My Words Will Not Pass Away
Mark 13: 24 — 32
As this is the second to last Sunday of the Church year, it is our last passage from St Mark's Gospel for meditation. Next week's reading is chosen especially from St John's Gospel, for the closing of the year, and celebrates "Christ the King". Our notes below do not follow the normal verse by verse commentary. We have chosen to select some key ideas presented in the whole text of chapter 13. Readers who would like some help specifically with the Sunday Gospel, read our "Supplementary Notes"
The discourse of Jesus in Chapter 13 was given on the Tuesday evening in his last week before the final Passover. As was his custom at that time of the day, he left the Temple and the city and walked with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, to the Mount of Olives.
Some Notes On the Text
On his way out of the Temple, passing through its beautiful courts for the last time, Jesus overhears a comment by his disciples:
To this Jesus replies, "Not one of those stones will be left lying on another — everyone will be thrown down."
They carry on their walk towards the Mount of Olives — actually they are heading to Bethany — which is rather like going to the outer suburbs. At a favourite point on the western bank Jesus sits down and takes a look across the valley at a sight he loves so very much: Jerusalem!
Two pairs of brothers, Peter and James, John and Andrew, taking advantage of a little privacy, ask Jesus to explain some rather mysterious things he has been saying they should watch out for:
A long discourse by Jesus follows, dealing with the destruction of Jerusalem and his personal, future return. For meditation purposes, we suggest four key thoughts.
1. A Panoramic Prophecy: Verses 5 — 13
Jesus passes before us, in a sort of prophetic review, the entire age between his departure (Ascension) and his return (Parousia). He is talking to four disciples, but in fact, he presents the teaching for the whole Church. We are that body of people extending through the whole of that period, and thus have a part in the sequence of events. Jesus intertwines his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem with his return. He leaves us to ponder the reason for doing so. As he talks, he warns us
Jesus explains that the whole Body of his people will experience hardship and persecution as he did. Great care must be taken not to be distracted from the commission to proclaim his teaching in a way that reflects exactly what he taught yet can be understood by the average person. There will be no situation we need fear that the Holy Spirit will not be with us to lead and guide.
2. Persecution: Verses 14 — 23
As persecution intensifies, we are warned not to follow false Messiahs who offer convenient escape routes. The tribulation which precedes the return of Jesus develops out of the persecution and continual opposition of our age. We are to keep out attention focussed on our task and let events roll on.
3. Our Pre-occupation: Verses 24 — 27
The signs which immediately follow the "great tribulation" Jesus talks about, directly precede his return. In one sense they seem specific and clear, and yet on reflection also appear ambiguous. But our Lord will not allow the occasion to be marked on a calendar.
What we must be preoccupied with is not when but what happens: all people are to be drawn to him. The prophecy of the crucifixion is to be fulfilled in glory.
4. Prepare and Pray: Verses 28 — 37
With this great climax in view, Jesus urges a very specific piece of advice: watch; stay awake, be alert. The old Greek text had, "watch and pray". The reference to praying is omitted from the most popular (but not necessarily reliable) modern editions. But the infant Church never hesitated to explain our Lord's instruction as:
For them, that meant prayer and study!
In a way, Jesus does not give his disciples the clear-cut formula by which they will have the advantage of the situation.
Some have been brought to ask, "What is the point of the gift of prophecy, if not to predict accurately what is to occur? One widely-used commentary has a clear view about this"
(From: The New Bible Commentary Revised, Intervarsity Press, 1970.)
We started our study of Jesus teaching (in the Gospel of St Mark) with his proclamation: "The kingdom of God is at hand." Now he draws it to a conclusion saying that the fulfilment is near, and we are pointed to his return.
We therefore come to realise that Jesus us not talking so much about near in time or in space. Rather, for his disciples, the fulfilment is always near at hand when they have their whole attention, their inner-gaze, fixed on him.
The key message is now clear and it is the first and last word of his discourse: "Watch!"
Charles Erdman's elaboration on that is invaluable:
Watchfulness, therefore, does not consist in idle speculations as to the time of the advent, not in presumptuous setting of dates which God has never revealed, not in neglect of duty. It is expressed, rather, in absolute fidelity to our daily tasks. We are to be like servants, whose Master has gone to another country, but has given to each one his work. We are to be so wakeful, so diligent in our several places, so concerned that the gospel shall be preached unto all nations, that we shall have no ground for fear or for regret when we learn that our returning Lord is near.
(From: The Gospel of Mark by Charles Erdman, Westminster Press, 1945)
When we reflect on the teaching of this chapter (13) we can be thankful for the spiritual content. The message from our Lord is encouraging, and if meditated upon, will help keep us steady on our course as we find chaos developing around us. Christian civilization is disintegrating rapidly. It is true the Church has always been under attack in one way or another. From the 17th and 18th centuries this has been particularly so, and has reached a horrendous scale in the 20th century. However it must be remembered that the damage and suffering caused from external conflict has now been surpassed by intrigue, betrayal and deliberate destruction from within its own structures. There is indeed cause for great alarm. For most of us this can only mean taking the lesson from our Lord we have just considered, and keep on keeping on. He will deal to the betrayers and those who have hijacked his Church for their own purposes. Meantime the message is, "Watch and pray!"
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