PROPER 28 B
Where were you on 9/11/01? Can you remember your emotional response to the TV video of the towers coming down? You know, the ones that they played over and over and over? I was shocked but not surprised that someone attacked us, that someone used airplanes as weapons, but I just couldn’t believe my eyes when that first tower fell. How could that be?
I think what happened in that moment was that all our illusions about being safe here in America were stripped away. It was hard not to buy into the fear that followed and made it possible for the Patriot Act to pass and the wars that ensued.
What the disciples felt when Jesus predicted that the Temple in Jerusalem would come down must have been similar. When Herod began restoring the Temple in 20 BCE, it became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The platform laid across the hilltop was more than 900 by 1500 feet – twice the size of the Roman Forum and four times as large as the Athenian Acropolis. The front of the Temple was a huge square, 150 X 150’, much of it decorated with silver and gold.
According to Josephus, the Roman historian, there was so much gold on the outside of the Temple that in bright sunlight it nearly blinded anyone looking at it. It could be seen from miles away by pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem. And for the Jews of that time, the Temple was where the Hebrew God lived. The Temple was the central and most important place to worship and the place where the priestly order lived and worked. People assumed it would exist forever.
One of the commentators this week, Karoline Lewis, wondered if this prediction of something seemingly impossible was a foreshadowing of the Crucifixion. Remember that in Mark’s Gospel the curtain that covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies in the temple was torn in two at the time Jesus died, suggesting that God had escaped and no longer lived there, but was now out and about in all the world, now an immanent God. She also reminded us that in Mark the heavens were torn apart at the time of Jesus’s baptism.
After the prediction about the Temple the scene shifts suddenly to the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron valley from the temple mount. Now the first four disciples ask Jesus two questions: When will this be? And what will be the sign that these things are about to be accomplished? As usual Jesus doesn’t answer them directly. Only at verse 32 does he get around to answering the first question:
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
This ties into his first response, which is to warn them against false prophets, those who come in Jesus’s name and claim to be his. How many predictions about the end of time have we heard in our own lifetimes, usually proclaimed by people who claim to know. They must have skipped this chapter of Mark!
Jesus goes on, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. . . This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
Do you hear the kernel of hope in this message? What are the pangs of birth like? Terrible pain, scary pain, risk of death, but what is the usual result? New life, a new start, a new way of being in the world.
I think Jesus is warning his followers not to be fooled by those who claim to know the future, not to be seduced by the false security they offer people who are afraid of uncertainty. Even today’s hucksters who seem to revel in the violence of the end times, and claim to know it is upon us, first try to scare us, and then to promise safety if we just do things their way. Fear is such a useful tool for controlling people!
Instead we must hold fast to the promises of God, to the hope of God with us. Out of the trials and tribulations comes the birth of something new, the Kingdom of God. Focusing on the future prevents us from responding to the Gospel today. Jesus has taught us a great deal about how to live in the meantime, between now and the end times, in periods of crisis and uncertainty. We are to keep on keeping on, doing what we can for those around us, making our neighborhoods better places to live, reminding ourselves about the promises of God – that God is with us in good times and in bad, that all will be well in the end.
Pete Peery sees the warning of Jesus against the false prophets as a warning against the wrong, but prevalent, understanding of the Messiah. What the Zealots were doing that brought about the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD was exactly that – they were urging a final battle to restore the Davidic kingdom. “But Jesus makes it evident that the temple will be no more. Its restoration and with it the restoration of the Davidic glory is not the end, the telos, God’s goal for the world.”
Have you heard the calls for Christians to help in the battle to restore the temple? The call to join up and do your part to further the coming of the end times? You know, tear down the mosques that now reside on the old temple site and literally rebuild the temple. Can you imagine that the results of those actions would be anything but catastrophic?
Can you imagine that the results would reflect God’s goal for the world?
Somehow, no matter that parts of the Bible are violent, vengeful, and judgemental, I have to believe in a God who loves us and wants us to live peaceful and joyful lives. Nothing else makes any sense to me. The vision Jesus brought us is of a peaceable Kingdom. We may have to live through wars and the rumors of wars, pestilence, fire and flood, before the kingdom becomes fully formed, but we must do so holding on to that hope and belief in God’s promises to us.
As we read in Hebrews this morning:
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
In other words, the more we see dark days approaching, the more we must endure and remind ourselves of the faithfulness of God. This seems an especially good reminder in this season of shortening days and lengthening political debates. I’m not sure which is more depressing!
So hold fast to hope and remember that in the end, all shall be well. AMEN