"Living in the Rubble" – Mark 13:1-8
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
If you could know the exact date and time when you will die, would you want to know?”
It’s a morbid question, I know. But think about it for a second. Would you want to know?
If you knew, how would that change your life? Your decisions? Your relationships?
I read a study that focused on this question. The overwhelming majority of those asked responded by saying that they would not want to know the exact date and time of their death.
I certainly don’t want to know. Not knowing allows me to live under the illusion that I am in control of my own life. And chances are, whatever the date of my death is…I would think it would come too early.
I once had a strange and memorable conversation with a doctor after a yoga class. We talked about healthcare, nutrition and exercise and he told me he believed that there are people alive today who will live to be over 150 years old. And he swore to me that he was going to be one of them!
All this sounded incredibly wonderful to me, after all, that doctor was twice my age! So if he’s got a hundred years left, I’ll surely get close to 200!
I would guess this doctor is one of the majority who says they don’t actually want to know when they will die; because, chances are his time will come before he reaches that ripe old age of 150, and I don’t imagine that he would be too happy with that news.
My guess is that the majority of us would not like to know the exact date and time of our death. I think most of us are terrified of the power that knowledge would exert over us. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.
Scripture paints the picture of a Jesus who knew when he would die. At a minimum, Jesus certainly understood that he would die…which is more than most of us are willing to admit most of the time.
Think about that next time you read from the Gospels. Pay attention to the way in which Jesus interacts with those around him. Pay attention to his priorities. Jesus is constantly healing people, constantly hanging out with the rejects, nerds and social outcasts of his time, and constantly challenging the behaviors and beliefs of the powerful – all behaviors which people wouldn’t choose if self-preservation was their primary objective. Jesus has absolutely nothing to lose and as a result his life is absolutely radical and amazing!
Jesus was never concerned with stretching out his life to the absolute maximum number of years. Instead, he knew he had only a short time and he wasn’t going to waste it as everyone else was by oppressing the outcasts, kissing up to the powerful, and keeping quiet in the midst of injustice.
Case in point – today’s gospel text, which comes from the last chapter of Mark before the passion narrative begins. Jesus knows his death is just around the corner and he has some impassioned words for his friends before he bids them farewell.
He points to the great temple – the marvel of engineering and artistic beauty that was the heart of the city of Jerusalem. Jesus points to the great temple and makes a profound prophecy – it’s all gonna come crashing down.
The disciples certainly found his statement absurd. Not only was the temple one of the pinnacles of human achievement, but it was also the center of religious life for the Jewish people. No doubt each faithful Jew swore they would die before allowing the Temple to be destroyed. Without it, they would be lost, frightened, and scattered and without direction.
However, Jesus’ prophetic words would come true. In the year 70, the Roman general Titus along with 80,000 Roman troops set siege on Jerusalem, killed one million residents of the city, and destroyed the temple, leaving only one partially-intact wall remaining (you may have heard of this – it is the Western Wall or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and millions of people still visit this site each year).
Jesus continues his prophecy, foretelling a future full of war, earthquakes, famine and disease. And in the verses immediately following, Jesus foretold for his disciples an future of betrayal, arrest, judgment, and condemnation by the worldly authorities.
And so, not only were Jesus’ prophecies fulfilled in the first century, but they have continued to be fulfilled throughout history. There have always been wars and rumors of war. There have always been “earthquakes and famines in various places.” And even today, buildings erected as monuments either to God or to human achievement can be reduced to rubble, whether it is the bombed-out churches from WWII, the World Trade Center on 9-11, or a market in Afghanistan leveled by a suicide bomber.
But notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say “Be Afraid!” Nor does he permit his disciples to cling to a false sense of security; as if they do in fact have control over their lives. Instead he promises them that he will be with them, guiding them along the way. And he makes the audacious promise that they will not perish, but instead will find their souls.
As Jesus said, “Beware that no one leads you astray.” The future has always been uncertain for every generation of humanity. Anyone promising certainty is a false prophet. Anyone telling you to be afraid is a terrorist. Anyone insisting on vengeance and retribution is preaching death.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges us to live free from the chains of fear and the desire for control. Jesus calls us to radical reliance on his eternal presence, which he promises will accompany us as we endure tough times and celebrate good times.
And a life lived free of fear, in today’s culture, is one of the most radical claims God could possibly make on us.
Our challenge is to identify the roots of fear in our lives and ask God to rip them out before they poison our lives and relationships.
When you meet someone who is different, pray that God would give you the power to love them, as God has commanded you to do.
When you drive through a rough part of town and find yourself reaching for the door locks, pray for God to forgive you for our prejudice and assumptions…
When you watching a 24-hr news channel and hear someone telling you to be afraid, change the channel and pray that you would be filled up with the joy of God’s eternal presence.
And when you hear gossip or backstabbing, pray that God would give you the words to be brave and defend their honor.
Norman Vincent Peale once told of encountering a hurricane while on a cruise in the Atlantic. After the captain managed to sail around the danger, he and Dr. Peale were visiting with one another.
The captain said he had always lived by a simple philosophy namely that if the sea is smooth, it will get rough; and if it is rough, it will get smooth. He added something worth remembering: “But with a good ship,” the Captain said, “you can always ride it out.”
Our ship is Jesus Christ. With a good ship, we can always ride it out.
None of us knows how long we have on this earth. But what we do know is that God has promised to be alongside us, every step of the way. Through the high highs and the low lows, God is and always will be the same God who created you, loves you, and promises life.
In the face of tragedy, uncertainty, and fear, may you be bold in your faith that life always triumphs over death, peace is more powerful than fear, and the world will be redeemed.