11. Daniel is also often used to support end time, end of the world theologies, but again that isn’t really what Daniel is about. But we will deal with Daniel another time.
In order to understand Mark 13, we need to understand Jerusalem when Mark wrote his gospel. For those who are attending the bible study we are really going to dig into this when we get to Mark 13. For those who aren’t attending you get a sneak peak.
So exactly what was occurring when Mark wrote his gospel? Most scholars agree that Mark wrote his gospel between 66-74AD and that it was the first gospel account written. During that time there was a Jewish rebellion and war with Rome. The result was the literal destruction of the Temple in 70AD. Here is a bit of history, during the war the Roman General Vespian was dispatched to put down the rebellion. Things were going poorly for the Jewish rebellion when suddnely the Romans stopped. Why? Because Roman Emperor Nero died and there was the problem of who would be Emperor. Vespian would prevail and become Emperor and would later send Titus to finish off the rebels. During this time the rebel faction was recruiting soldiers and Mark’s community was facing pressure to sign up. However, they followed a nonviolent, nonconformist.
The passage has been viewed as an intrusion into the Markian narrative. It comes at a critical point in the gospel. “As readers, we are balanced between the end of Jesus’ public ministry and the beginning of this march to the cross. This moment demands some clarification on the meaning of Jesus’ nonviolent struggle to overthrow the powers. On the other hand, the historical moment…[as I have just outlined], demands similar clarification, for there is intense pressure being put upon Mark’s community to declare its allegiance in the Roman-Jewish war. Mark believes that both ‘moments’ are best served by a sermon, but one that he has integrated into the framework and fiction of his Gospel as a whole.” (Myers, p. 328).
Mark 13 is perhaps best described as a sermon on political discernment directed at the historical moment. In Mark 13 Jesus tells the disciples to be discerning. The sermon, or teaching moment, occurs on the Mount of Olives which tradition notes as the site of messianic intervention.
The urging to “watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming I am he” is as prudent then as it is now. Mark was reminding his community who they followed. A nonviolent Messiah, whose authority had been established. The Markian community was not to follow other figures who were calling upon the messianic tradition to overthrow the Romans by force. Mark reminds them not to be alarmed, just as Jesus didn’t struggle violently, we too are to look for peaceful solutions.
It’s easy, especially in light of our present time, to get caught up in alarmism. To wonder if the world as we know it is ending. Remember this isn’t a passage about the end of the world, future wars or other events. It was a message given to real people dealing with an existential crisis. Do we take up arms and fight the Romans or not? There will be consequences, which are outlined in Mark 13, for either choice and in some instances those consequences will be similar.
In all of it we look to our source and provider, Jesus. Amanda Brobst-Renaud writes, “Whenever we hear reports of disaster, Mark 13 reminds us to not be led astray by messianic claimants that cannot save us; rather, we look for Jesus.” (Amanda Brobst-Renaud)
When things look uncertain, when we are in the midst of our own little apocalypse, look to God. Find the light, cling to the light of the gospel story. Remember that there is a love, beyond all loves that is there for you despite what is going on in the world. Amen.
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