Jesus and the disciples are leaving Jerusalem after a long day of teaching in the Temple, when one of the disciples gushes about how awesome the stones and buildings are. Jesus says they’ll all be demolished soon enough. When they get back to the Mount of Olives, the disciples start asking when that’s going to happen. What sign should they look for?
Jesus responds with promises of deception and destruction, persecution, beatings, and death. And then things will get really bad, with stars falling from the sky. But then the Human One will appear in splendor and all of God’s people will be gathered into everlasting glory! None of the disciples works up the nerve to ask, “Teacher, couldn’t we just skip all the pain and darkness and go straight to the glory?” That may be their greatest display of restraint in all of Mark’s Gospel.
Then Jesus says, “Learn this parable from the fig tree.” What fig tree? The one Jesus cursed the day before because it didn’t have any figs? What did he expect in springtime? But that tree was withered and dead when they passed it this morning. Now he claims that was all a parable about the foolishness of not recognizing the time. Tell it to the tree! When things get bad, he says, that’s not the sign of the end—only when things get horrible. Only then can we tell each other, “He’s standing just off stage, behind that door, ready to make his big entrance.”
Jesus, we often get caught up in looking for signs that your coming is near. Some see hope in earthquakes, floods, and wars, as if they could force you to make a glorious re-entrance to our world. Keep us mindful that you are with us always, to the end of the world and beyond. Amen.
The readings from the Hebrew scriptures have a common theme: The people have sinned and turned away from God, and now they cry out for God to forgive them. Even though they have created the separation from God, the authors are confident that God will restore them. These images of longing for God are appropriate as we begin the season of Advent, and the expressions of thankfulness coincide with the celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States. Paul opens First Corinthians with thanksgiving for the Christians in Corinth. They have been richly blessed by God (although the rest of the letter shows that they, like us, are far from perfect). Again this week, the Gospel reading refers to the return of Christ, a day known only to God.
Read Isaiah 64:1-9. When have you treated God as a vending machine and held a grudge against God? What restored your faith or changed your perspective?
Read Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19. When have you been frustrated by others’ praises of God’s blessings? When have you cried out to God, “Restore us”?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:3-9. How do you ignore your spiritual gifts? What might your faith community look like if everyone employed their spiritual gifts?
Read Mark 13:24-37. What is your job in the household of God? How do you stay alert?
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