Mark 13:5

Then Jesus began, “See that no one leads you astray.

there will be many opportunities
to become deceived
this sign or that
will be touted
as a last coffin nail
for one argument or

the difficult work
is to not limit
where deception is attempted
your task is to learn
a gentle

deception flows
from self-deception
unto a world view
in univalent signs
creative ambiguity

The first non-apocalyptic response is a warning that going down the line of being warned about a final line that, if crossed, will, at long last, trip me up, do me in, is a losing question.

Simply approaching such a line from decades away is no different than if we were already strides past a point of no-return.

Our predilection is to play out every pyramid scheme we have ever met. Putting more and more resources into a dwindling base is never a viable solution.

It is almost that we like being fooled. Scary movies or the latest political huckster both play off our thrill of living on the edge of disaster.

To hear a warning to not be deceived is to build a barrier against anything other than deception. E.E. Cummings put it well in his play, Santa Claus: A Morality:

Who can tell truth from falsehood any more?
I say it, and you feel it in your hearts:
no man or woman on this big small earth.
How should our sages miss the mark of life,
and our most skillful players lose the game?
your hearts will tell you, as my heart has told me:
because all know, and no one understands.

The disciples want to know about some mythologic tomorrow without understanding that tomorrow is very much an outgrowth of today. At stake is not avoiding suffering and death but having a resurrection in the present through changed hearts that trust good news to be truer than the most attractive and believable lie.

Mark 13:4

“Tell us when this will be, and what will be the sign when all this is drawing to its close.”

oh so curious are we
looking for every edge
a millisecond per trade
a reliable foretelling
to keep from being caught

unready for an earthquake
a lightening strike
volcanic eruption
another’s anger
a next addiction
a false equivalency

it is in our best interest
to get an insider word
giving advantage
over our competitors
lest we be one step late
crushed beyond recognizability

When will things fall apart?

This question has haunted people forever. Each generation complains about the next.

In some ways this question about destruction is also a question about when new life will break through. Will what we are doing now bear good fruit seven generations down the line?

To ask when Temple walls will fall apart is to ask about when a Temple not made with hands will appear. It is quite problematic to ask about a Temple of any sort for inherent in a Temple is an understanding that there are things or people who are not Temple worthy, regardless of whether the Temple is tangible or not.

There is a sense in which we can see the result of the “progress trap” we have set for ourselves—how we push past all limits until that which sustains is used up. This is an original sin through sociological and anthropological lenses. In the long run, we don’t seem to be able to help ourselves. A small book is helpful here, A Short History of Progress, by Ronald Wright.

Asking for a sign is an apocalyptic question. Many apocalyptic responses have come and gone over the generations. Every interpretation has come up short. The basic question seems to be about what life will be like after we’ve eaten our seed corn or so wrenched communal life from the common so only the rich have resources and are able to suck another day’s existence out of the poor. Always the drama is writ large, the consequences worse than dire—terroristic and cannibalistic.

An apocalypse is an easy way to try to scare ourselves into responsible living and each time the easy way fails to change our heart.

Mark 13:3

When Jesus had sat down on the Mount of Olives, facing the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew questioned him privately,

sitting across from
collection boxes
temple walls
market stalls
kitchen tables
legislative halls

shifts private to public
Peter loses his keys
James and John
lose locks on prestige
Andrew’s and other’s
sugarplums dissolve

such implacability
stares them down
walls thicker than thick
higher than high
trained horses ridden
sharp spears waved

what have we been thinking
fantasies become just that
talk of brave suffering
just talk
it’s finally sinking in
we’re sinking

Having been in the Temple and dealt with tests from all the major religious groupings, it is time to back off and reflect on what has been experienced.

Mark shifts his use of εἰς from indicating motion to now indicating a having come to rest. It is time to take stock. They may be at the top of the Mount in a place now named Dominus Flevit (meaning “The Lord Wept” as in Luke 19:41–44). They may be at the bottom of the Mount scouting for a later visit to The Garden of Gethsemane. Wherever they are, this is probably a place Jesus went to for wilderness outside the gates of Jerusalem. Here it was always time to pause and reflect.

It is worth doing our own pausing and reflecting about the presence of Andrew with the inner circle of Peter, James, and John.

If we use the shorthand of metonymy, Andrew stands for all the rest of the disciples. In current discipleship language, this is the priesthood of all believers where each is a marker for all. This partnership of leadership asks each to bear responsibility for the others. It is a loving of one another (John 15:12). This is a larger group alone with Jesus than just four. It is also a group that includes the Readers of Mark.

We are gathered around to hear what we expect to be a continuation of moving toward an end game where we cause a coup. It will be easy to slip into the gruesome imagery of the apocalyptic, but important to keep bringing ourselves back to the more realistic picture of simple eschatology that sits ready just beyond our current reach.

Mark 13:2

“Do you see these great buildings?” asked Jesus. “Not a single stone will be left here on another, which will not be thrown down.”

put on
demythologizing glasses
to correct
grandiose astigmatism
so enthralled
illusion of control

no one thing
built on another
but falls together
black holed
all disconnected and
together again

rock by rock
solidity illusion
season by season
process illusion
image by image
illusion illusion

in this
in all
what comes
goes around
in all
in nothing

This dramatic projection of the result of the arc of oppression and resistance allows us opportunity to reflect back to the conspicuous privilege of the scribes (including the priests and Herodians) as ghosts haunting a demolished temple. We can also appreciate that not even loyal givers of all they have will protect the memorials of all they hold dear.

These stones that have been built up will be broken down. So it has ever been. What erosion doesn’t get, repurposing will. Their purpose will be stolen away.

One way to try to get our head around what seems to be a natural effect of time is to look for another framework. Sabin156returns to 2 Samuel 7 and the transition from Ark to Temple:

When God finally gives in and promises that David’s son, whose house God will establish, will “build a house for my name,” there is still the overriding implication that God remains in charge: God is agreeing to a structure that will honor his name but not to one that restricts his freedom. The biblical writer thus leaves open the door to the prophetic metaphor that God abandons the Temple when it no longer honors him.

In keeping with the tradition of the prophets and the lack of knowing what tone of voice is being used here, we might listen to this response with a sense of sadness rather than anger.

It could be argued that Chapter 12 should be extended to this point as a finale to the result of religious leaders more enraptured by their own position than the honoring of G*D in their Neghb*r. This is an issue not only for Jesus but for Mark’s time when the Temple actually was broken apart. How are they to understand this loss?

A Return

Hopefully the pause just taken was fruitful enough.

One outcome was the development of a draft of a paraphrase of Mark. I’m willing to send a PDF of this draft to anyone who is willing to give some feedback on it. As in any draft I have already found both errors and things I would now phrase differently. Additional eyes would catch more such as well as react to the format.

If this might have your name on it, write to me at

Mark 13:1

As Jesus was walking out of the Temple Courts, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look what fine stones and buildings these are!”

everything you’re doing

around at this present glory

for an eschatological hosanna

your weary ethical judgment

for some distant white knight

you are already at your goal

It is difficult to imagine a larger leap to irrelevancy than this shift from honoring an unnamed widow, as poor as a widow might be, to stunned awe by an organized pile of stones, no matter how large and beautifully arranged.

It is a particularly insensitive disciple who will turn their back on one pointed out as worth further attending to for either a religious idol indicted for treating its poor with a calloused disregard for the wounds it caused or a model of honorable participation in a system of sacrifice they have bought into.

By this time Readers have found some of their footing and know that the title “Teacher” is going to lead to a teaching moment, a catechetical opportunity. This means it is time for a pre-test.

Question 1: What do you expect is a next scene? Indicate what you believe will be the outcome of a widow having given her all. Is it a quick move toward death? Will she run into a prosperity preacher and find an unimaginable fortune as a result of her contribution?

Question 2: Which disciple is most likely to provide this distractive question or is this a reminder that each of them is capable of missing the point? Might it be Peter with stars in his eyes again? How about James and John still fixated on prestigious positions within this glorious edifice? Are we suspicious of a former tax collector who can assess a building’s worth? Might it be a practice run by Judas, at sowing chaos, causing Jesus to pause on his travels? Could it be the Reader?

Questions 3: Who knew a next question-trap would come via a disciple after running a gauntlet of Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees? Who’s left…the Chief Priests, State Officials, Crowd, the Possessed, one’s S*lf?

A Pause

Thank you for reading here.

I am taking 11 days off from this part of my Mark project. I have been offered an opportunity to present a narrative approach to reading the Bible, using Mark as a focal point. To prepare for this I need to finish a draft of a companion piece—a paraphrase of Mark based on my last reading of Mark. This time will also coincide with participation in a multi-day, denominational annual meeting.

As every reading also entails a concurrent re-writing of the material read, if only in one’s head, this paraphrase is an intriguing task. I will be using a variant of sense-lines (phrase lines) instead of a prose format. A larger explanation of sense-lines can be found in this out-of-print book (use your library) by James A. Kleist—The Memoirs of St. Peter or The Gospel According to St. Mark, Translated into English Sense-Lines.

I would appreciate your thought/prayers/comments/suggestions about this paraphrase over the next week plus, as well as general preparation work for a 6-session, participative exploration of Mark.

The current plan is return with verse-by-verse comments on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. With some luck these comments on Mark will conclude before the end of this calendar year.

The initial blurb about this adult group:

READING AND BEING READ BY MARK’S EXCELLENT, VERY GOOD NEWS will use the Gospel of Mark to teach you how to read the Bible narratively–that is, how to place yourself into the stories of Jesus to experience them in a whole new way. 6 sessions. Meets Mondays at 6:00p, beginning June 26, downstairs in the Youth Room at Onalaska United Methodist Church.

Mark 12:44

for everyone else put in something from what he had to spare, while she, in her need, put in all she had – everything that she had to live on.”

assurance as disequilibrium
turns us upside down
as stomachs turn inside out
hearing they’ve backed the wrong horse

we so desire to be assured
our present perks will extend
and precede us into every future
we’ll fudge every transaction

I assure you every assurance
relied upon until now
will suffer and die on their way
to a larger appreciation of smaller

Bratcher395 reports this verse has been translated for the Chontal of Tabasco to include these phrases:

…they gave money which they didn’t need.

…all she had; this was her food.

Some, like Myers165, see this as a critique:

Ever class-conscious, Mark emphasizes the contrast between the large contributions placed in the till by the rich and the meager sums by the poor. Infuriated by a widow who has been made destitute by her tithing obligation, Jesus summons his disciples for another solemn teaching.
…The Temple, like the scribal class, no longer protects the poor, but crushes them. His attack on the political economy of the Temple and its stewards complete, Jesus exits the Temple ground for the last time in disgust.

This perspective is consistent with the description of Jesus as both compassionate and angry regarding those he encountered as a healer, but might better be read as an assured avowal of the commitment that will be required for Jesus as he proceeds toward suffering and death, the commitment that will be required for the disciples after they experience a Jesus risen from suffering and death, and the commitment that will be required for a Reader to have been read by Mark and proceed to live this story into their own life.

Sabin1102, remembers Jeremiah “equating oppression of widows with idolatry” and Malachi placing the oppression of widows alongside “adultery and false oaths”:

…to the prophets, true worship is never a matter of prayer alone but always includes the practical matter of how one uses money. The contrast between the greedy scribes and the generous widow is thus, first of all, a contrast in true worship.

Mark 12:43

Then, calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you that this poor widow has put in more than all the others who were putting money into the chests;

the measurement of more
loses precisement
as justifications for more
increase exponentially

one small gift is as nothing
among all gifts
the clink of coins goes unheard
within hush money

all sense of proportionality
flies away
when part becomes most
without jubilation

The disciples were called to attend to what was under their nose, but not being noticed. This is still a key role of any teacher.

By now the Reader is catching on to the “Assurance” Jesus gives as part of his teaching. This “Amen” or “Truly, I say” comes into our distracted thinking that gets caught up with measuring the surface of life (the sheer quantity of money over its representation of our decisions about life’s meaning).

It is within a sense of assurance that we are able to remember in every time of life the importance of the Two Commandments to love life partnered with G*D with our whole being and that love is intimately connected with our Neighb*rs.

To give all, down to our last two coins thinned by our treasuring them, rubbing them together as we decide where to invest them, is a giving of all. This external representation of our life’s continuation in whatever economic system our community participates in prepares us to also invest our treasure of breath and blood.

Whatever level of property we have, there is never an ease with which we give it. A rich man has previously lost his appetite for eternity when it meant losing a perk within the present. This poor woman stands with the woman who’s blood had flowed away for 12 years—the present circumstances involve risk that is easier seen and entered when choices have narrowed to one: change or not.

A Reader can see a widow giving two little coins or her whole livelihood. This is a meaningful difference in participation in the flow of life. It is to appreciate the connection of Love and Justice and find a Mercy connection between them. To know there is a choice here alerts that Reader to look for similar choices in other arenas of life. Be assured, this scene will reappear in Mark and the Reader’s own life.

Mark 12:42

but one poor widow came and put in two small coins, worth very little.

little children and old women
lead on a way

two half-pennies or even four
are foundational

both a way and a foundation
can be over-shadowed

religious leaders and rich men
set their limits

it is important to define real money
as power over

otherwise excess won’t be seen
going in circles

This verse has two words related to money, one speaks of the copper lepton (Greek) and its equivalent kodrantēs (Latin) for those not familiar with the Greek. Waetjen13 notes the Latin indicates this and other Latinisms, “reflect a context of Roman-occupied territory and not the sociocultural milieu of Rome.” This, in turn, assists in understanding the location of the audience Mark was communicating with.

Of more import is the challenge set between rich and poor, privileged and disadvantaged. On one side money equates to speech and on the other the little they have doesn’t add up to being able to slide one word into any decision-making. When one can’t even begin to get their two-cents in, they become a nobody that can be slapped around, even killed, of absolutely no consequence.

This verse works in conjunction with its set-up to have this be a final word before tracking down the destruction of both the Temple and Jesus. Just two verses earlier (12:40) we heard about cheating widows out of their homes—placing them in the position to not have two of the least of coins to rub together.

We are also reminded of an earlier saying (4:25) that speaks of karma for those who don’t have—they will find that little taken away.

The judgment is that those scribes who act to call Corban (7:11) and take advantage of laws regarding widow’s property for their own benefit have demonstrated that they are impoverished in their spirit. And we remember the kicker that holds this together as a theme in Mark—“What benefit is there to gain worldly riches and lose a deeper life in a beloved community?” (8:36).

All of this leads us to remember changed hearts and lives (1:15).