by Rev. Javier Olivares, West District Superintendent
Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. ~ Mark 13: 6-8
As I’m writing this Russia has already invaded Ukraine, the battle has begun to control the capital Kyiv and the rest of the world is watching, holding their breath. Our hearts go out for those in harm’s way, for the vulnerable in the battlefield, for women, children, the young, and men who did not ask for this war, nor whose voices are heeded.
When we read the scripture of the Gospel of Mark through the lens of the current war, the pandemic, and other natural disasters this scripture becomes more palpable, has a profound meaning to us and we could think that the end is near.
However, wars have been going on for centuries, natural disasters have succumbed the earth since creation (more now with climate change), and the end has not arrived yet. I remember growing up in the 90’s as a young pastor, Tim Lahaye’s “Left Behind” series was just published and it was believed in some circles that the end of times would be in the year 2000. Yet here we are. What is the end Jesus refers to?
In the referred Gospel of Mark, we hear about “wars and rumors of wars” and that the end has not come yet but is near. Jesus is answering a question of his disciples. This question derived from a remark of another disciple about the beauty and majesty of the temple. Jesus replies that not one stone will be in place, all will crumble. So, then Peter, James, John, and Andres ask Jesus in private, “tell us about when that destruction you’re referring to will happen?”
When the Gospel of Mark was written, the temple in Jerusalem was already destroyed. This context makes more sense to the readers since Mark also alludes to the persecution the disciples will suffer. In other words, the audience already knows the end…yet not all the end.
Pablo Manuel Ferrer is a New Testament Professor in Buenos Aires Argentina. He mentions that “the Gospel of Mark is written in a time of seeking new ways of being the church, of living or participating in institutions, or of being people. We are in that seeking path as well. A seeking which has to have life, peace, and justice as goals to build.”
Perhaps the passage in Mark 13 is not so much about the end of times but about how we build a new path out of the rubbles. When Jesus reveals to the disciple about the fragility of a building, he was talking perhaps also about the religious system, the institution, and he was opening the door to his disciples to be find new ways of being the church, of living into the institution with peace, life, and justice; of being the people they were called to be by Jesus. That invitation is current for us. The end of times is not about living in fear and terror but about the opportunity we have to live fully as disciples of Christ wherever we are. Whether it is in the smooth valleys of Prescott Valley or Chino Valley, or in the mountains of Mingus, Prescott, Cottonwood, Jerome, or Sedona; whether it is in the golden desert of Yuma, Winterhaven, Ajo, or Buckeye; or whether it is in the city of Phoenix, Glendale, or Avondale, whether it is in the vibrant elderly communities of Sun City and Sun City West or in the areas of Peoria or Surprise. We all have the invitation to seek new ways of being the church.
Micah D. Kiel, a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University shares in his commentary that
“Apocalyptic eschatology is essentially about God working on behalf of humanity, … It leaves God alarmingly free and open to the future. God is not limited by temporal questions, such as the one the disciples ask. The community is supposed to watch, stay fast, and endure. “
Is this the end of times? I don’t know. What I do know is that God is at work on behalf of us when we work as a community of faith, when we come together to support one another. The end of times is not to pack up your things and wait like the early Christians did when Jesus said he would return. The end of times is to be prepared, to watch, stay fast, endure, and be an agent of healing to this world full of wars, famines and natural calamities.
May it be so,