Portable Commentary

14 November 2021

Thought for the day  
Our expression “to have time for someone” is a heart-warming one, because giving time to someone is a real gift of myself, part of our consciousness of being human. The opposite—lack of time—is expressed in another idiom “Money rich but time poor.” To be poor in time is a great deprivation, even when self-inflicted. It is all a question of perspective, values and choices. We do need to value the fleeting time we have and not live only towards a future, as yet unreal, moment. In the words of St Paul,
Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Help me, eternal God, to accept your gift of the present moment. It is the only moment I will ever have, so let me inhabit it richly and fully, and celebrate your gift of life in abundance. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Coming of the Son of Man

Mark 13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

Mark 13:28   “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

The Necessity for Watchfulness

Mark 13:32   “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Initial observations
Next Sunday, the feast of Christ the King, is the last Sunday of the current liturgical year B (Mark). On the first Sunday of Advent, year C (Luke) starts.
At the close of the liturgical year, the readings turn to the end of time, a theme which forms a bridge with the first Sunday of Advent, which begins (!) with the end of time.

Kind of writing
All of Mark 13 is “apocalyptic”, a type of writing which is highly symbolic and can be difficult to decipher. Normally, apocalyptic writings are written for faith groups—Jewish or Christian—who are under pressure or persecution of some kind. The message is usually an assurance that the future really is in God’s hands, in spite of appearances, and not to lose faith. “Endurance” is the key virtue, expressed in Mark with the command to stay awake.

The apocalyptic writings usually try to unmask the apparent omnipotence of the (current) empire. Mark 13 seems, in part, to have been written up in the light of the threatened or real destruction of Jerusalem, when the Romans would raise their idolatrous standards in the Temple itself.

At the time of writing, the death and resurrection of Jesus were interpreted as part of the end, the first instalment:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. (1 Cor 15:20)

Mark 13 has a particular outline which can help us to follow this long speech.

Setting the scene: :13:1-3
A. When? (13:4a)
B. What will be the sign? (13:4b)
B* Signs and non-signs (13:5-27)
Non-signs (13:5-23)
One reliable sign (13:24-27)
A* Only God know’s when (13:28-37)

Our particular passage cuts across 13:24-27 and 13:28-37. In general, Mark is saying that no historical or political event can be taken as an unequivocal indication of the end. The disciples must be content with (a) not knowing, just as Jesus himself did not know and (b) suffering, again just as Jesus himself did, as we see in this text:

“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mark 13:9–13)

Old Testament background
There are lots of Old Testament texts which could be used – but perhaps the most relevant would be Daniel 7, which used the language of “Son of Man”. In Daniel, “son of man” means a human being who will be God’s agent of final salvation. On the lips of Jesus, the term is used to identify himself (only) and has a strong connection with the coming of God’s reign.

As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (Dan 7:13–14, NRSV adjusted)

This passage is alluded to by Jesus at his trial:
But [Jesus] was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:61–64)

Jesus calls himself “Son of Man” very frequently in Mark: Mark 2:10, 28; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 13:26; 14:21, 41, 62.

New Testament foreground
There are links with the proclamation of Jesus, his death and his resurrection:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14–15)

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 9:1)
Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9–10)

Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:25)

Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. (Mark 15:43)

St Paul
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess 4:13–18)

Brief commentary
Verse 24 The reference is to the Last Day: The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. (Joel 2:10)
Verse 25 Earthquake is a symbol, in the Bible, of God’s presence and also of the end of time.
Verse 26 See Dan 7:13 and Mark 14:61.
Verse 27 The elect (Mark 13:20, 22, 27) are the faithful who have gone through the time of testing.
Verse 28 A lesson from nature to read the signs of the times.
Verse 29 The sense of urgency was very present in Paul (see above). Twice Mark says the end will be within the lives of some present (9:1 and here in v. 30).
Verses 30 The present generation: by the time Mark comes to write, the extreme urgency must have weakened. For example, 9:1 seems to point immediately to the Transfiguration. Certain features within Mark 13 suggest that Mark is not so much pointing to the future as interpreting the death and resurrection of Jesus. In that sense, this generation, had not passed away before these things had come to pass.
Verse 31 Apocalyptic sees the end of the creation as we know it. In astonishing contrast, the words of Jesus will outlast the universe.
Verse 32 This is surely historical because the tendency, as time went on, was to increase the foreknowledge of Jesus. The reader needs to read the rest of Mk 13 to make sense of this ending: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:32–37)

Pointers for prayer
1. Jesus speaks of the established order falling apart, but the collapse of the old order opened the way for new possibilities. When have you seen something new and hopeful emerge after the collapse of something that you had expected to endure much longer, perhaps even for ever?
2. The parable of the fig tree. Even in winter it begins to put forth leaves which give a hint of the fruit to come. Where have you found signs of hope in a wintry situation – in your own life, in the life of some group, in the life of the Church?
3. Jesus proposes no clear time-scale for the events being foretold, so the final sentence (v. 32) is a call to alertness, to live the present to the full. What different does it make to you when you are able to live the present moment to the full?

Your creation, O God, runs its appointed course; as far as the ends of the earth you gather a people you call your own. Confirm us in the strength of your abiding word. Steady our hearts in the time of trial, so that on the day of the Son of Man, we may without fear rejoice to behold his appearing. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.