Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, July 15th
Apocalypse. The word has many connotations for us. Even more in this year of 2012 seen as auspicious and foreboding in the Mayan Calendar which stops at it. Our current pop culture imagination is seemingly obsessed by it. We can see that in the ever popular Zombie catastrophes that have become the major theme of many movies, shows and books.
Is it merely a way to sell books, products and movies or is it a deeper fascination or fear of where our world is headed in the sociological jungle of the Arab Spring, deepening technological dependence, growing social isolation and the ever-widening global market? Often times apocalyptic talk can push towards a fight or flight mentality: fight to preserve the purity of what we’ve known, or a flight or retreat waiting for an escape or something better. The word literally means uncovering, as in revealing something that was hidden or obscured. Quite different than the popular and despairingly hopeless visions of total annihilation and mayhem.
“Mark 13 contains some of the most interesting and problematic material in the whole of Mark’s Gospel, being the longest single discourse or block of continuing teaching. There is perhaps no single chapter of the synoptic Gospels which has been so much commented upon in modern times as Mark 13. There can be no doubt that this section is heavily indebted to the Hebrew Scriptures both by way of allusion and also brief quotation, and it should be seen as an example of late prophetic literature which includes some images and notions common in Jewish apocalyptic literature.
Rhetorically speaking, one must see this discourse as the final example of the sort of private explanation and inside information Jesus gave his disciples. One of its rhetorical goals is to get the disciples to focus less on the things that will happen and more on the one who will bring all things to a conclusion in due course – the Son of Man.
Biographically speaking, the discourse in Mark 13 answers indirectly how Jesus could indeed be both the stone the builders rejected and at the same time the heard of the corner in God’s building of the new temple, the new people of God.
The discourse concludes with an exhortation Mark’s audience needed to heed – don’t be caught napping, be prepared for that sudden and unforeseeable coming. The reference to the four watches of the night, coupled with the reference to sleeping, points the narrative forward to the Gethsemane story [see Mark 14:32-51] and what will happen to the disciples beginning at that Juncture. It is as if Mark is saying to his own audience, we all live in a Gethsemane moment in human history; we must not be caught napping like the first disciples were when the crucial moment arrived.
The major function of this discourse, then is not to encourage eschatological forecasting [or talk about the end of the world], but rather to encourage watchfulness and diligence in Christian life and witness.
- The above comments are reproduced from Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark. A Soci0-Rhetorical Commentary.
Underneath this teaching, in the background of the words of Jesus are eschatological images and apocalyptic vocabulary in Daniel 7:8-27; 8:9-26; 9:24-27 and 11:21-12:13.
Jesus is speaking against the Temple: the headquarters of established religion in his day. Historically we know that the Temple of Jerusalem was taken over in 67-68 by the Zealots (fundamentalist terrorists trying to free the Jewish state from the Roman Empire). Jewish historian Josephus tells us that at that time they wallowed criminals to roam the temple, including the Holy of Holies, and even to murder in the Temple. The Romans eventually captured, sacked and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70. We’re told that they didn’t leave one stone on top of another and even took the time to melt and remove traces of gold from between the building stones. It was a complete and utter destruction of a city and the Temple which represented the forces of resistance to the power of Rome.
Questions for wondering and exploring:
• What is Jesus saying to us and our church community today through this challenging text?
• How does this text scare you?; offend you?; spark your interest?
• In my study I googled the words apocalypse, revealing and revelation. For the first I saw mostly pictures of zombies and destroyed cities. For revealing, all the images were of women models, and the third were pictures of cities destroyed by catastrophes or Jesus on four horses. How does that image search communicate the ways in which we might be missing what Jesus is saying to us?
• How are we – you – living in a Gethsemane moment, a time in which we are challenged to stay awake and alert, to receive a new and renewed focus on what’s important and what God is doing? How does that apply to what you’re facing or dealing with in your life? How does that apply to our community life together as we live and work here at the crossroads of Berkeley, Oakland and Piedmont?