Proper 28

November 19, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 4: 
Mark 13:1-8 (21-31)
By Patricia Farmer

Continuing in Mark, we come across the "Little Apocalypse" (Mark 13:1-8) which I would just as soon avoid; however, like everyone else I am attracted to weird things, like the future being full of earthquakes, famines, birthpangs--and reading on past the lection text--darkened sun, stars falling from the sky. It's a virtual National Enquirer Magazine cover! But once the sensational effect is over, I realize that this text means business. There is something here, even for process people, something extremely significant. I would encapsulate the theme as: Hope that is confident but not naïve.

The Text
A hope that is confident but not naïve is best captured in the phrase from the NIV: birth pangs (vs. 8), a common biblical metaphor for suffering that leads to something new (see Is. 13: 8, 26:17; 66:8; Jer. 4:31, 6:24 13:21 22:23; 9:22; 50:43; Hos. 13:13; Mic. 4:9-10). To see sufferings as the beginning of birth pangs does give the realistic view of things, yet, not one of complete despair. Either course would be tragic: seeing the world through rose colored glasses OR seeing the realities of evil and injustice and environmental disaster and just throw up our hands in complete despair. This text reminds us that to follow Jesus is going to be hard. But it will be meaningful, that is, it will lead to something better, if we follow God's lure.

I am intrigued by the suggestion of Daniel L. Miglior in "The 'Theology of Hope' in Perspective" who asserts that the biblical understanding of God is not as a timeless absolute who stands above or beyond history but as a promising power who keeps history on the move toward new horizons. Simply, the biblical God is experiences as the one who shatters the old and commences the new; the one who "creates ever fresh openings for the building of a genuine human community of righteousness and love." In this way, such images we see here in Mark remind us of this ongoing process of God's transformation of evil, or in Whitehead's terminology, "tragic beauty."

We must avoid any deterministic ideas that many of our folks may have in mind here, and realize that just as Jesus did not answer the Disciple's question in any specifics, so we cannot know exactly how things will unfold. However, we do know that suffering is an inevitable part of life, and if we want God to reign we must be willing to go through the suffering rather than avoid it or giving in to it's despair. This thought of a hope that is confident but naïve means we have to go through the suffering to get to the other side. Look at Nelson Mandela, whose years of imprisonment gave birth to his ascendancy to the presidency and a new day for South Africa. The ultimate example of course is part of what Jesus was trying to tell his disciples-Jesus himself, would have to walk the path of suffering in order for God to be birthed into the world.

This notion of watchfulness rather than apathy and avoidance of suffering also remind me of the Buddhist's mindfulness meditation. Here we are offered similar advice (on a less eschatological level.) Sit with the suffering--not avoiding it, on the one hand, and not being swept away by it, on the other. And through this compassionate awareness of our suffering--which neither denies nor succumbs--comes new life, new insights. Our time of trial and great suffering is like the crest of wave. It will not last forever.

When life seems to be coming apart at the seems (as the scenes Jesus describes) it helps to remember that our time of trial and great suffering is like the crest of wave. It will not last forever. God is forever birthing new life out of suffering and will sweep up the wreckage to create new life. This is a hope that is confident but not naïve.