Stroll through Scripture for March 17, 2024

Based on Mark 13:1-8, 24-37

The phrase that captures this Sunday’s reading is, “Keep Awake!”  The whole of chapter 13, including the parts not in the lectionary are all Jesus saying in many different ways for followers to keep awake, to pay attention, to be alert.  But what does that really mean?  That’s been debated for ages.  

In our first section, Jesus and the disciples just walked out of the temple.  The end of Chapter 12 has Jesus pointing out the injustice of the temple system as it was in practice by watching a widow put in her last coins, just about ensuring she would starve.  And it seems as though no one notices or cares.  Maybe it’s because the injustice is so pervasive and common?  Maybe it’s because they too busy paying attention to stuff that doesn’t matter like the disciples who care more about the size of the stones of the temple, rather than what’s actually taking place inside the temple.  

But Jesus wakes them up – “Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”  That must have been a shock to hear.  A wake-up call of sorts.  You see what the world thinks and sees as great, too big to fail, and having immense value is nothing when it’s based on cruelty, violence, and greed.  

Jesus not only foretells the destruction of the Temple, but also all the other things that will fall – all the things that we humans spend a whole lot of time paying attention to.  We’re impressed by certain personalities and people who seem to promise to save us, the church, the nation, the world.  But these aren’t saviors.  They are often con artists interested in their own enrichment and power.  There will be wars and fighting and the earth will quake and there will be famine.  Really, this could be a description of any time in human history.  Tell me a time when there hasn’t been a war going on, or people suffering?  

Jesus goes on to talk about the coming of the Son of Man – a majestic vision full of phrases that we mostly misunderstand.  But the statements make for great fodder for those intent on striking fear into people.  On the surface, it sounds like Jesus is going to come back and be really angry and will bring punishment and destruction.  But that’s not what he’s saying.  Too often we equate “great power and glory” with the idea of being able to bring great devastation upon an enemy with immense force.  But that’s not God’s way.  

Jesus talks about the lesson from the fig tree.  This relates to an earlier encounter with a fig tree on his way into Jerusalem.  The essence of this has to do with ripeness and paying attention to what is happening.  

And lastly, Jesus talks about the necessity for watchfulness.  There have been so many predictions about when Jesus will be coming back. And each one is wrong.  It’s as if each predictor ignores what Jesus says – that no one knows the day or the time.  Yet someone these people supposedly do?  No thanks, I’ll listen to Jesus.  

So what does it mean to keep awake?  Last week I preached on Jesus exposing the scam going on in the temple.  Keep awake means to pay attention to what’s going on.  See it for what it is, not for what you want it to be.  Too many fall for wishful thinking.  We see it in how they follow televangelists who are more interested in getting people’s money than in actually caring about those people.  We see it in people following politicians who stoke fears and anger against others while claiming that only they can protect their followers.  We see it scam business operations selling a dream of future fortune for people.  

Stay awake.  Be alert.  Pay attention.  Listen to what Jesus promises:  The empty and cruel things in life will crumble under their own weight.  There’s going to be conflict and people who try to mislead you.  He’s going to return in glory and power but not in the way most people understand those terms to mean.  That his words will not pass away. Keep awake.  

Notice what Jesus isn’t promising – that everything will be hunky dory.  That everything will turn out like a Hollywood movie with a happy ending and all the loose ends tied up nicely in a bow.  That he’ll come with great military might and power and reign vengeance on your enemies.  Nope.  None of that.  

It’s hard to see Jesus with our eyes close or if we are asleep.  We’re usually dreaming about a fantasy world rather than being in the real world.  It’s hard to see where Jesus is point us towards when we are asleep or distracted.  It’s hard to hear Jesus when we are paying attention to the constant noise around us.  

Keep awake.  That’s what he’s telling his followers to do.  Because it’s only when we are awake that we can see Jesus and then follow him and his way.  It’s when we are awake that we can hear his voice and listen.  It’s when we are awake that we can feel his presence. 

Keep Awake!

Questions for Reflection:

  • Take a moment and list all the distractions that you face each day.  All the voices that draw your attention.  All the things that are exhausting.  What do they have in common?
  • Why are we drawn to these things and people?  What do we hope to receive?  Is that hope well placed? 
  • How is Jesus calling us to keep awake? 
  • Lent is a time of self-reflecting and of removing things that get in the way of our relationship with God.  What needs to be removed so we can better see Jesus, listen to Jesus, and follow Jesus?

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