Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mitch Reads... Mark 13

When Jesus and his crew leave the Temple, one of the disciples marvels at the huge buildings.  I imagine this might be because they were all backwoods yokels visiting the big city.  Jesus responds rather ominously, though, and says that these buildings will be destroyed so thoroughly that not one stone will be left atop another.  Um, Jesus, people can get killed for that kind of talk.

Think about visiting Washington today and, on a tour of the White House, speaking within earshot of the Secret Service that the day is coming when not one brick of the White House will stand atop another.  You will probably be tackled pretty fast.  Words are dangerous, Jesus.  Words are more dangerous than miracles.

Later on, The Rock, The Thunder Twins, and Andrew (man, why doesn't he have a cool nickname, Jesus?), ask Jesus to elaborate on this ominous portents.  When will this all happen?

Jesus responds, well, with more cryptic language, and there are multiple ways to read this.  One could attempt to read this literally and that Jesus is explicitly predicting exact future events.  But at this point, in our reading of Mark, that seems an odd choice.  We have established, if nothing else, that Jesus loves sandwiches.  Other than that, I believe we have established that Jesus loves to talk in metaphor, hyperbole, and exaggerated imagery.  Why exactly now would we choose to read these apocalyptic sayings, from a man renowned for his parables, as literal?

Instead, I imagine Jesus is employing language, imagery, and references from stories and cultural commonalities that his audience would understand.  Jesus would totally be down with Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. 

Plus, Jesus doesn't say anything too specific.  He says to beware of frauds that would lead people astray.  Do not be alarmed when there are wars and rumors of war, for these things will happen, though they will not signify the immediate end. Instead, this is only the beginning.

Hey, Christians (including myself), you (we) have a tendency to go all Chicken Little whenever the evening news airs.  Yeah, bad stuff is happening in the world.  But bad stuff has been happening in the world for the past two thousand years, probably worse stuff than is happening right now.  So calm down and quit trying to concoct elaborate conspiracy theories about how all the evils of the world are the mechanizations of Satan's final power play to try to take over the world as if it was the same thing he does every night.  'Narf.

But Jesus does tell his disciples that they will suffer persecution and beatings from the powers that be.  This is rather accurate, since according to tradition all these guys were martyred.  At least I think they were?  Man, my proficiency in church history is lacking.

Anyway, Jesus tells them to not worry what they'll say at their trials, the Holy Spirit will speak for them.  That would be an interesting episode of Law & Order.  Then he speaks vaguely (of course) of a "desolating sacrilege."  When this sacrilege occurs, whatever it is, it is totally time to flee from Judea, for bad things are about to go down!  These bad things are likely perpetrated by the Romans in response to some rebellious shenanigans in Judea.

Then false prophets and messiahs will come, but don't believe them!  They are just trying to lead you astray!  But then Jesus employs some pretty fantastical imagery to describe how the Son of Man will come in the clouds with angels and gather up all of his elect.

Note that this is totally literal language and not a metaphor at all because, as we have seen, Jesus did not use metaphorical language.  If you can't tell, apocalyptic literature is a genre that I presently struggle with and I sometimes use sarcasm as, I don't know, a defense mechanism?  Who am I trying to convince?  No one, really.  The struggle goes back and forth in my mind as I read Mark.  It's fun!

Then Jesus says something kind of weird.  I mean, even weirder than what he has been saying.  He says we are to look at these things as signs, just as we are to look at a fig tree with leaves as a sign that Summer is soon approaching.  Um, Jesus, in chapter 11 you cursed a fig tree because all it had was leaves and no fruit.  Maybe, considering your previous actions, this isn't the best example to use?

But all these things will happen before this generation passes away.  Well, that didn't happen.  If we take this literally, that for sure didn't happen.  2000 years later and we are still here and that generation is totally dead.  Well, then maybe Jesus was talking more in a general sense that such war and violence would occur.  And it certainly did!  And continues to do so.

But the exact hour of the big End is a mystery to all but the Father.  That's probably news to Hal Lindsay and Harold Camping.  Basically, don't obsess about literal interpretations that try to predict when and how the big End will finally commence.  Just be, in general, ready, like a slave awaiting his master to return.  You don't want to be the slave that the master catches sleeping on the job.

Thus ends the Thirteenth Chapter of Mark.

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