Lectionary Commentaries for November 14, 2021
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Commentary on Mark 13:1-8
Commentary on Daniel 12:1-3
Christopher B. Hays
Daniel 12:1–3 has become one of the touchstones of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. To begin on any other note would probably ignore the interests of readers of a Christian lectionary commentary. In some ways the early Christian authors’ appropriation of its theology was consistent with its worldview; but in other ways it has been removed from its context, and the brief lectionary selection encourages this. Daniel’s promise of eschatological resurrection emerges out of its apocalyptic worldview, which in turn was closely connected with its historical context. Preachers would benefit from reflecting on this context as they prepare a sermon.
Daniel 12:1 is not the start of a thought or section. It begins, “At that time…”, so one should ask: What time? Looking back to 11:40, it is “at the time of the end.” Why did it seem that way? Daniel 12:1–3 is at the end of a lengthy (albeit also rapid) survey of Persian and Hellenistic history. It is particularly interested in the rulers from the time of Alexander the Great to the battles between the Ptolemies and Seleucids over Alexander’s kingdom after his death. Although none of these figures is named, the level of detail has made it easy to correlate the events with historical events.
The reign of Antiochus IV is both a focal point and a turning point in the narrative. The narrative accurately follows historical events up to his 167 BCE persecution of the Jews in Judah, which precipitated the Jewish revolt described in the deuterocanonical books of Maccabees. The text describes Antiochus IV’s cultic and theological wrongdoings in great detail in 11:31–39, but then offers a very vague prediction of Antiochus’ demise (11:45: “he shall come to his end, with no one to help him”). It does not show awareness of the actual circumstances of Antiochus’ death in 164 BCE, nor of the Maccabean purification and rededication of the Jerusalem temple in 165 BCE (still celebrated as Hanukkah). Therefore it is generally thought to have been written in the midst of Antiochus’ reign.
That period of persecution provides the context for 12:1’s reference to the “time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence”: the Jewish community that produced Daniel was suffering under imperial rule. In this regard, the New Testament authors found themselves in an analogous position.
In such times, God’s justice was not apparent within human history; so resurrection and afterlife judgment were theological solutions to an historical problem. It appeared that the just suffered and the wicked prospered, and this was inconsistent with the notion of divine justice. The wrongs of the community’s life could be rectified only outside of history. (This contrasted with the view of divine justice in, for example, Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, which repeatedly argued for a correlation between actions and historical outcomes.)
Daniel portrays the Lord as the true ruler, in a way that only a visionary prophet can perceive. Like a human emperor, the Lord delegates his activity to others. The reader has already met Michael, a divine figure “who contends against these [earthly] princes,” in other words, the imperial powers (10:12, 20). He appears again in a similar role in Jude 9 and Revelation 12:7, and is called an archangel (a “ruling messenger”).
Revivification of the dead was not a new idea in the second century BCE; it was a common image in the ancient Near East and had a long history in ancient Israel and Judah. But it was used in different ways in earlier texts such as Hosea 6:1–3 or Ezekiel 37:1–15. There, the dead who rose represented a whole people or nation.
But now Daniel is told that only the wise will be glorified in this new order; others will face shame and contempt (12:2). “Daniel’s people” are only the Jews who are deemed faithful, so there is a sectarian division here. Daniel 11:32-35 distinguishes between “those who violate the covenant,” having been seduced by Antiochus and/or the lures of Hellenistic culture, and “the people that knows its God (and) will stand firm,” which presumably refers to those in the community or communities that produced and read the text that resisted Antiochus. The authors’ favored people are repeatedly called “holy ones” (Daniel 7:18-27; 8:24; see also Isaiah 65:8-15). The earliest Christians were also a Jewish sectarian movement.
Daniel’s image of resurrection was highly influential for the New Testament authors (for example, John 5:29; Revelation 20:12). In other ways, however, its message is also different from the New Testament message of resurrection. For one thing, Daniel’s resurrection is not as comprehensive as Paul’s: many but not all will be raised (Daniel 12:2 verses Romans 14:10–11: “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God…”). Furthermore, Daniel is told to “keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end,” (12:4). By contrast, generally in the New Testament the book is unsealed (Revelation 22:10) and the goal is to share the Gospel of resurrection (although secrecy is a theme especially in Mark).
This understanding of Daniel 12:1–3 within its historical context brings into focus aspects other than the affirmation of a dualistic afterlife. One sees that ideas about divine justice have shifted and been reinterpreted over time. Was justice dealt out in this life or the next? Then as now, multiple views coexisted within the same communities and even within individuals.
This text might also serve as a corrective to contemporary strains of Christianity that are focused overwhelmingly on “sharing the good news.” Daniel 12’s secrecy was meant to be intriguing to hearers: they were let in on a secret that not everyone understood. Voltaire said that “the secret to being a bore is to tell everything”; similarly, the secret to being a fundamentalist is to know everything.
Another reason to err on the side of reticence about divine judgment in some cases is that the book of the holy ones is sealed (12:1, 4). Like the authors of Daniel, we survey as much history as we can, and make the best inferences we can about the future. But even John Calvin, the best-known standard-bearer for a dualistic afterlife, wrote that “as we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined or who does not, we ought to be so minded as to wish that all be saved” (Inst. III.xxiii.14). The afterlife may or may not be dualistic—we do not know in full (1 Corinthians 13:9–12)—but in the meantime humility should teach us to live as if God’s salvation is universal (Ephesians 1:10).
This is framed by Daniel’s critique of empire, and its words of comfort to a people who were under imperial hegemony: those who are given to understand the word are those who are disempowered and suffering. In this regard its message is still the same as that of the Exodus story or the eighth-century prophets. This should be disquieting to readers in positions of power, including the structural privilege that comes from simply living in economically imperialistic nations like the United States. The Church might think more pragmatically about what it needs to do to combat human suffering from entrenched inequalities. This is particularly important since the end times foreseen by Daniel and Revelation (22:10-12) were not as near as they once seemed.
Alternate First Reading
Commentary on 1 Samuel 1:4-20
I hope some preachers will choose this text to preach, and then will read the Song of Hannah, called a prayer, in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 as an alternative to the psalm to accompany it. And I hope the preacher will begin at the beginning with verses 1-3, instead of after the pedigree, names, and the description of the problem before us as laid out in the opening verses.
The story purports to be about a well-heeled man from the high country of Ephraim, but introducing Elkanah is a ploy to introduce us to the real protagonist, Hannah. Hannah’s story is a familiar biblical one of a barren woman, longing for a child, and also a part of the ongoing saga of human desires. That is why I hope preachers won’t skip it.
I do not know personally the pain, angst, and sorrow of barrenness, the inability to have children. But I have known several women and a few couples whose grief over not being able to conceive left them speechless and feeling powerless. I remember a particular conversation where I, who seemed to get pregnant when my husband simply looked at me, felt irritated at the woman of sorrow talking with me. Why wasn’t she content with her life sans children? I wondered. She was a successful businesswoman with lots of friends; she had a loving husband who lavished her with gifts and praise. Why was the desire to have a child consuming her so?
Rereading this pericope, and some scholarship, I remembered my youthful hubris and insensitivity toward my friend’s pain. My irritation was Elkanah’s, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (verse 8). Many scholars read these words as proof of Elkanah’s deep love for Hannah. Afterall, he gives her a double portion “because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb” (verse 5).
But these words from Elkanah seem to be about him and his vision of the world, with no real understanding of his wife’s emotional and spiritual world. As Robert Alter notes, “The double-edged poignancy of these words is that they at once express Elkanah’s deep and solicitous love for Hannah and his inability to understand how inconsolable she feels about her affliction of barrenness.”1 His love, it would seem, is passionate in spite of her inability to produce an heir, the ultimate success of women in a patrilineal, patriarchal society as pre-monarchical ancient Israel was. Thus, the answer is “no,” he is not better to her than 10 sons, because her honor and security are tied to childbearing.
Should she become a widow, her station in her society would be precarious. As ancient social status worked, she would have no one to care for her, much like the situation Naomi and Ruth found themselves in. Naomi, you may remember, wanted to change her name to “bitterness,” in other words, Mara, because her situation was the reverse of Hannah’s condition. She went out “full,” and came back empty, without husband or sons (Ruth 1:20-21).
I find it interesting, and hope other preachers will too, that this is the story that leads into the nationhood of ancient Israel. It is not the birth of a king, but the desire of a child to be pledged to God as a prophet that the editors use to shape the nation-story of ancient Israel. When faced with a struggle with the Philistines, the people would clamor for a king “like the other nations” (1 Samuel 8).
This story sets up the challenge that prophets are always to contend for Israelite kings not to be like other nations, but like the king God desires for them as described Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Not yet born, the text is pointing to the child that Hannah bears as important in God’s work. Hannah’s prophetic song, after this story, also captures this idea that God will give strength to the king (a righteous king is assumed; 1 Samuel 2:10), even though there is no king when she begins to sing.
This opening to ancient Israel’s nation-state saga is also a familiar trope in the Hebrew Bible, where a barren woman and a fertile woman, married to the same man, are in conflict because of their childbearing status. Here the preacher might remember Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29) and Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 16 and 21), for example. And because she meets the societal expectation, Peninnah, “… used to provoke [Hannah] severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb” (1:6).
Remember how I wrote earlier that I was irritated at my friend’s apparent ingratitude? Imagine Hannah being provoked, prodded, and poked for not being able to produce an heir? Imagine the soul irritation, the rub against the heart. Imagine the inability to have a comeback that would quiet the taunting. Peninnah had several children, and she used that against Hannah, as if she somehow was in charge of her own reproductive capabilities.
Of course, the imaginative preacher might see how we who consider ourselves blessed do the same toward people who are not blessed, according to our standards. We may not use words, but it is in our attitudes and societally, in our policies. Peninnah’s children are Hannah’s condemnation. She is shamed by her barrenness. Hannah wept and would not, perhaps could not eat, under all this duress from her co-wife.
In our day, I want us to acknowledge how often those of us who seem privileged (in whatever way privilege shows up) can be insensitive to those who need and desire social standing and safety. In this text, it is the social standing and security that having a child brings women. But an imaginative preacher might see other ways that we are callous about the social precarity of those around us, for example, those made poor by economic and political policies, racial disparities that keep people on the outside, and more.
There is nothing in the text that indicates that Hannah speaks back to either Peninnah or Elkanah. She instead presents herself unabashedly to God (verse 9). She holds her peace before her family, though she is bereft and, as she would say later to Eli, “a bleak-spirited woman,”2 what the NRSV translates as “deeply troubled” (verse 15). She directs her grief and lament in prayer to the God of heaven, the God of wombs and women.
Hannah makes a petition on her own behalf (verse 9). An astute preacher might make note of this agency in a setting where it may seem that she or others have no agency. It is the story of a woman who petitions on her own behalf and does what it takes, physically and ritually, to try to have a child.
As I type these words, I am deeply aware that there are women in our times that have prayed, have spent thousands of dollars on in vitro fertilization, and other methods in an effort to have a child, but still have not had one. A sensitive preacher will recognize the grief that palpitates while preaching this promise of a child from God. That lament should be woven in the telling of this “good news” story. That grief should be honored and not downplayed in an effort to “skip to the good part.”
After Hannah has ritually offered a sacrifice, and promised to lend her child to God, she returns full and eats for the first time. Some might pay attention to the fact that it is still a patriarchal desire to which she has yielded. But we have to be careful not to impose too much of our own understanding of the way the world works onto Hannah. We should save our critique for ourselves.
At this point, the preacher might look at the futuristic song of praise and prophetic intent that Hannah sings when she finds herself a recipient of God’s answer to her petition. The song is one of reversal where the barren gives birth to seven and the one with many children is forlorn (2 Samuel 2:5). These reversals continue through to verse 10, the rich are brought low, the poor are exalted, and so it goes. We would have to confess that these words are of hope and the future, since we live in a world where the 1% is obscenely wealthy and people made poor struggle to survive throughout the world. The song calls the Holy One to God’s own self and promises and strengthens those who trust in God to indeed serve as a righteous judge to the ends of the earth (verse 10).
- Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. Volume 2: Prophets. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019), p. 178.
- Alter’s Translation and commentary on verse 15, uses “bleak-spirited, but notes in his commentary of the same verse that the word appears in the Hebrew bible only here and might more accurately be translated “hard-spirited.” Volume 2: The Prophets, p. 179.
Commentary on Psalm 16
Beth L. Tanner
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is yet to come” is a central passage in the Mark text for this week and it could serve as a parallel for Psalm 16.1
The psalm is one of trust in uncertain times. The opening verse asks for God’s protection and refuge. The pleas are not as urgent as a lament, fitting well with the Mark text where the world seems to be falling apart and there is fear in the air, but no immediate or specific threat.
My family and I play a game with the local and national news programming. We list all of the things we were told to be afraid of in a 30-minute span. Try it; the average is 6-8 per broadcast and it ranges from races of persons, to scary multi-national terror groups, to “the dangers of sunscreen.” It is my way of showing my children just how much of the media is designed to keep them fearful. It is an inoculation of sorts because clearly, fear sells. The author of the Gospel of Mark and this psalm knew that and both texts serve as an antidote to a culture selling fear. The theme of both texts is to trust in the Lord and to ignore those who say otherwise. It means to trust God in the face of an uncertain future.
The psalm is written in five stanzas of 2 verses each, making it symmetric in nature. The first and last stanzas are statements of trust, providing a circular movement. The psalm begins with an imperative plea to God to “keep or guard me for I take refuge in you.” At the end of the day, nothing can protect us from danger and uncertainty is difficult and anxiety producing, but no matter what or where, one can find refuge in God. The stanza then quickly moves further declaring not only God’s protection but “I have no good apart from you.” It is more than safety then, happiness and God is found only in God or the gifts God provides.
Psalms usually provide some type of contrast. Modern folk can find this distracting, but it is simply the shape of ancient poetry and so the second stanza (Psalm 16:3-4) is just that. It contrasts the “holy ones in the land” with “those who choose another god” and a promise not to follow the latter. Scholars have tried to decipher who these holy ones are but even without an exact definition, it is clear that this stanza directly relates to the concept of what is good from above. Good is found in God and not others and this is simply a reaffirmation of the first commandment. In a similar way, Deuteronomy 10:13 implores the people to keep the commandments, not for God’s sake, but because it is good for them to do so.
The next stanza returns to the good that God gives (Psalm 16:5-6). Here the psalm moves far beyond combating fear or going after other gods. There are two words in Hebrew that defy easy definition. The first is ‘asher often translated as “happy” and the other is tamim or “complete.” Yet this psalm serves as a good definition for both. The person who has the characteristics in this psalm is “complete” and because he/she is complete, he/she is happy and content. God has provided boundaries that are praised. God’s gifts of a portion and an inheritance are enough for the one praying and worthy of praise. We are to be content in God and the parameters placed on human existence.
This concept of contentment can be tricky to preach today because it is not about material or monetary value. A preacher must be careful not to imply that the broken systems of this world are justified and one should just be content in the face or racism, sexism, under employment, and injustice. No! The psalm is not speaking in defense of injustice, nor should we be content with broken systems, but we should be content with God and our relationship with God and our place in God’s kingdom. Indeed, it is this type of personal “completeness” that provides the strength and confidence to speak out against worldly powers. Despite what we are not by the world’s standards, God has given to us what we need and even our conscience is a gift for it keeps us in the ways of the Lord. The next stanza (verses 7-8) continues the confession declaring the greatness of the Lord for God’s teaching and God’s constant presence. The psalm blesses God for the gift of counsel and a conscience that is guided by God keeping us from the wrong paths in life.
The psalm ends with resounding praise of what is to come in the future and that future is secure in God’s hands. Here again the Gospel lesson and the psalm mesh together into a powerful message. For the Good News of God often becomes twisted into a “rapture theology” that teaches humans to get right with God or face eternal wrath. The end times from the Gospels is yet another thing we are to fear. The Gospel lesson and the psalm both state that future is in God’s hands. The second coming is not the terrible end to our world, but the glorious transformation of old broken systems into justice for all whom the Lord made. “In your presence is complete gladness and everlasting pleasure at your right hand.” The kingdoms of the world are violent and unjust places so trust should be placed in God’s right hand where our complete selves are to be found.
- Commentary first published on this site on Nov. 15, 2015.
Commentary on Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25
Madison N. Pierce
In the first part of Hebrews 10, the author highlights the effectiveness of the offering of Jesus. In Hebrews 10:11, he returns again to a contrast between the offering of Jesus and the offerings of the Levitical priests. Though he never explicitly says anything like, “Here’s a list of reasons that the offering of Jesus is superior…,” at various points, these aspects of his offering are highlighted:
- Christ was perfect.
- Christ was willing.
- Christ offered himself.
Though these are not explicitly mentioned in the selection for this week, the effectiveness of Christ’s offering plays a crucial role as early as Hebrews 10:11.
The author begins with a reminder of how the Levitical system worked. The priests made daily offerings. They stood at the altar. And all the while, those offerings could not “take away [periaireo] sins.” Christ, on the other hand, made one offering, and since that offering was wholly effective, he was able to sit down. This is a picture of his sacrifice being complete.
Some mistakenly locate the value of the offering in its singularity, but this is a sign of its efficacy, not the reason for it. Put differently, the Levitical offerings were not insufficient because they were repeated; they were repeated because they were insufficient.
The offering by Jesus is effective, and as a result, can be offered just once (10:12),1 and now he waits for all things to be put in subjection (10:13).
Hebrews 10:14 reiterates the fact that the offering of Jesus was once-for-all, but adds a detail about what the offering accomplishes. It “perfected for all times those who are [being] sanctified.” Though “perfection” language is not particularly common in the NT, this Greek word (teleioo) and various words from the same root (for example, teleiosis, teleios) appear many times in Hebrews, and since both people and Christ are said to be “perfected,” a clear understanding of the concept is important for understanding the theology of Hebrews.
But the perfection language throughout Hebrews is confusing for many English speakers in particular. “Perfection” often refers to moral perfection (in other words, “without sin”), or it might refer to something unblemished or undisturbed—like fresh snow on the ground.
Unfortunately, these English uses or associations do not fit as well with the concept of “perfection” in Hebrews. There, instead, this likely refers to something more like the “consummation” of humanity (and Christ) as they shed their human weakness and obtain “indestructible life” (see also Hebrews 7:16).
The perfection of humanity likely takes place at the culmination of the ages (see also 9:26), and yet the verb tense used here (coincidentally, the perfect tense-form) typically is used with past actions that have ongoing implications or effects. It seems likely that this refers to ongoing implications of the past death of Christ. But the second half of this verse might complicate this interpretation. The author says that those being sanctified (present tense-form) are those “made perfect,” which implies that they are simultaneously perfect but not sanctified. Though perhaps a more sophisticated solution is available, for now, seeing this as a tension between what is “already” and what remains “not yet” might be the most simple explanation.
Whatever the author intends here, the Holy Spirit testifies to it! In Hebrews 10:15–18, the author introduces a shorter quotation from Jeremiah 31 (also found in Hebrews 8:8–12) as the words of the Spirit. He summarizes the testimony in 10:18: “Where there is forgiveness of these [sins and lawless deeds], there is no longer any offering for sin.”
The final set of verses in this week’s reading is Hebrews 10:19–25. This section is one of two major transition sections in Hebrews. (The other is Hebrews 4:11–16.)2 Like its counterpart, this section serves to summarize the major points of the argument to this point while also introducing what will come next.
His summary (primarily) is found in Hebrews 10:19–22. He reminds them that they have “confidence” (or “assurance”) to enter the sanctuary (10:19) by means of Christ’s sacrifice (10:20), which has cleansed them (10:22). Given the prevalence of cultic imagery in Hebrews, this is likely a picture of them being made ritually pure. Though the author says that animal sacrifices only cleanse people externally (see, for example, 9:9), here in Hebrews 10:22, the author says that their hearts are sprinkled clean.
This section has three exhortations:
- “approach [God] with a true heart” (10:22)
- “hold fast to the confession of our hope” (10:23)
- “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds” (10:24)
The first is a picture of exercising their new right to worship, to approach the altar and serve God. The second two serve the author’s introduction of his third major section (10:19–13:25). There the focus is on the response of the community to the example offered by Christ, in line with the faithful examples of their ancestors. They must “hold fast to [their] confession” (10:23) because God is faithful. He will follow through on what he has promised, and as Hebrews makes quite clear, for those who persevere, God’s trustworthiness is wonderful news; for those who do not persevere, God’s trustworthiness is harrowing news, indeed.
But the confession is “ours”—corporate—and the next exhortation reinforces a portrait of communal responsibility. They are to encourage one another towards “love and good deeds” (10:24), continuing to gather so that they can keep each other on the path of faithfulness.
This picture is distinctive in our day. Church is a place where I learn and worship, where I need to go for my own personal growth. And yet, the picture here in Hebrews is of service. Gather together for the sake of others.
- For more on “repetition” (and its interpretation in Hebrews), see Nicholas J. Moore, Repetition in Hebrews: Plurality and Singularity in the Letter to the Hebrews, Its Ancient Context, and the Early Church, WUNT II 388 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015).
- Cynthia Long Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews: The Relationship Between Form and Meaning, LNTS 297 (London: Bloomsbury, 2006), esp. 136-37.
Mark 13:1-8 reveals a back and forth between Jesus and his disciples. In these exchanges, Jesus responds to the disciples by taking the conversation in a different direction. When one of the disciples marvels at the stones adorning the Temple, Jesus indicates that the stones will all be cast down (13:1-2). When the disciples ask Jesus when this event will happen and what sign there will be, Jesus cautions them against being led astray (13:4-8).
Mark 13:3-37, sometimes called the “Little Apocalypse,” describes wars, earthquakes, famines, and nations rising against each other. According to Adela Yarbro Collins, “Motifs of war, earthquakes, and famines in verses 7-8 are very general apocalyptic commonplaces.”1 While it is hard to determine if Mark 13 anticipates the Jewish-Roman War (66-70 CE) or responds to it, these warnings on Jesus’ lips anticipate challenges faced by the Jewish community in Palestine with the war and destruction of the Temple. It is easy to imagine these events felt like a telos, an end, for those who watched them unfold.
The events Jesus describes are merely the “beginning of the birth pangs” (13:8). With the lack of clarity on these events’ timeline, it makes sense that Jesus would warn the disciples not to be led astray by those who would claim to come in his name, claiming “I am.” It is tempting to cling to anything that promises a foothold at times when we feel everything is out of control.
While our context is radically different from first-century Palestine, our realities have been rapidly changing, from increasing wealth disparity, climate change reaching the “red zone,” and the rise of COVID-19 cases when many expected them to be falling. It is increasingly challenging to find a foothold in how to respond, what to do, and what will save us, as Simon Dein indicates: “Pandemics indicate the fragility of life and the world, chaos, engender paralyzing anxiety that the world is dissolving, a sense of detachment and raise significant issues of meaning resulting in existential crises.”2 These crises inspire big questions of who and how we are in the world; they likewise inspire big questions of in whom we believe and the shape that belief takes in practice.
As the disciple marvels at the stones in the Temple, the similar endings of words in Greek draw the auditor’s attention to the disciple’s words and Jesus’ response:
Disciple: Potapoi lithoi kai potapai oikodomai (notice the -i sound at the end of the words)
Jesus: Tautas tas megalas oikodmoas (notice the -as sound at the end of the words).
The words paint a picture of the disciples looking up at the Temple, inviting us to marvel with them at its beauty and then the shock of Jesus’ words that follow the words above: “You see these large buildings? Not one stone will be upon another that will not be cast down.”
Peter, James, and John asked Jesus privately about when to expect these things to happen and what to expect would happen. Their question reminds the reader that they do not understand what Jesus means by this statement. Even the disciples do not have privileged information regarding these events. Rather than describing when, Jesus tells the disciples to look out for those claiming to come in his name, echoing Jesus’ caution in Mark 12:38-44. Jesus does not communicate the character of these messianic claimants, but their claim to the title “I am” suggests they have designs on power that belongs to God alone. The disciples do not seem to have a privileged position here; they, like the “many,” are at risk of being led astray.
After Jesus cautions the disciples, he tells them of the things that are to come but does not provide a timeline. Instead, Jesus tells them these wars, earthquakes, famines, and struggles are not the culmination of the things to come. This line of thought continues until verse 37. The coming of the Son of Man is the culmination of this line of thought; in the midst of uncertainty, threat, and disaster, the messianic figure comes and gathers the elect. The telos, which could mean the end, goal, outcome, or culmination, is the Messiah.
This text brings many challenges with it, especially to polarized societies. It can be a fearsome time to be a preacher, especially when words can take on political, social, or other valances that are unintended. In particular, issues that are not—at their face—partisan, have become a vehicle for partisan politics, whether one considers COVID-19 practices, global climate change, or how countries interact with other conflicted areas in the world. Many of us (preachers included) feel as if we are working twice as hard for half of the result. It can feel like it is all crashing down.
Maybe the stories of life right now are our own “Little Apocalypse” or, at the very least, a sort of end to the “before times.” This precise point is where we all need to hear the Gospel, that God is always about the business of making new futures possible. Walter Brueggemann asserts that preachers “traffic in a ‘fiction’ that makes true.”3 The good news of Jesus’ presence seems a fiction in the midst of crisis and disaster, and this place is precisely where preachers can imagine a different way forward for humanity. Whenever we hear reports of disaster, Mark 13 reminds us to not be led astray by messianic claimants that cannot save us; rather, we look for Jesus.