Mark 13:31

The heavens and the earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

oh my goodness
my beautiful intention
delicious in foretaste

this good word
scatters belovedness
upon every thing

every where is here
reveling in revealing
it is good

this and that and all
vibrates in and out
here gone not gone

yet a good word
graciously gently
goes to a good night

to dream strongly enough
to smile in the dark
and so go well anew

This assertion that Jesus’ teaching/healing will not pass away or get lost in time—“my words will never stop being strong, dependable prophecy”— also has a positive presentation available—Jesus’ presence will have lasting validity, “my words will always have their power”.

Tracking words backward is nearly always an exercise in intersectionality. More and more connections get made and turn the dullest of comments into poetry. They also have the effect of calling into question such assertions as this one.

Taking the first word, οὐρανός (ouranos, “the vaulted expanse of the sky”), here translated as “heaven” we can begin to peek behind whatever may not fade away. Sky is the better translation and it still carries overtones of a three-story creation with the overarching firmament above us that is a boundary of what has been too easily named and too poorly defined—heaven.

Oὐρανός can be traced back to ὄρος (oros, raise or rear) as in mountain climbing or raising a young one. In the first place, to raise up, connects us with the rising Jesus talks about that comes after suffering and death. The temporalities of suffering and death find their lasting quality of rising, skying. There are suggestions here of elevating, as in pulling up a fish from below. Again, the task of disciples both every where and every when.

In the second place, to rear, we have the image of a bird rising, but that bird is grounded in what we call a hen or rooster. Hens are brood animals. In Matthew 23:37–39 Jesus calls himself a hen weeping over Jerusalem. Roosters announce a new day. It won’t be long before Mark has Jesus warn Peter about betrayal before a new day.

Mark 13:30

I tell you that even the present generation will not pass away, until all these things have taken place.

this generation
this creation
age upon age

yesterday choices
enforced today
block new vision

slough caught
leg weary
while struggling on

tomorrow’s seed
grows unseen
of prior restraints

The phrase “all these things” again leads to a question of its limits. What will the generation of Jesus see?

Of greatest import is whether it will only see the disappointment of systems harming people as well as one person harming another. Will it also see the cosmological disasters? Or will it also see a Jesus-bearing cloud reversing all labor pains into new life?

To this point we still have wars and rumors of wars and increasing global responses to the rape of its resources for a questionable value of increased profits for a few.

Undoubtedly there are numbers of people who have glimpsed a moment of resolution, but, as undoubtedly, no one has experienced the end of travail for all of creation.

This assurance that has not been borne out raises for some a question: Was verse 27 the original end of the apocalyptically-styled section? If it was, we are now in a commentary section upon the sequence from suffering at the hands of humans (vss. 14–23), to death in the midst of creation falling apart (vss. 24–25), and then rising with the coming of a cloud of glory (vss. 26–27).

Such a commentary would see a reversal of human harm through the reversal of a curse upon a fig tree (vs. 28). It would show the end of stars and moons to be a gateway to a new creation (vs. 29). The cloud of glory would expect to be present in the present (vs. 30).

The last time we heard this sort of assurance (9:1) it led to a time of Transfiguration, a confirmation of belovedness. Readers alert to Mark’s repetitions might well wonder what will be coming from this assurance. In that previous time the mountain-top experience was immediately followed by holding it as a secret and immediately going back to work when an attempt at curing doesn’t lead to a positive resolution. Will that pattern follow an anti-Transfiguration?

Mark 13:29

And so may you, as soon as you see these things happening, know that he is at your doors.

coming consequence
seen from afar

prediction is a strength
action based on it

an intention to control
pushing another’s buttons

plausible deniability
our causing effects

it won’t be long
our sowing

In its indefiniteness “these things” are a bit mysterious and cannot be pinned down.

Is Mark referring to signs of rising like sap rising in a fig tree? The cosmic travail of verses 24–27? The human disasters of verses 14–23? The sequence of suffering, death, and rising? Healings? Baptismal and Transfigurational Belovedness?

Bratcher419notes, “At the very gates may be quite meaningless in some languages, for it has no possible relationship to a temporal context.” This cultural reality requires translators to go beyond holding to a literal one-for-one basis for their work.

This door indicates that we are not dealing with a rigid apocalypse but an ironic reversal mocking it—becoming a source of good news. The resolution for our problems is not an ending, but a beginning. Our troubles are not to resolve themselves by coming to some final, horrible end. Rather, troubles are to begin seeing a wonderful, excellent, very good way of partnering with one another and all of creation.

All the images of shutting down eventually come around to their paradoxical other side. Stars fall and an old, old cloud rises to fertilize the land with rain. The dissolving of our old creation is the door through which a new creation arrives even as the water of baptism arrives as our heart is changed. The revelation of a changed presence can turn an unending plain into a mountain-top experience from which we return changed, able to engage in active prayer beyond directing G*D to do our bidding.

The Revised Common Lectionary has this section (13:24–37) as a reading for the First Sunday in Advent. It is time to recognize G*D’s Presence has not arrived. Clear troubles can clear our heart.

Mark 13:28

“Learn the lesson taught by the fig-tree. As soon as its branches are full of sap, and it is bursting into leaf, you know that summer is near.

seasonal trees
appear barren
some seasons
blossomed fruited
some seasons

a large clue
is given all
by attending both
joy of eating
satisfaction of planting

just when we thought
all had withered away
we turn to look
and find new life
in a tasty taste

All politics is local can be paralleled with all writing being local. The details of any locale are sometimes very difficult to describe in another setting. What might seem as an easy picture of “summer” is extremely difficult in large portions of the world where the major markers are not the length of day and thus of heat and cold, but are the tropical seasons of wet and dry.

This is part of the difficulty of translation. Even in temperate climes there are growing zones where a plant will or will not grow. Adding to the difficulty is the climate change that is currently going on where the zones are quickly changing. Who knows what will grow where anymore?

Regardless of what the particulars are, we can understand seasons and know that there are local markers of change. We are asked to apply our particular skill set(s) to the issue of change. Every employee knows different things than their employer does. They can see needed changes before the employer. Repair technicians could teach engineers a thing or two about whatever they are designing. Teachers could help politicians with the value of a lesson plan that builds toward something rather than piecemealing legislation.

When red-wing blackbirds show up or morels poke up or leaves turn color or a harvest shows itself—we know where we are. An unseen growth has been happening. It is time to attend to this season and begin preparing for the next while letting a previous season go, particularly the season before that. It is this movement of a moment into a next moment that will lead out of the chaos of darkness in which a north star has been lost.

The curse of a fig tree out of season, the travail of time out of joint, can now be seen as reversed. A broken Jerusalem can, again, have a flowing river of life. A rising of sap is a rising, nonetheless.

Mark 13:27

and then he will send the angels, and gather his people from the four winds, from one end of the world to the other.

G*D’s eyesight is shot
used to be G*D could see
a partner from a mile off

now a scene must be cleared
of riff and raff to see
what’s under G*D’s nose

what’s not shaken or blown away
must be what G*D’s looking for
an honest broker way off there

Mark has many translational problems. This verse is one of them.

Jesus has been talking about his rising for some time. This is the first time he has put forward that his disciples, his followers, will have their own rising. The condition here is their election or having been chosen. These qualifiers play against the way Jesus has participated in the first part of Mark—healing prodigally. Even those who would seem to be unchoosen or the unelect have their condition changed through their having been healed.

It is the second half of Mark that highlights the unchoosen—Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, Herodians, High Priests (but not all of them). This may be a later understanding important to Mark’s telling but of less import to Jesus accepting the consequences of his challenge of tradition and power.

The Greek speaks of “four winds”. Not every language has four winds or uses wind to speak directionally. Even for those who can use the idiom of winds to mean west, east, south, and north, there is something lost if it fails to bring to mind the travails being spoken of—people who are blown away from their place(s) of security, scattered to see what soil they’ll end up in.

The third difficulty has to do with the ends of earth and heaven. The word ἄκρον(akron, farthest bound, extreme) can be connected with a previous cosmology of a three-story universe—

It can be read horizontally, directionally, as from one end of earth to the opposite end of heaven. It has also been understood vertically from the lowest part of earth to the highest point of the sky.

The promise points to additional risings. The question for the reader is how universal that rising is, will all creation be “raised”?

Mark 13:26

Then will be seen the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory;

son of adam
son of Adam
Son of Adam
adam’s Image
whatever the orthography
a presence
is implied
without the aid
of earthquake wind or fire
to reveal
said presence
all of which
is easier
confused titles
dependent relationships
but simply eaarth child

It is in a cosmic darkness that adam’s Image has enough distraction removed that it becomes visible as the background of all else, as presence. Such presence reminds us of Brother Lawrence and his thin book, The Practice of the Presence of God.

It is this background presence that removes the apocalyptic sense from the traditionally apocalyptic words and images being used. This was tricky, dangerous business for Mark to try to pull off as it trusts that people will have ears to hear beyond the surface of his story. It is, though, in keeping with the way in which Jesus continues to be a mystery, an unrevealed secret, to his very disciples, even the Twelve.

Bratcher415, talks about the construction of this verse:

The occurrence of the ”pivot construction,” in which the Son of man serves as the object of one verb, namely, see, and as subject of another, namely, coming, may require two clauses, paratactically combined: ‘the people will see the Son of man; he will be coming in clouds…’ Strictly speaking, the object of the verb see is not merely the Son of man, but the entire following dependent clause the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory, for what is seen is not just a person, but the entire event.

Just as “Watch Out!” acted as a transition from that which we are currently experiencing to that which ups the ante to a creation-wide event, so “adam’s Image” returns us to a creative garden and prophetically advances us to a new garden, a new Jerusalem, a new eaarth (read Bill McKibben’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet).

Parables and apocalyptic language are both intended to riddle us into a new awareness. Koan-like language and images are present in the traditional tales and poetry of every religious tradition (see Rumi as an example). It is a familiar way to be opened beyond the fragility of denotation attempting to describe ineffable experience.

Mark 13:25

the stars will be falling from the heavens, and the forces that are in the heavens will be convulsed.

in a time
of reckoning delayed

guiding stars
will wander afar

guardian angels
lose their way

the oh so sturdy earth
fall apart center outward

so comes every innovative shift
bringing chaos in its wake

grieve now all future loss
every foundation shaken

mountaintops and green pastures
await such a next opening

The stars in our eyes will turn from a gleam to burning until only a socket is left. Our fondest dream will appear as nothing more than Ecclesiastes’ smoke. Such vanity is what we have lived and on which we have staked our lives.

Our firmest beliefs will shake in their surety until they fall apart, not even a component part will be worth its weight in anything.

Those we have trusted as mentors, as guides, will be seen as infants needing nurture instead of the breast of sustenance seeing us into independence.

One image after another will crash like wild waves over us, dashing us to pieces on sharp rocks. What was just the beginning of the labor pains has grown exponentially into tides of impossibility in any transition to any thing of value. We have to ask about this being a part of some larger Mercy that cuts all of this darkness short. Have we been deceived? Are we left alone?

To meditate will pay dividends, but nothing you can put in a bank or add to your resume as an honor. Any renewed promise we gather here will come as a mere wisp, if that. We will hesitate to name any meaning as more than momentary.

These images of the sky, of some upward direction of a heaven, bring us back to earth as simple clay. There is a remolding standing ahead that rips blinders from our eyes, spits in our eye, and leads to a slow blinking awareness of life around to be partnered with rather than to claim dominion over (whether animals of the field or G*D’s Wisdom). A tentative presence begins to waver into a view of wider wakefulness.

Mark 13:24

“In those days, after that time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give her light,

the darkness of depression
blocks strong brother sun
obscures gentle sister moon
puts a basket
over a little candle

the brilliance of ecstasy
outshines the largest sun
is crazier than any full moon
shapes everything
in its own image

a depressed ecstasy
rises to fail
fails to rise
settling into habit
addicted to everything

such is clear enough now
about past patterns
it will still take awhile
to repent today
to respect tomorrow

Here is the next deeper circle of Dante’s despair, after the all too usual sufferings at the hand of those seeking power over—an age of darkness questioning and denying every trust you have placed.

Creation will appear to walk backward. The outward expansion of what we know as Universe will seem as though it were collapsing back into a Small Whimper. We will be so distant from stars they will appear to go out. That which we had set our lives by will waver; there will be no more North.

There will be no sign flickering in the dark.

Readers would do well to come to grips with Swanson’s80attempt to see this part of Mark as a “true story”:

Perhaps Mark’s story comments, with bitter irony, on the likelihood that lost and scattered Israel will ever come home. If so, a storyteller would do well to figure out how this bitter irony shapes the rest of Mark’s story, and then apply these discoveries to playing this scene.

To “play this scene” is to allow it to shape our actions and reactions to our what we find or don’t find in our everyday experience, which, holographically, is creation writ small.

When our personal dark night is found to be one shard of many lying all about, none of which can encourage another to “Watch Out!”, it is as though the sun blinked out before our expectation of its doing so. This is more than a facing of the unsurprising troubles of an abuse of power taking the little the poor have from them (under the guise of helping them become responsible) or one genocide or another on any of the continents in any year.

Mark 13:23

But see that you are on your guard! I have told you all this beforehand.

watch out
with a relaxed gaze
watch in
appreciative wonder

watch out
for deliberate harm
watch in
determined resistance

watch out
for trickster coyote
watch in
irony and laughter

watch out
danger abides
watch in
assurance of abundance

“Watch out” has a future cast about it. This is not simply an old saw, “take care of today and tomorrow will take care of itself.” It is asking us to attend to consequences as much as we do causes. Without attending to consequences we don’t know how to take care of today.

And around we go, again.

Ahead of time, Jesus has told of his suffering, death, and rising. Ahead of time, each of us can anticipate suffering, death, and rising. No matter what partnerships we have made, how many resources we have available to ourselves, how attentive we are to today and tomorrow, or what goals and intentions we still hold to, there is no escaping suffering, death. Rising continues to be a trust issue.

While most of the focus of this form of “Watch Out!” is oriented toward what is yet to come, it also acts as transition point between the tribulations that are human caused and those that would affect our understanding of creation and lead to a change of heart. What we have been dealing with are matters of survival in the body and in the community. Yet to come are those shakings of a framework not limited to personal and communal breathing.

To review Jesus’ response to a request for signs and times of an end, between “Watch out you don’t fall for lies” (verse 5) and “Watch out!” (this verse)—every question about signs and times is a false question that only gives rise to saying more than can be known. Standard understandings of the frailty and fallibility of all things are always in order. Don’t presume, in any easy moment, that all unexpected consequences have been vanquished. This little inclusio began with a warning against deception and ends with a statement that claims of false leaders (Christs and Prophets) are and will be present.

The test of this and every signless wilderness will be a persistence to go deeper into it and finally know its shallowness.

Mark 13:22

for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and display signs and marvels, to lead astray, were it possible, even God’s people.

for every prophet
later known
for a larger truth
than their present
could fathom

a wanna-be prophet
known in the moment
for common sense
everyone knows and fears
eventually decays

no one can wait
long enough
to tell them apart
no one can tell
one wonder from another

decisions will be made
without sufficient data
about the best available
is to over rely on
a mystery of mercy

Should “Christ” be capitalized or not in this verse? There seems to be no standard notation. It may depend on how sacred you hold “Christ” to be.

The Greek ψευδόχριστος (pseudochristos, false-christ) would tend toward a lower case translation. It seems rather fragile of his followers if Jesus is the only one who can be a designated capital “C” Christ. As a title or category, if you lose the capital, you lose the weight of how important it is to know just what is being presented. A false christ should be fairly easy to detect. The warning here is that it is not so easy to tell the marks of a Messiah. A false Christ will deceive well.

A question goes back to a previous scene when the disciples are upset that someone is healing in Jesus’ name without having paid their graduation fee to the disciple’s nonprofit foundation.

If a false Christ is doing good, do we let slide their claim of Christness? If they are false, at what point does that make a difference? Is this a theological purity trick question? Does it make a difference that this is said by Jesus instead of his disciples? Which leaves us with the question of whether this is a statement that Jesus might have believably said?

The Jesus Seminar has designated the previous verse as gray—likely something Jesus never said, but that it sounds like something he might have said. This verse and the next, according to that same Seminar, is from some other or later tradition and so it is designated a black verse. Their sense is that Jesus rejects this sort of speculation in Luke 17:20–21 and Thomas 113:2–4 and they regard that as more characteristic of Jesus than Mark’s reporting here.