Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

by Bear Wade

Build-ings
Mark 13:1-8
23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28)
Analysis by Bruce T. Martin

13:1 As he (Jesus) came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left there upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4″Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”


DIAGNOSIS: THROWN DOWN

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Falling Down
In an age when nuclear scientists are determining the eventual decay of even the smallest particles, Jesus’ observation that buildings, even the greatest of them, will one day be destroyed, seems a tad simplistic. Nonetheless, it is true. Whether Jesus is referring to tomorrow or the eschatological future makes no difference here! The fact of our eventual decay remains, and it is intractable. No human endeavor will remain standing. Neither the temple nor the World Trade Center, nor any best effort by humankind (including our theologies) will remain. They will all fall down. It’s just a fact. The question is, What does this fact tell us about our relationship to God, the Creator?

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Led Astray
Jesus, however, is not speaking merely of the temple or of human endeavors. For Jesus is concerned, ultimately, not with buildings but with people. He is speaking of God’s judgment, now or later, as a “warning” against all who would be “led astray” (v. 5). That is, he is speaking against those of us (meaning all of us) who place our confidence in human endeavors. We are led astray, Jesus explains, by ourselves and by those among us who pretend to be greater than we really are, who proclaim “I am he!” Because we all mislead ourselves, trusting in our selves exclusively (individually and collectively), we will fall down like stones “one upon the other” (v. 2). All because we cannot-will not-see beyond death’s looming abyss.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Accomplished
Whether God’s judgment upon us is “accomplished” (v. 4) today or tomorrow or in the eschatological future makes no difference. The eschatological future of God will come upon us at some point, and all human endeavors arising from our misplaced self-confidence will reap the finality of decay and death. From DEATH-yes, even from GOD-there is no reprieve, for in fact we who are so self-assured do not want a reprieve; we believe that we can overcome even God. The principal evidence for this is that we (that is, all of us) crucified the very one who proclaimed this judgment and its alternative, and consequently denied God’s kingship. And for that, we shall surely die.

PROGNOSIS: BUILT UP

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – The Builder
True, all of our buildings and endeavors, that is, ourselves, are plunging headlong into death’s abyss. All because we would rather trust in ourselves than in God. But God, who mercifully raised the crucified Jesus from the dead, has elected otherwise! Our standing before God is now as written in Mark 12:10-11 (the presupposition for our text), “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone [or “keystone”]; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.” In Christ, God has done what we could not do for ourselves: God has taken the finality out of death, so that we can be free to trust in God despite the looming abyss. The very one whom we crucified, it turns out, still loves us! We did our worst to God, yet God gave his best to us. In Christ (but only in Christ), God gives us a good look at what life is like “beyond death.”

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Faith
That look at life, beyond death’s abyss, is called “faith.” We are all called to that life; but without Christ such a thing remains well beyond us. The Good News now is that the fear of death evaporates in the bright sunshine of Jesus’ resurrection. Now, for those who place their future in the hands of Jesus, death has lost its finality. You are freed from the bonds of fear and the finality of death; therefore you are truly free!

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Build-ings
Free for what? To build! But “to build” in such a way that we are not committed to the building or our build-ings per se (which as we saw in Step 1 will end in destruction) but committed to the Creator. Such commitment has been termed, with Christ as its source, “faith active in love” (see Gal. 5:6). No longer are we “led astray” by fear; instead, the living Christ himself whom we trust leads us. Even though we have every expectation of following him in a death like his, we shall certainly also follow him in a resurrection like his (see I Cor. 15)! And when we use the phrase, “building up the kingdom of God,” we are not fooled into speaking of any churchly building or any human endeavor regardless of how glorious, but of a singular trust that-whatever death may bring to us-in God the abyss is not final. For God alone will have the final Word.

Author

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