As the end came near, Jesus still had the four who first formed his merry band close by his side.
As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!” Jesus responded, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What sign will show that all these things are about to come to an end?” (Mark 13:1-4, CEB)
Jesus goes on to say a lot of things that preachers and scholars are still picking apart almost 2000 years later. But what interests me is who gets to ask the question.
How do you know who to trust with your innermost thoughts, your hard-earned wisdom, and your deepest concerns?
How do you screen for the people who make up your inner circle?
There are people I do not see for years at a time who I would not hesitate to trust because they have been with me from the beginning, whether I calculate that beginning as childhood or college or ministry. There’s something about knowing the same stories, and talking to the people who knew you “when,” and knowing you are known.
This makes me think Jesus believed or at least hoped there was a fragment of a chance that these four would be able to comprehend something he said, or at least remember it after he left them. Maybe something in their minds would switch on later, when they didn’t have him, but really needed his words.
- Don’t fall for posers. (vv. 5-8)
- Be brave, share the Good News, and rely on the Holy Spirit for your words when you are in trouble. (vv. 9-13)
- Apocalyptic troubles are inevitable. When it’s really bad, the worst, even, I’ll be back. (vv. 14-27)
- The bad stuff is going to happen in your generation. (vv. 28-31)
- Keep your heads up, because even I don’t know when. (vv. 32-37)
Everything from 14 on is a problem for us, because on the one hand every generation seems to have these times, and on the other hand, as far as we know, Christ has not come back yet. I wonder what it was like to have heard these assurances, then lived through times of fear and persecution without getting the return they anticipated? Was this esoteric knowledge a help? Can we brush this whole chapter aside by deciding it was written after the destruction of the Temple, to reflect the horror of life in Jerusalem when decades of local infighting and Roman occupation gave way to blood running in the streets?
Because I can’t answer that, and because of some losses and difficulties I’ve had during Holy Weeks past, I tend to put this all in more personal terms. My world has been shaken, and to use an imperfect, even problematic metaphor, I’ve experienced times when the night felt dark, as if the stars had been snuffed out. I’ve looked for help when I felt like my beliefs were on trial. I’ve found my courage, and when I’ve trusted the Holy Spirit, I have indeed found words to say. Every life, in every time, will have these challenges; I have to hope that every life, in every time, will also have those moments when staying alert and awake offered a glimpse of Jesus.
Dear Jesus, I guess being part of the inner circle was only a little more helpful than being where I am now. I’m doing my best to stay awake and not fall for the posers, for your name’s sake. Amen.
I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.