Proper 28 Year B 2018
Kevin Gore – St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
As many of you know I grew up attending a non-denominational evangelical sort of Baptist but we aren’t going to prohibit drinking and dancing just judge you a lot when you do things we don’t like church. I obviously have some opinions about that tradition, but it ultimately was my first experience of Christianity. One of the focuses in a lot of mainline evangelical Protestantism is the concern for being saved. You have to actively give God permission to save you, and you need to do it soon because the end of the world, what we would call the eschaton, what they might call ‘the rapture’ or ‘end times’ could be in the next blink of an eye. I still remember as a teenager being subjected to a movie called ‘A Thief in the Night’, a 1972 film not unlike the more recent and popular ‘Left Behind’ books and movies. They are an attempt to use that particular theological approach to the Book of Revelation to interpret it through a modern lens, and show people what it could look like if their beliefs came to be. Interestingly, all these movies are classified as ‘Fantasy Thrillers’.
I mention this because today in our reading from the Gospel of Mark, we hear what is referred to as the ‘little apocalypse’. Jesus describes the destruction of the Temple, and this leads into a mention of the end of times with wars, earthquakes, famines, and how the disciples are to act in such times. In fact there are many apocalyptic writings outside of the piece in Mark and the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic literature is its own genre that comes out of a post-Exile Jewish culture, and is most commonly identified by containing strange descriptions of beasts and creatures like in Daniel, usually seems shrouded in symbolism, and is actually far more prolific than just the Revelation of John. But a funny thing has happened for us in Christian tradition. As the centuries have rolled past and so much has changed from the early church, such writings have lost their original purpose and meaning, and instead have become the imagination of a ruling class bent on seeing those they deem unworthy to get their comeuppance.
Such writings have to be taken in their own context, and understood by acknowledging the time and place in which they are intended to be heard. In general, Apocalyptic literature is written for a people who have reason to have a pessimistic world view due to their own oppression. It offers a vision of a future crisis that often mirrors the current situation of the author, and usually contains visions of cosmic upheaval which parallel the physical world. I have mentioned previously that dating the writing of Mark is something that is often contested among biblical scholars. One reason is that this particular passage raises some questions. Jesus mentions earthquakes, famines, and nation against nation. Well, interestingly enough, in 50 CE there was a devastating famine in Palestine. Between 61 and 62 CE earthquakes and volcanoes were particularly volatile, including the destruction of Lodicia and Pompeii. And, if the general state of things wasn’t enough nation against nation, in 67 CE Rome’s armies began to falter at the Parthian invasion. So the scholarly question here is whether the author of the Gospel of Mark already knew of these events and foreshadowed them in Jesus words, or whether this is written down before any of the fulfillment takes place. Regardless of that, Jesus here instructs the disciples: do not be alarmed. Chapter 13 continues on with much more of Jesus teaching the disciples what will happen to them, and it continues with more apocalyptic prediction and instruction. The disciples are not to take part in what is to come.
Jesus tells the disciples that many will come and try to lead them astray. Jesus has set a path for the disciples, and for us, and it is our task to be aware of sticking to it. These events aren’t really the end itself either, but the events that point to it drawing near. The end doesn’t come until Jesus returns, and even Jesus himself says that only God the Father, one of the three personas of the Trinity, knows when that is to take place. That hasn’t of course stopped us from trying to figure it out. After a quick googling of apocalyptic predictions, I found too many to count having been recorded from as early as the 600s and as recent as April 2018, with many more ‘revised predictions’ from those who have failed to get it right the first three or four times. The take away here is that we have an interesting fascination with apocalypse and wanting to know when it’s going to happen. As a people, especially Christians in the Western world, we don’t suffer really that much. We aren’t under threat of being conquered or subjugated. So our apocalyptic story telling focuses on the things we do fear. We have movies about massive earthquakes, global climate disaster, and biochemical epidemics. Zombies created by viruses and aliens from outer space gaining untold power to wipe out life as we know it. We still have apocalyptic literature not unlike what we read from Jesus’ time, it’s just colored with a very different brush than what we read in the Gospel of Mark.
As we come to the end of our Church year, this being the last reading from Mark for awhile and look to the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King and our time of preparation in Advent, Jesus calls us as he calls the disciples to watch. As followers of Jesus Christ we are to bear witness to the continued strife of the world, with its corrupt temples on the verge of collapse, its warring nations, its false prophets. We bear witness and we call out to a hurting world to offer a vision of hope in the end. We work with a sense of duty and mission that honors our sense of stewardship of God’s creation, and our faith that the Kingdom of God is at hand. As I’ve said before, just because we are reconciled in the end, doesn’t mean we get a pass on working towards all that we can accomplish in that now. Jesus tells the disciples to hope for the coming of the Son of Man, and that the struggles will be but signs to a much greater time.
While chapter 13 is where we finish reading Mark in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, it of course is not the end of the narrative of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. There are a few more chapters that go into the end of the story, and we’ll of course get to that when we work our way to Easter. But this place in Chapter 13 seems like such a poetic stopping point for our mission as followers of Christ. In this passage today Jesus is offering hope, the good news, to his disciples for the hard times to come ahead. It actually reminds me very much of the first verse of the Gospel of Mark, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” Every day we reflect on Christ’s ministry is the beginning of the good news. Every day we decide that our discipleship means more than the allures of the world we offer that good news out. We are called to watch, to not be a part of the mobs that would seek to tear down the temple or the mobs that would seek to defend it. Our Kingdom is not built by hands on this earth, but is to come at the end in the full reconciliation of all God’s creation. That is the only Kingdom we truly belong to, and the one we should wait for with great anticipation and joy in our hearts. We have no need to trudge about with sour faces and sandwich boards exclaiming, “The end is near”. Instead, let us offer the vision of the Kingdom we can to those who need it most, and trust that God truly will call us all in when the time comes.