I don’t like Apocalyptic Mark. I prefer Binding the Strong Man Mark, Healing the Sick Mark, and Causing the Blind to See Mark. What does that mean? It’s another way of saying I prefer my Jesus like I like my coffee, not as dark as gas station coffee.
In Mark 13, Jesus becomes pessimistic. Unlike his usual, “let’s go save the world” cherry self he initiates a conversation with the disciples about the destruction of the temple. For Jesus, his followers, and Mark’s first-century readers, that’s another way of talking about the end of the world. Peter, James, John, and Andrew’s attention is piqued. “Tell us, when will these things happen? What sign will show that all these things are about to come to an end?”
Jesus could have told disciples anything. He might have offered a list of checkpoints and historical benchmarks to look for and expect on their way toward cultural and social annihilation. He might have said I you see these things, buy a bunker and run for the hills:
• the return of nationalism as a political agenda
• devastating natural disasters wiping out a large area of both coasts
• a fact-free, post-truth society
• vilification of the other
• forest fires in California
• the schism of the United Methodist Church (assuming the disciples possessed an incredible degree of foresight and believed Methodism to be as important as some people do)
• wars you can watch on your handheld device, such as the one from Yemen
• hurricanes in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and the Philippines
• the 10th outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1976
He didn’t say any of those things. But to listen to some people, you think he did. They would have you believe those are the very signs of Jesus’ immediate arrival on Flight 421 from Tel Aviv. Jesus didn’t know about Ebola, Hurricanes, or the likelihood of Santa Ana winds causing fires to ravage areas of Southern California. In fact, Jesus had never heard of California. If Jesus had heard of either California or Ocracoke, he might have come here and taken up surfing.
Jesus knew what he’d experienced in the little area of life he’d traveled between Capernaum and Jerusalem. In that small world, violence was common. War was an everyday occurrence. Hearing of war or being in a battle wasn’t the exception, it was the rule. Famine is still a familiar fact of life in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The earthquakes which shook the ancient world are prevalent across Iran, Iraq, and into Central Asia even today. So what’s Jesus saying? In short, be on the lookout for life. The disasters or so-called “signs” aren’t cosmological rarities to be interpreted by divinely ordained prophets. They are life itself. We live among these awful, horrible, tragedies and disasters. They suck the marrow from our souls. As such, everything is the beginning of something related to what we may or may not call the end of the world.
Life is a precursor to death. Whoa, that’s deep Jesus. Maybe Apocalyptic Mark is one big prophetic windup reminding the disciples to do as the Grass Roots once said:
“Sha la la la la la live for today
Sha la la la la la live for today
And don’t worry ’bout tomorrow, hey
Sha la la la la la live for today (live for today)”
Richard Lowell Bryant