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Today’s text is sandwiched between a verbal tussle between Jesus and the religious authorities of his time and his celebration of the Passover: the Last Supper. It seems like Mark 12 easily follows chapter 14. This chapter is best described by biblical scholars as apocalyptic literature. This form of writing stems from a worldview that believes that everything happening on earth represents and correlates with a larger, heavenly struggle between good and evil. It therefore reads into earthly events cosmic significance and anticipates future events on earth in light of the coming battle between the forces of God and [the d]evil. Hence, it often tries to make sense of current events and experiences by casting them in a larger, cosmic framework. In this way it gives comfort to those currently suffering or oppressed.
This form of writing tends to be highly symbolic. Consequently it’s ripe for reading all kinds of diverse interpretations. However I believe [in my reading] that this chapter in Mark – and other passages, notably the book of Revelation – were not written so that we could discern signs of the end. Rather, they were written to offer comfort to first-century believers struggling to make sense of their world and lives in a time of great suffering and persecution. In this way it’s more than helpful for us to read this (and other) passage(s) in light of the challenges its original readers were facing, which are likely similar to some of our own, today.
From today’s selection (and all of Mark 13) we can gather that Christian community to which Mark wrote his gospel was not only struggling with the chaos ensued from the fall of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E., but also that they had been harassed by people claiming to be Jesus or some other messianic figure returned. Mark’s people were literally caught up in “wars and rumors of war” and probably found comfort in the belief that Jesus had already anticipated this and was offering words of encouragement to them through this Gospel.
Like the disciples of the early Church, we long to know that God is faithful, active in our world, working for the redemption of all things. We want to know when to be ready for God’s definitive action. But maybe that’s not the point: we are invited to be ready all the time. We are not called simply to live our lives without thinking about our neighbor simply keenly looking for the sign of God’s imminent coming so that we can clean up our act. Rather, we are called to live always anticipating the activity of God. Not in a state of anxiety, but in a spirit of joy and confidence. Joy in the knowledge that God loves us and chooses us in all things through the life and resurrection of Jesus. Confident that the God who did this, will also save the world. We would like to know when that is. But that is not our calling. We are called to live now, allowing the promises of God about the future to infuse our every present moment.
Questions for Going Deeper:
Download a study analysis of today’s text HERE.
Much thanks to the blog post “Apocalypse Now” by David Lose, from which I liberally took much inspiration and verbage. Check it out HERE at working preacher.com