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To each and every street corner preacher of disaster, and to every preaching prophet on Sunday, Jesus says, "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."  The thirteenth chapter of Mark contains no esoteric code for deciphering the future. It is a rebuttal of those who claim to know: This is no special time;  this is how life is. So be on watch. But do not think that you know; you don't. No one does. No one, not even the Son.

Micah D Kiel says

Much of what is stated [in Mark 13] is apocalyptic boilerplate. Jewish apocalyptic literature had been working with such themes, imagery, and topoi for several centuries leading up to the time of Jesus and Mark in the first century. Conservative biblical literalists, who look for the specific fulfillment of Jesus' prophecies in our modern age, completely misunderstand this genre of literature.

I've always been impressed by the words of a colleague who thought we rich westerners had no right to interpret apocalyptic, and that we should remain silent. How could we remotely understand the trauma of living through the destruction of  a Jerusalem, or the year of four emperors, or the horrors of a Herod, or a Nero? Especially exempted from any right to pontificate upon these texts are the Americans, and we Australians of the late 20th century through to today, for we are the invaders of our lands. The bombing of Darwin, or of the Twin Towers, bears no comparison even with The Blitz, let alone the lives of Palestinians. We are not the oppressed. We are the Empire and its fortunate vassal states, which apocalyptic is written to oppose.

That conversation was twenty five years ago.

When I listen to the emotional tenor of news media and social media conversations today, I hear a change.  Our complacency is gone. Our comfortable, arrogant assurance about our place at the top of the world has been replaced by blatherskite. Resentment about the loss of privilege, and fear of loss of privilege, drives the narratives of the Trumps and the Abbotts and the Bolts. Our insulated bubble of privilege has been punctured at last. The order in which we have lived our lives is crumbling, and we don't know what is coming. Listen to your emotions as you read what follows:

The latest Eureka Street email I received this morning, has this blurb about an article by Tony Kevin.

The US unipolar moment is ending. Real multipolarity is upon us, with Russia, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Iran testing new multipolar arrangements for sharing world power. The US fears these changes, and would prefer to corral everybody back into the familiar bipolar camps of the past. This would be a disaster. Australia will benefit from a stable rules-based multipolar world, and our foreign policy can help build it. But we are going to have to take a few calculated risks along the way….

This realignment is real. And it will happen in a context of climate change which will itself confound our established political categories and strategies.

Here is the catch: When we read texts like the one above, what we tend to do is take issue with, or affirm, a commentator's interpretation of "the signs of the times." We get distracted by, and argue over, the details, the small facts. That has its place; injustice, faulty argument, and lies, all need to be confronted.  Wisdom and new insight should be affirmed and incorporated into our political thinking and actions.

But Mark is not dealing with small facts. Mark is facing the great fears of the times.  He says

keep alert…
keep awake…

when all the fears of the day fall upon you,
and the prophets of doom harass you
with small facts which are either lies
or false hopes.

Don't let them spook you. Live as you have been shown.

Kiel says that the text we see in Mark 13

is essentially about God working on behalf of humanity… It leaves God alarmingly free and open to the future. God is not limited by temporal questions, such as the one the disciples ask. The community is supposed to watch, stay fast, and endure. 

I think Mark is not writing in the middle of the Jerusalem siege. He's at some distance, like us, with the threat of Jerusalem-like disaster all around, and wondering when it will come to him— and how it will come. And how he will survive.

He has only one answer. It comes from the disaster his community has already weathered. Jesus, and Jesus' hope of the kingdom of God, was utterly destroyed by the Empire. But then found to persist beyond death.

Accompanying us to our Jerusalem are two peoples, he says. The rich, the scribes, the young ruler, all live for themselves. But the people who are healed of their blindness go on into the city in the trust that even through disaster and total tragedy, there is an ending worthy to be called  resurrection.

Mark has been teaching us what these people's radical trust of God involved: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself...  whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.  … whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." (Mark 12:31, 9:35, 10:43-4)

It seems the exact opposite of common sense in the face of impending disaster, but Mark claims this way of living, even through tragedy and disaster, rescues us from self-centred survival-at-any-cost, and brings us from frantic whistling in the dark, to a more settled hope that there is an ending worthy to be called resurrection.

There is a giving of ourselves to the world and to life, like the widow of last week, and like Jesus himself, which frees us even in the midst of wars and rumours of wars. Michael Coffey says

... Listen: It’s all true, or it’s freaked out fearful chatter, or who knows,
but then what anyway?  All is prologue and prelude, lift up your 
heart to the universe: the ultimate word and song are yet to come…

Andrew Prior

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!




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