“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.’” (Mark 13:1-2, NRSV)
What do you do when your world comes crashing down around you? If you’re like most people, you grieve your losses, then pick up the pieces and begin rebuilding your life. But what if the calamity is relentless and comes in stages? About the time you think you’re back on track, another catastrophe strikes, and you’re back at square one, sorting through the mess and rallying your strength to start the process of rebuilding all over again.
When Mark wrote his gospel around 75 CE, Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension were 40 years in the rear-view mirror. Although the Jewish Christians of that time anticipated Jesus’ imminent return, his delay in coming coupled with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE resulted in people losing hope and falling into despair. In addition to the destruction of the temple, life for Jesus’ followers was getting harder by the day as conspiracies against them took root and persecutions were widespread.
Mark reminded his readers in the passage above that Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple. In some verses following these, Jesus also foretold how the temple’s collapse was the first in a series of challenging events for those who followed him. The first-century Christians signed up for the abundant life Jesus promised in the Kingdom of God; however, they forgot about the cost they would pay for that Kingdom to come to fulfillment. It was their failure to remember that was causing hopelessness and despair.
I’m not so naïve as to believe that we should be happy about it when trouble comes. I don’t think that is the lesson Jesus was teaching. I can’t imagine facing difficult circumstances where people tell lies about us without being disheartened and feeling some sense of betrayal. However, I do believe Jesus was saying when persecution comes, don’t be surprised. Human nature is such that we fall prey to making devils out of those with whom we disagree in frightening and uncertain times. If we can make someone a devil, we have no problem attacking them. So, when someone tries to make a devil out of you, look for where Jesus is still at work around you and join in with him in whatever he’s doing.
For those first-century followers of Jesus who were awaiting his return, they missed seeing where he was already present, and so their despair was unfounded. Jesus is coming to redeem this world, but he’s already here if we’re willing to look for him with our eyes of faith and not with our eyes of fear. When we can see Jesus, we can thrive, even in turbulent times.
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:13b, NRSV)