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Reflections on the Gospel – November 18, 2012

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!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For 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 birthpangs.

What I am Learning:

Most commentators believe that Mark was written during the Jewish revolt that took place in year 67. The Romans had been occupying Palestine for over 100 years at that point. The people's land had been taken. Eighty-five percent of the population was poor or very poor - they could not pay their taxes and eat. They wondered, "How long could this go on?"

In the previous two centuries the People of Israel suffered under other empires. In the midst of these occupations they  developed the idea of an "anointed one," in Hebrew this is the word meshiach - messiah. The word "christ" is not Jesus' last name, but the Greek word for "anointed one." The messiah would free them from the empires and lead them to live as God envisioned.

In the first century the People of Israel largely assumed that the messiah would gather an army and cast out the Romans through violence. The mountains would be stained with the blood of their enemies (Isaiah 63). Beginning in 66, various rebel groups began to wage war on the Romans. When they captured Jerusalem they burned all the property records - an attempt to turn land back to its peasant owners. But life during this time was not so great - those who used violence to cast out the Romans turned on each other. There was much bloodshed in the streets of Jerusalem between these groups as they fought to see whose leader would reign in Jerusalem and be crowned messiah.

In the year 70 the Romans returned to Jerusalem. Over a million people died and the temple was destroyed and plundered. (See the photo of the Menorah being taken in procession back to Rome.)

So now the text takes on a certain meaning. The writer of the Gospel, in constructing his narrative, is encouraging his community not to participate in the violence - either against the Romans or against other Jews. Do not follow these leaders in violence who claim messiahship. Mark is arguing that Jesus' Way of nonviolent engagement is the only path to life as God envisions - to God's Reign of Mutuality.

Of course, outside of this historical context - which one can find easily on the internet, BTW - it is easy to make this text support the "end of the world" theories some Christians subscribe to, and nearly all media Christians promote.

But the text does say something to us: It is as easy for us as for them to desire to use brute force methods to make the world a better place. But as Jesus said, when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Violence leads to more violence, and violence in the name of God makes God into a god of violence. Whatever god we worship that's the god we try to live out in our personal life, and the kind of society we try to create.

A vision of a god of violence can only lead to our mutual destruction and a dog-eat-dog-eat cat world.

Jesus said we don't have to live in that world.

This does not mean that transforming the world through nonviolent means is easy or without risk. As anyone who has given birth can tell you, birthpangs and childbirth don't feel temporary when you are going through them.

The one giving birth to us is revealed to us in Jesus who suffers with and for us. God our Mother continues to push and to breathe until by grace we lay down our silence at injustice and our swords of fear and live in Jesus' Way.