Synopsis: How can we bear witness to all the sins of our society and still have hope? We can do it by following the example of Our Lord, who bore witness to the corruption in his society yet maintained his trust in God ‘s promise that despite all the pain and suffering we may face, there will be a happy ending.
Scripture: Mark 13:1-8
One of the most well-known passages in the Bible is the one from Ecclesiastes 3, known as “A Time for Everything.” It’s so well-known because in the 50’s Pete Seeger turned it into a song called “Turn, Turn, Turn.” In verse 4, the song goes, “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
In our scripture reading for today, Jesus had borne witness to the ills of his society, and he sensed destruction coming. So, he said to his disciples, “Sorry guys, it’s not time to smile; it’s not time to cheer. It’s time to weep; it’s time to mourn.”
It’s becoming impossible for us today not to bear witness to the sins of our society. Advances in media technology have made us privy to everything that is wrong with America. It’s like a voice constantly screaming in our faces. Many of us can probably sense some form of destruction coming as much as we don’t like to think about it.
So perhaps, like Jesus, it would be helpful to all of us to find a way to name and grieve the wrongs to which we bear witness. Terri Wilkins from Red Letter Christians has done just that by writing an article called “A Time to Mourn.” I would like to read some of it to you as a present-day example. (Click link to article listed under “Resources”)
I know we don’t like grief. We don’t like to be sad. But as much as we dislike grief, grief is transformative. We must grieve before anything can change, but let us not become so mired in grief that we forget that there is hope.
That’s what today’s scripture reading is all about.
Jesus entered Jerusalem and immediately had several negative encounters with the religious leaders in the city. He cursed a fig tree as a form of commentary on the unproductive Jewish religious system of his day, which largely failed to inspire the growth of spiritual fruit within its adherents.
He cleanses the temple, calling it a “den of thieves,” full of moneychangers and merchants who in essence robbed travelers coming from outside Jerusalem through low currency exchange rates and high prices for “temple-approved” sacrificial animals.
He recounts Israel’s rejection of the prophets and the Son in the Parable of the Wicked Tenets, predicting that Israel, like the wicked tenets, will lose the vineyard to others. Then, in a shocking statement, he declares that by rejecting him, they are foolishly rejecting the very cornerstone upon which faith is built.
What Jesus says so clearly denounces the religious leaders that they want to kill him, but they are afraid to attempt it because of his popularity with the crowd. So, they try to whittle away at his credibility, first by questioning his authority and then by asking a variety of questions intended to trap him.
As always, Jesus cleverly evades their efforts to trap him and once again clearly denounces them at the end of chapter 12 stating, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
And that brings us to our scripture reading for today. As Jesus is leaving the Temple with his disciples, one of them comments on the massive stones and magnificent buildings. It appears that it is this particular disciple’s first time visiting Jerusalem, and according to the synoptic gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem only once during his year-long ministry.
It’s not surprising that this disciple was impressed by the massive Temple complex. It was the glory of the Jewish people. Located at the top of a mountain, it was as big as a stadium and as tall as a modern 15-story building. Its huge marble stones weighed as much as 500 tons each. The stones were adorned with gold on the outside, so the Temple shone brilliantly in the sun.
Notice the contrast between this disciple’s comments about the Temple’s lovely exterior and Jesus’ comments about the corruption within. That golden glory was maintained by not only the exploitation of worshippers taking place in the Temple courts, but also by offerings from people like the poor widow, who gave everything she had to live on.
Jesus predicts that very soon every one of those gold-adorned stones will be thrown down, but there is hope: the Son of Man will come and put all things right. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple isn’t the first. Jeremiah made the same prediction six centuries earlier, and it happened! The entire city was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria in 587 B.C.
Jesus’ prediction will come true in 70 A.D. In response to a Jewish rebellion, the Romans will build great fires at the base of the walls, and the intense heat will cause those huge golden-marble stones to crumble and collapse under their own weight. The entire city will be destroyed.
When people in powerful positions don’t like a message, they often shoot the messenger. So just as Jeremiah was persecuted for making his ominous prediction, Jesus’ prediction will be shared with the religious authorities and used as evidence to prove that he is a dangerous subversive who needs to die.
Certainly, Jesus’ prediction makes the disciples nervous, so they ask the Lord what signs to look for, so they can be prepared. Instead of giving them actual signs, Jesus names events that we must endure before the end comes – trials like wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines.
He can’t be more specific because only the Father, the author of this play called “Life,” knows when the Son of Man arrives in the script.
Can Jesus’ words to his disciples be comforting to us today when many are wondering, “Is this it? Is this the end times?” Well, I like to think of it this way. When we’re in the middle of watching a TV series or reading a book, it’s really annoying when someone who has seen the whole series or read the whole book tells us how it ends, right? We call them “spoilers.” Well, God is not a spoiler! He’s not telling anyone how his play will end.
Imagine being an actor in a play where you don’t know what the next line is going to be, or even the next scene, and you really have no idea what the next act will contain and no clue how it’s going to end. There’s no human-authored play in the world like that! Only God can create a play like that. And he has! It’s called “Life,” and guess what? We’re all actors in it! What fun!
Whether we find it fun or terrifying depends on how much we trust the playwright. Jesus is giving us a very cryptic preview of the end. It’s like those “final episode” previews we see on TV; it’s just enough to keep us in suspense without giving away the ending. Jesus is saying, “Look, the ending might feel scary and painful, but don’t worry. There will be a happy ending.” If we trust the Lord’s words here, then we can relax and enjoy the play a lot more, right?
What we experience in the midst of the play, what happens in the scenes and in the acts, might be scary and painful, but Jesus instructs us to think of them as “birth pangs.” Just as a mother suffers from fear and pain before the birth of the new life she will bring forth, there will be fear and pain before the happy ending, before the coming of the Son of Man, and the new life all of humanity will bring forth.
In verse 5 where Jesus says, “Beware that no one leads you astray,” the word “beware” is from the Greek word “blepete” (bleh-pet-teh), which means to be carefully discerning. Jesus is urging his disciples to be on the lookout for false prophets and messiahs. We know from the historian Josephus that many messianic pretenders arose in the first century after Jesus’ death.
Is Jesus’ warning useful to us today? I believe it is. There have certainly been modern-day religious leaders who have claimed to be the messiah and have led people astray, such as Jim Jones and David Koresh. But more recently, there have emerged entire Christian movements who, like the Zealots of Jesus’ day, seek to turn Jesus into a political messiah who applauds their sacrificing of others to serve their political agendas.
And there are Christian movements who, like the moneychangers and merchants at the Temple, seek to make Jesus a messiah of consumerism who encourages acquiring more and more wealth while shouldering no obligation to help those in need.
You see, if people don’t like who Jesus really was, they will turn him into someone more to their liking – someone who conveniently endorse their corrupt values.
It is so easy to be led astray this way, and many have been. That is why we struggle with so much divisiveness even within families. Jesus himself was estranged from his family. They thought he was crazy. Perhaps that’s one reason he chose Capernaum as the home base for his ministry, not his hometown of Nazareth.
This potential for family estrangement for the sake of the gospel is why Jesus said to his disciples in Mark chapter 10:29-30, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
So, no matter what we see happening, we must say to ourselves, “the end is not yet.” We must not try to figure out when the end is. That’s yet another way many are led astray. We must remain calm and keep the faith, knowing that the end will come in God’s perfect timing. The Christ will come into the hearts of all, and great change will occur, but until then, I believe we must wait until all the things in which we have misplaced our faith fail utterly and completely.
Just as the people of Jesus’ time misplaced their faith in people and buildings to lead them back to God – such as religious authorities and the Temple – events of recent times have made it clear we, too, have misplaced our faith in many of our religious authorities and institutions. They have failed to lead us back to God.
Just as the people of Jesus’ time placed their faith in a political Messiah to bring Israel back to God through the defeat of the Romans, hoping that Jesus would fulfill that role, events of recent times have made it clear that we have misplaced our faith in many of our elected leaders. They have failed to lead us back to God.
Who or what will lead us back to God? Nothing out there. No people or institutions. Jesus demonstrated what will lead us back to God by sacrificing his personal self for the sake of others. He showed us who we really are when the personal self is stripped away – the Christ – who has never left God. We return to God and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven when we return to our Self (with a capital “S”) and do what comes naturally and effortlessly in that state: loving one another.
Yes, the labor of giving birth to the Christ within our hearts is scary and painful, just as going through physical labor can be. Watching the events of today happening scene-by-scene in the news can lead us to despair when we forget to think of them as birth pangs heralding the happy ending. However terrible, the events of the day are not the final act! The Christ will arrive! The time to laugh and dance is coming!
Let’s pray together: Lord, like you we grieve the sins of our society and sense destruction coming. Give us the courage to mourn with hope – to stand firm in the faith, trusting God’s promise of a happy ending: the coming of the Christ into the hearts of all, and the birth of a new way of life. Amen.
Donovan, R. “Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) Mark 13:1-8.” sermonwriter.com, Mark 13:1-8 – Sermon Writer.
Powery, Emerson. “Commentary on Mark 13:1-8.” workingpreacher.org, 15 Nov. 2015, Commentary on Mark 13:1-8 – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary.
Wilkins, Terri. “A Time to Grieve.” redletterchristians.org, 18 Oct. 2021, A Time to Grieve – Red Letter Christians.