Archive for the ‘Mark 13’ Category

Two Killings   1 comment

Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod--James Tissot

Above:  Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross

you promise everlasting life to the world.

Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy,

that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27


The Assigned Readings:

Psalm 118:26-29

Psalm 27

Matthew 23:37-39


Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call;

have mercy on me and answer me.

–Psalm 27:7, Book of Common Worship (1993)


Psalm 118 is a song of praise to God after a military victory.  Literary echoes of the text are apparent in the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Consider this verse, O reader:

Blessed be who enters in the name of Yahweh,

we bless you in the house of Yahweh.

–Psalm 118:26, The Anchor Bible:  Psalms III:  101-150 (1970), by Mitchell Dahood, S.J.

That allusion fits well, for, when Jesus entered Jerusalem that fateful week, he did so not as a conquering hero but as one who had conquered and who was en route to the peace talks.  A victorious monarch rode a beast of burden to the negotiations for peace.  Jesus resembled a messianic figure who had won a battle.  He was not being subtle, nor should he have been.

The tone of the assigned reading from Matthew 23 fits the tone of the verse from Psalm 27 better, however.  Psalm 27 consists of two quite different poems with distinct tenors.  Part I is happy and confident, but Part II comes from a place of concern and a context of peril.  The latter distinction is consistent with Christ’s circumstances between the Triumphal Entry and the Crucifixion.

Matthew 23’s Jesus is not a vacation Bible school Jesus or seeker-sensitive Jesus.  That Jesus’s hair is nice and combed.  His robes are sparkling white, and his face is aglow as he hovers about six inches off the ground.  He hugs people a lot, speaks in calm tones, and pats little children on the head as he tells his audience, only four chapters earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, that the kingdom belongs “to such as these” (Matt. 19:14; cf. Mark 10:14/Luke 18:16).  The Jesus of Matt. 23 is of a different sort.  He is fired up and within a word or two of unleashing some profanity in the style of a high school football coach.  This Jesus’s hair is untamed.  His clothes are beaten and tattered from a semitransient lifestyle.  His face and neck are reddened by the Palestinian sun, and his feet are blistered, cracked, and calloused.  There is a wild look in his eyes, sweat pouring down his forehead, and spit flying off his lips when he yells, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matt. 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 39; cf. 23:16).  His message ends not with a head pat to a child and an aphorism about the kingdom, but with tales of murder and bloodshed (23:34-37).

When you finish reading Jesus’s tirade against the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 23, you might need a deep breath.  Those who have grown all too accustomed to the teddy-bear Jesus may need to reassess wholesale their idea of Jesus.  At the very least, we can point to the text and affirm that, when early Christians such as Matthew commemorated Jesus’s life in the form of narrative Gospels, they portrayed a Jewish teacher who was embroiled in heated controversy with other Jewish teachers and gave as good as he got.

–Chris Keith, Jesus Against the Scribal Elite:  The Origins of the Conflict (2014), page 5


You scholars and Pharisees, you imposters!  Damn you!

–Matthew 23:29a, The Complete Gospels:  Annotated Scholars Version (1994)

Literary context matters.  Immediately prior to Matthew 23:37-39, the lament of Jesus over Jerusalem, our Lord and Savior, having engaged in verbal confrontations with religious authorities, denounces the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, power plays, impiety, violence, and inner impurity.  Immediately after Matthew 23:37-39 comes Matthew 24, in which Christ speaks apocalyptically, as in Mark 13 and Luke 21.  (The order of some of the material differs from one Synoptic Gospel to another, but these are obviously accounts of the same discourse.)  Jesus is about to suffer and die.

Matthew 23:34-39 echoes 2 Chronicles 24:17-25.  In 2 Chronicles 24 King Joash/Jehoash of Judah (reigned 837-800 B.C.E.), having fallen into apostasy and idolatry, orders the execution (by stoning) of one Zechariah, son of the late priest Jehoiada.  Zechariah’s offense was to confront the monarch regarding his apostasy and idolatry.  The priest’s dying wish is

May the LORD see and avenge!

–2 Chronicles 24:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The theology of the narrative holds that God saw and avenged, given the subsequent killing of Joash/Jehoash by servants.

A contrast between that story and the crucifixion of Jesus becomes clear.  Never does Jesus say

May the LORD see and avenge!

or anything similar to it.  One cannot find Christ’s prayer for forgiveness for the crown and those who crucified him in Matthew or Mark, but one can locate it at Luke 23:34, which portrays him as a righteous sufferer, such as the author of Part II of Psalm 27.

The example of Jesus has always been difficult to emulate.  That example is, in fact, frequently counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.  Love your enemies?  Bless those who persecute you?  Take up your cross?  Really, yes.  It is possible via grace.  I know the difficulty of Christian discipleship.  It is a path I have chosen, from which I have strayed, and to which I have returned.  The goal is faithfulness, not perfection.  We are, after all, imperfect.  But we can do better, by grace.







Adapted from this post:


Discomfort with Scripture   1 comment

Temple of Solomon

Above:  The Temple of Solomon

Scan (from an old book) by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Discomfort with Scripture



The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20


The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 3:10-17 (December 30)

1 Kings 3:5-14 (December 31)

Psalm 147:12-20 (Both Days)

Mark 13:32-37 (December 30)

John 8:12-19 (December 31)


Psalm 147 is a happy hymn of praise to God.  Reading, chanting, or singing that text makes people feel good and holy.  But what about other psalms and parts thereof?

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who repays you

for all you have done to us;

Who take your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

–Psalm 137:8-9, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

The pericopes for these days constitute a combination of the comfortable and the cringe-worthy.  King Solomon, after obeying his father’s advice and conducting a royal purge after his accession, allegedly received wisdom from God.  He also built a beautiful Temple in Jerusalem, financing it with high taxes and using forced labor.  The Temple was, in the Hebrew religion of the time, where people found reconciliation with God.  And it existed courtesy of the monarchy.  Solomon was using religion to prop up the dynasty.  Meanwhile, the details of Solomon’s reign revealed a lack of wisdom, especially in governance.

Jesus as the light of the world (John 8:12-19) fits easily inside the comfort zones of many people, but the entirety of Mark 13 does not.  That chapter, a miniature apocalypse, proves terribly inconvenient to those who prefer a perpetually smiling Jesus (as in illustrations for many Bibles and Bible story books for children) and a non-apocalyptic Christ.  Yet the chapter is present.

The best approach to scripture is an honest and faithful one.  To pretend that contradictions which do exist do not exist is dishonest, and to lose oneself among the proverbial trees and therefore lose sight of the continuity in the forest is faithless.  Many authors from various backgrounds and timeframes contributed to the Bible, that sacred anthology.  They disagreed regarding various topics, and theology changed as time passed.  Yet there is much consistency on major topics.  And, when certain passages cause us to squirm in discomfort, we are at least thinking about them.  Bringing one’s intellect to bear on scripture is a proper thing to do, for higher-order thinking is part of the image of God, which each human being bears.





Adapted from this post:


Faithfulness and Faithlessness, Part II   1 comment

Destroy This Mad Brute

Above:  A U.S. Anti-German Propaganda Poster from World War I

Image in the Public Domain

Faithfulness and Faithlessness, Part II

NOVEMBER 18, 2015


The Collect:

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose bring salvation to birth.

Give us faith amid the tumults of this world,

trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53


The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 12:1-13:1

Psalm 13

Mark 13:9-23


How long, O LORD?

Will you forget me forever?

how long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity of mind,

and grief in my heart, day after day?

how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God;

give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,”

and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

But I trust in your mercy;

my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

I will sing to you, O LORD,

for you have dealt with me richly;

I will praise the name of the Lord Most High.

–Psalm 13, Book of Common Worship (1993)


The text of Mark 13:9-13 describes current events in much of the world.  Fortunately, that statement does not apply to my nation-state, the United States of America, where we have religious toleration.  That is an alien concept in much of the world, however.  In any case, the end of the pericope provides a segue to the other reading.

But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

–Mark 13:23b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Zechariah 12:1-13:1 is a prediction of the end times.  Tiny Judah will by the power and grace of God, find not only restoration but victory over its enemies, who will suffer.  The new, restored society will mourn over

those who are slain, wailing over them as a favorite son and showing bitter grief as over a first-born.

–Verse 10b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Proposals regarding the identity of “those who are slain” are numerous.  The slain might have come from the Gentile nations, all but annihilated in verse 9.  Mourning for one’s defeated foes seems like a well-developed spiritual virtue, does it not?  The Hebrew text is ambiguous regarding the identity of the mourned slain, so another option might be correct.  For example, maybe the lamented slain are messengers of God whom authorities persecuted and populations disregarded.  That interpretation meshes well with the reading from Mark 13.  Mourning the sins of one’s society is one step toward the goal of addressing societal ills and avoiding similar errors in the present day and the future, after all.

The vagueness of the reference to the mourned slain invites readers to interact with and ponder that text.  Perhaps more than one interpretation is correct.  One unambiguous aspect, however, is grief following the act of violence.  Whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.  Those who commit violence are therefore victims of it.  Violence is necessary sometimes, unfortunately.  It can, however, be far less commonplace than it is.  Societies will be much better off when they grieve, not celebrate, violence (even necessary violence), and use it only as the last resort.  The same rule applies to individuals and communities.

One way governments persuade their citizens to fight wars is to dehumanize the enemies.  For example, Germans became “Huns” during World War I and Japanese became “Japs” during World War II.  Wartime propaganda in the United States depicted Germans as barely human and sometimes as beasts in 1917 and 1918.  During World War II American propaganda depicted Japanese in racially denigrating imagery and invited patriotic citizens to “slap a Jap.”  Likewise, Japanese propaganda denigrated Westerners in racial terms also.  Yet everybody involved was quite human, and the populations were not their governments.  As I write this sentence in 2015, Germany and Japan have long been allies of the United States.  We humans have no difficulty accepting the fact that our friends and allies are human, do we?

Sometimes it is proper that one side win a war and another lose it, for the sake of the world.  However, along the path to victory may we refrain from dehumanizing our fellow human beings on the other side, for God loves them also and they bear the image of God.  And, as we deal with agents of God, may we refrain from harming them, for

  1. we ought to heed them, and
  2. the use of violence for the purpose of defending one’s sense of righteousness belies the assertion of the possession of that virtue.







Adapted from this post:


Apocalypses   1 comment

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' Roberti

Above:  The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Titus, A.D. 70, by David Roberts

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples

and poured out your life with abundance.

Call us again to your banquet.

Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure,

and transform us into a people or righteousness and peace,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 24:17-23

Psalm 23

Mark 2:18-22


Psalm 23 presents a pristine, pleasant picture of verdant pastures, safety in God, and an overflowing cup.  That is the opposite of Isaiah 24, in which God pronounced judgment on the sinful Earth.  Leading up to that chapter we read of divine judgment on various nations (including the Kingdom of Judah) and a condemnation of official corruption.  Divine redemption of Judah and human thanksgiving for God’s deliverance of the people from oppression follow Isaiah 24 immediately.  Destruction of the wicked order makes room for the new world of righteousness.

I detect an apocalyptic note in Mark 2:18-22 also.  The disciples of Jesus will not fast until

the bridegroom is taken away from them

–2:20a, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985).

The canonical Gospels contain openly apocalyptic sections, especially in proximity to the Passion of Jesus.  That seems appropriate, given the nature of crucifixion and the Roman imperial use of violence.

I have noticed two unhelpful extremes in theology and Bible-based art.   One is fixating on the pleasant, so that Jesus usually smiles, for example.  The other is to focus on doom, gloom, destruction, and judgment.  Both contain true elements, of course, but the error is fixating on one extreme so as to deny or minimize its opposite.  So, avoid extremism, I note that the rescue of people from oppressors is good news for the oppressed and bad news for the oppressors and their allies.  May none of us be like those who mourn the fall of Babylon in Revelation 18.

Sometimes we mere mortals find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, so we suffer and lament.

Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!

–Mark 13:17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That is the unfortunate reality of many people in parts of the world, is it not?  Yet we humans may hope for a better time.  We might even function as partners with God to improve circumstances.






Adapted from This Post:


Genesis and Mark, Part XXIII: Human and Divine Economics   1 comment


Above:  The New Jerusalem


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 45:1-20, 24-28 (26th Day of Lent)

Genesis 47:1-31 (27th Day of Lent)

Psalm 38 (Morning–26th Day of Lent)

Psalm 22 (Morning–27th Day of Lent)

Psalms 126 and 102 (Evening–26th Day of Lent)

Psalms 107 and 130 (Evening–27th Day of Lent)

Mark 13:1-23 (26th Day of Lent)

Mark 13:24-37 (27th Day of Lent)


Some Related Posts:

Genesis 45:

Mark 13:

New Every Morning is the Love:

For Social Righteousness:

O Lord, You Gave Your Servant John:

For the Kingdom of God:

O Day of Peace That Dimly Shines:

In Remembrance of Me:

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life:



In Genesis we read of the family reunion Joseph engineered.  And there is better news:  relocation to fertile land, courtesy of the Pharaoh.  Then there is bad news:  the reduction of Egyptians to slaves of the monarch, courtesy of Joseph.

So Joseph gained possession of all the farm land of Egypt because the famine was too much for them; thus the land passed over to Pharaoh.  And he removed the population town by town, fro one end of Egypt’s borders to the other….

–Genesis 47:20-21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

And the author of the text does not disapprove.

It is a disturbing and frequently overlooked part of the Bible.

Meanwhile, in Mark 13, which is full of disturbing passages, we read of, among other things, wars, universal hatred, kangaroo courts, family betrayals, imperiled infants, and natural portents.  This is not a chapter one illustrates for children’s Bibles, I suppose.  Yet there is good news after the great eschatatological event:  After God destroys the world or just the current world order, something better will follow.

In this post we have the happy mixed with the disturbing (in Genesis) and the disturbing preceding the happy (in Mark).  Establishing the links between the Old Testament and the New Testament readings has proved more challenging this time, but I do have something to offer you, O reader.  Joseph and the Pharaoh did not create what John of Patmos called the New Jerusalem.  Neither did they make a more just society.  That is what lies on the other side of the great eschatological process in the Bible.  Yet we mere mortals retain the responsibility to act individually and collectively to leave our part of the world better than we found it.  The poor might always be with us, but there can still be less poverty.  There is always enough for everyone to have enough in God’s economy.  May our human economies resemble God’s economy more closely.






Adapted from this post:


Devotion to Good Works   1 comment

Above:  United States Navy Personnel Staffing a Soup Kitchen

Image Source = Chief Mass Communication Specialist Steve Johnson




1 Samuel 1:1-20 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.  He had two wives; the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other was Peninnah.  And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the LORD.  On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Penninah his wife and to all her sons and daughters; and, although he loved Hannah, he would give Hannah only one portion, because the LORD had closed her womb.  So it went on year by year; as often she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her.  Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.  And Elkanah, her husband, said to her,

Hannah, why do you weep?  And why do you not eat?  And why is your heart sad?  Am I not more to you than ten sons?

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose.  Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD.  She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, and wept bitterly.  And she vowed a vow and said,

O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant, but will give to your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.

As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth.  Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard; therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.  And Eli said to her,

How long will you be drunken?  Put away your wine from you.

But Hannah answered,

No, my lord, I am a woman sorely troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out of my soul before the LORD.  Do not regard your maidservant as a base woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.

Then Eli answered,

Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him.

And she said,

Let your maidservant find favor in your eyes.

Then the woman went her way and ate, and her countenance was no longer sad.

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah.  And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her; and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said,

I have asked him of the LORD.

1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Revised English Bible):

Then Hannah offered this prayer:

My heart exults in the LORD,

in the LORD I now hold my head high;

I gloat over my enemies;

I rejoice because you have saved me.

There is none but you,

none so holy as the LORD,

none so righteous as our God.

Cease your proud boasting,

let no word of arrogance pass our lips,

for the LORD is a God who knows;

he governs what mortals do.

Strong men stand in mute dismay,

but those who faltered put on new strength.

Those who had plenty sell themselves for a crust,

and the hungry grow strong again.

The barren woman bears seven children,

and the mother of many sons is left to languish.

The LORD metes out both death and life:

he sends down to Sheol, he can bring the dead up again.

Poverty and riches both come from the LORD;

he brings low and he raises up.

He lifts the weak out of the dust

and raises the poor from the refuse heap

to give them a place among the great,

to assign them seats of honour.

The foundations of the earth are the LORD’s,

and he has set the world upon them.

He will guard the footsteps of his loyal servants,

while the wicked will be silenced in darkness;

for it is not by strength that a mortal prevails.

Those who oppose the LORD will be terrified

when from the heavens he thunders against them.

The LORD is judge even to the ends of the earth;

he will endow his king with strength

and raise high the head of his anointed one.


Daniel 12:1-13 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

The Lord spoke to Daniel in a vision and said,

At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Psalm 16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;

I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,

my good above all other.”

All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land,

upon those who are noble among the people.

But those who run after other gods

shall have their troubles multiplied.

4 Their libations of blood I will not offer,

nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.

O LORD, you are my portion and my cup;

it is you who uphold my lot.

6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel;

my heart teaches me, night after night.

8 I have set the LORD always before me;

because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;

my body also shall rest in hope.

10 For you will not abandon me to the grave,

nor let your holy one see the Pit.

11 You will show me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy,

and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.


Hebrews 10:11-25 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.  And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

This is the covenant that I will make with them

after those days, says the Lord:

I will put my laws on their hearts,

and write them on their minds,

then he adds,

I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more.

Where there is forgiveness for these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see Day drawing near.


Mark 13:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him,

Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!

Then Jesus asked him,

Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,

Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?

Then Jesus began to say to them,

Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For 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.

The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some Related Links:

Proper 28, Year A:

1 Samuel 1:

Hebrews 10:

Luke 21 (Parallel to Mark 13):


The church year is almost over, with one Sunday remaining in Year B and Advent, Year C, starting one week after that.  (I am, by the way, typing these words almost one year ahead of Proper 28, Year B, and two days ahead of Proper 28, Year A.  I seem to have jumped ahead in my devotional writing a few months ago.)  Anyhow, by this time each church year, some Sunday readings have become apocalyptic.  We see this in the lessons from Hebrews, Mark, and Daniel.  The reading from Mark 13 speaks of the end of the Temple system and the coming of Roman imperial wrath over a Jewish rebellion.  The writing of the Gospel of Mark occurred somewhere in the vicinity of the First Jewish War and the year 70 C.E., a fact which certainly influenced the telling of the contents of Mark 13:1-8.  We humans tell the past through the lens of our present.  Yet apocalypses need not be entirely dark; there is hope in Daniel 12:1-3.

That said, I prefer to focus on one verse:

We ought to see how each of us may best arouse others to love and active goodness.–Hebrews 10:24, Revised English Bible

The New Revised Standard Version offers this translation:

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds….

J. B. Phillips, in the 1972 revision of The New Testament in Modern English, renders that verse as follows:

…and let us think of one another and how we can encourage each other to love and do good deeds.

And the New Jerusalem Bible offers this lovely phrasing:

Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.

Many people seek to humiliate others, shout others down, or do violence to them.  This does not improve society.  I wonder how much better society would be if more people competed with each other to perform good deeds, such as feeding others or helping others become what they ought to be.  Good works, the Bible tells us, are important.  This principle runs through Judaism and Christianity, as evident in the following:

  1. the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself
  2. the Golden Rule.

And let us not forget the Golden Rule, 1 Corinthians 13, the Letter of James, Titus 2:14, and the life of Jesus.

So, instead of trying to demonstrate orthodoxy by arguing about theology, may we demonstrate orthopraxy by acting affirmatively from our faith.  Then, when someone wants to know why we do what we do, our words will have force.  A member of my congregation tells a true story about the aftermath of a natural disaster in Virginia years ago.  A group of Mennonites traveled to the affected area, where they spent their time working to help the people there.  They did this until they had done all that they could.  Then the Mennonites returned to their home.  Some locals, impressed by the Mennonites, wanted to know more about those helpful people.  There is now a Mennonite presence in that area; locals demanded it.

Here ends the lesson.







Adapted from this post:


Expectations Versus Reality   1 comment

Above:  Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni, Circa 1635


Isaiah 64:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

so that the mountains would quake at your presence–

as when fire kindles brushwood

and the fire causes water to boil–

to make your name known to your adversaries,

so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,

you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

From ages past no one has heard,

no ear has perceived,

no eye has seen any God besides you,

who works for those who wait for him.

You meet those who gladly do right,

those who remember you in your ways.

But you were angry, and we sinned;

because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

We all fade like a leaf,

and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name,

or attempts to take hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us,

and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;

we are the clay, and you are our potter;

we are all the work of your hand.

Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,

and do not remember iniquity forever.

Now consider, we are your people.

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;

shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

2  In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,

stir up your strength and come to help us.

3  Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

4  O LORD God of hosts,

how long will you be angered

despite the prayers of your people?

5  You have fed them with the bread of tears;

you have given them bowls of tears to drink.

6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors,

and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

7  Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

16  Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand,

the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.

17  And so will we never turn away from you;

give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

18  Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;

show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God for you because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark 13:24-37 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said to his disciples,

In those days, after that suffering,

“the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 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.

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. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

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.

The Collect:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

First Sunday of Advent, Year A:

Luke 21 (Similar to Mark 13):

1 Corinthians 1:


Many science fiction movies and television shows depict human-like aliens who, oddly enough, speak Earth languages fluently.  This is, of course, a conceit made necessary for a long time due to limited special effects technology and budgets, the fact that actors are humans, and that many audience members dislike reading subtitles.  This also reflects the fact of our frame of reference when pondering extraterrestrial life; we seek life as we know it.  But what if life as we know it is rare and life as we do not know it is more plentiful?

Let us apply that principle to Messianic expectations.  It is natural to seek a spectacular display of divine power and presence, especially when one lives under foreign occupation or when the troubles of life seem too difficult to bear.  But what did we get?  The picture I placed at the top of this post says it all:  a baby.  He grew up, died, and rose again.  In fact, I write this post on the Feast of the Ascension in 2011.  With that departure came the promise of a Second Coming, but when?

Many of the earliest Christians, including St. Paul, thought that the Second Coming was soon.  That was, of course, nearly two thousand years ago.  After Paul, the canonical Gospels, written after the First Jewish War, reflected expectations that Jesus would be back any day now.  That was nearly two thousand years ago.  Over a century and a half ago, William Miller predicted more than one date for the Second Coming.  He was mistaken.  More recently, Colin Hoyle Deal, writing in the late 1970s, thought that Jesus would return by 1988.  He had 101 reasons for this.  (I have a copy of his book.)  Hal Lindsey, also writing in the 1970s, thought that Jesus would come back before 2000.  And Harold Camping has issued more than one faulty date for the end of times.

Jesus has not kept the schedules some people have calculated for him.

God will tend to the details of time quite well without our predictions; may we tend to our earthly vocations and not waste time getting in over our heads.  We are called to be agents of God and faces of Christ to those to whom God sends us.  This is our reality.  So I ask you, O reader, some questions:  Whom has God sent to you?  To whom has God sent you?  And how often did any of this not match your expectations?  What lessons have you learned from the discrepancy between your expectations and your reality?







Adapted from this post: