Text a reflection on Mark 13:1-8
Video version is available following the text
Thirty seven or eight years after
Jesus was executed
the Roman army
reduced the Temple to ruins
and conducted a campaign
to eradicate Jews from Judah and Galilee
and the region all around them.
They set fire to the temple
and it is said it burned so intensely
that the stones themselves caught fire.
The only thing that remains today
is the Western Wall often called
the “Wailing Wall,”
which rests underneath the Muslim,
or ”Noble Sanctuary.”
Chapter 13 from which we read a piece today,
is one of the primary internal elements
through which scholars date the gospel.
The majority of Gospel scholars
still ascribe a date of 70 CE
to this text that was anonymously written
but universally referred to as “Mark.”
The destruction of the temple dates it.
In other words, Mark is standing
on the other side of the rubble from Jesus.
He is looking back across recent history,
back across the Roman empire —
for he is writing his gospel in Greek
and from as far away as Rome itself,
and certainly no closer
than Antioch in modern day Syria.
Even the literary form
we know of as “gospel”
appears to be an ancient Greek and Roman genre.
As I have said before,
the destruction of the temple,
which Mark has Jesus predict
almost forty years before it happens,
is the very dividing line
between before and after.
For Judaism and anyone related to it,
the world before and the world after
the destruction of the temple
was as much a distinction
as between night and day.
Everything had changed.
The Gospel of Mark was written
on the knife’s edge between before and after.
It is believed Mark wrote his gospel
in the year 70 or very soon after,
as the smoke was still clearing
and it was as yet unclear
how the world would be different
but that it would be.
Why am I telling you all this?
Well, I have a confession to make.
When I am working on a sermon
and having a difficult time
figuring out where it is going
or even IF it is going,
I will distract myself with history.
I will read all over again,
about the period and people and scholarship.
It is a black hole I can easily fall into.
Which I did multiple times this week
because I was stuck.
Honestly, I am still stuck.
The best I can do is tell you where
I traveled before I got stuck.
Every story has an ending.
But like beginnings,
not all endings are equal.
is spun from the threads
of happy ending stories —
whether old Westerns or
animated folk heroes
We rarely tell a story
that does not have a happy ending.
At least not in the popular culture.
That is because
the other thing about our stories
is that they are mostly commercialized —
told for the purpose of making money
or contributing to power.
Happy endings sell better
than unhappy ones
since consumers like to feel good
as a result of buying something.
Still, every story must have an ending.
We tend to think of the Gospel
as ending with the resurrection –
a kind of tortured happy ending.
But that is not how Jesus
chose to end the story
of his public ministry
in the Gospels of Mark, Luke or Matthew.
Actually, the way I should say this,
is that in each of those gospels,
the editor or story-teller
chose to use this
as the final story Jesus told.
Jesus, of course, did not write or dictate
Mark, Luke, and Matthew did,
and for some reason,
the story of Jesus talking about the temple
and apocalypse, was the last public story
they had Jesus tell.
There were numerous stories ABOUT Jesus
told going forward,
but this was the last public story
This is a very important aspect of the Gospels
that we almost never consider.
Jesus’ last public story,
in each of the synoptic Gospels,
is this one about the destruction of the temple.
It is the prelude to a story about the end of time
and it is a pretty dog-gone dark story.
In all three Gospels,
the last story Jesus tells,
is provoked by some knuckle-head
ogling at the Temple
and exclaiming how beautiful it is.
Something about that
sends Jesus into his darkened depths
to forecast what is going to happen
at the end of time
when God runs out of patience
or human beings run out of options.
Jesus was living close to the end
and he knew it,
and he knew that his compatriots
were living close to their end too.
I am guessing it was a terrible grief
that plagued his thoughts
and filled his heart.
So when someone made a stray comment
about the beauty of the stained-glass windows
and the lovely angels at the apex of the roof beams,
all that emotion came gushing out.
But let’s step back from Jesus a moment,
and think about the temple
and the thousands and thousands of people
who were in awe of it,
who adored it,
who paid whatever they had to pay
to use it, be a part of it, and support it.
Never mind that it was built
by a coercive system of religious taxation,
not all that different from
the corruption of paying indulgences
that Rome created a few centuries later.
For tens of thousands of people
the temple was the one place on Earth
where God resided.
It was holy
in the most profound
sense of the word.
Still today, just the ruins of it
is considered by some
to be that kind of holy.
For Jesus to predict its dismantling,
to mock it even, some might say,
would have been deeply disturbing.
But somehow, while others valued and adored it
Jesus was able to keep it in perspective —
a trifle in God’s scheme of things
rather than the center of the universe.
If we are being honest with ourselves,
you and I have many times
put our passion
and our belief
and our loyalty
into the wrong things.
We probably continue to do so.
Surely there was once or twice
something we thought was so important
that we over-committed ourselves to it.
Or something or someone we trusted
more than we should have
but at the time could not have been dissuaded
from our idealized view?
Wasn’t there something or someone
we stood in awe of
only to discover it was not quite as awesome
as we had imagined?
At those times, was there someone
poking at us
to stand back
and take another look?
Was there someone prodding us
to keep a more critical eye?
And didn’t they make us so angry?
My point is that idolatry
is alive and well in the 21st century
and in you and me.
The value of things we happen to love
gets inflated to such a degree
that we lose perspective,
and we begin to ascribe to them
a sacredness that should be reserved
only for God and what God loves.
That is not to say
that what we care about is unimportant
or should be dismissed willy nilly,
but rather, that we need to keep them
Well…that is where I got stuck.
And maybe that is just as good a place
to get stuck as any.
We are still under the shroud
of a pandemic
and while we may feel a lot safer
having been vaccinated,
we know it can still be dangerous
and we know many others
continue to be in harms way.
We know the economy hasn’t recovered,
and we don’t know when it will end.
How do we stop,
and gain perspective again?
Likewise, in this I think I can speak
for nearly every side and angle
of our current polarized political culture,
when I say that the swirling conflicts
get to be overwhelming,
and makes everything feel precarious
when just a few years ago
it all felt predictable
and endlessly ongoing.
How do we stop,
and gain perspective again?
I will remind us of what Jesus did.
It is a little risky to tell you
because some people won’t like the implication.
Jesus goes to the house of a close friend,
and is surrounded by several close friends
who share a meal together.
It is the gathering of his community.
It is a time, it says in the gospel,
when they talk about what is next.
And in the midst of that dinner
and that conversation,
someone — Mark doesn’t name her —
brings oil and gives Jesus a massage.
That seems like a good metaphor
for how to get perspective when we need it:
Place ourselves in the arms of community
and do things that we know
will care for our wounds.
Like I said,
it is hard to know where to go
with a guy ranting about the end of time
and predicting the destruction of what everyone
believed was sacred.
So, the place I went,
was exactly where Jesus did:
into the arms of community
and allowing himself to receive
love and tenderness once there.
That’s all I got.