Mark 13:17

And alas for pregnant women, and for those who are nursing infants in those days!

how terrible
for birth
to be put
on hold

how terrible
for babes
to be put
on hold

how terrible
for breath
to be put
on hold


“Terrible” might better be translated as “Painful”. This makes it a double pain for pregnant women who face labor pains along with the pain of displacement. It may even be more than a double pain if someone is nursing more than one child at a time. These sorts of pains do not max out.

I found it interesting that at this point a guide to translators into different languages and cultures [Bratcher408] felt it necessary to warn about the terms, “pregnant” and “nursing”:

…there are always expressions for pregnancy in all languages. The trouble is that there are so many, some of which are regarded as vulgar, others as humorous, and still others as proper, though in this latter instance propriety may be dictated by whether a man or a woman is speaking.

[Nursing or] “Give suck” must be translated with care in order to avoid possible vulgar expressions and also so as to make certain that the words of Jesus are those which are fitting for a man to utter, since often distinctions are made between men’s and women’s speech at this point.

While this is couched in cultural terms it might carry with it a question of what it means that Good News is also scandalous news when it comes to challenging an entrenched control of yesterday and tradition over tomorrow and a new partnership. It is this conservative tendency that can keep religion from making needed changes in its own processes as well as engagement with a larger community.

The question here is, when does propriety becomes the enemy of Good News?

This is an intensifier as to troubles that are in the offing as consequences of decisions being made today. The “O Woe” that begins this verse reminds us of the plight of widows and orphaned children who become a focal point for the prophets of every age. Those with the least security seem to be the first to have even their little security taken from them. This is far more basic than an urban/rural dichotomy. This is bedrock meanness being lived out at women’s expense.

Mark 13:16

nor must one who is on their farm turn back to get their cloak.

when clouds mushroom
there is no time
to take shelter
and even if you did
the ravenous nothing
following on
would swallow you whole

there is no time
to put your pants on
one leg at a time
they’ll only be soiled anyway
we only have one another
not even one fig leaf
between here and eternity

The second specific response is for those in rural areas. Here, also, there is no time to gather extra provisions. In fact, those that have been brought out to the field are to be left behind.

Those from the city or the field are both going to be caught up in a need for immediacy—one of Mark’s oft used words. The sense of urgency is put on high alert.

To run to the hills is to come to a place of retreat deep inside wilderness. There is chaos in everyday life; there is chaos in wilderness. The place of healing/safety lies beyond these. Refuge and retreat are places where perspective can shift—like unto a heart change for baptism.

From this place of assurance and belovedness, we are then able to make our way back into the chaos of a natural wilderness and into the chaos of the unnatural wilderness of bullying (power over) others, whether religious, political, or military.

Whether from city work that takes place with a cloak on or field work that has removed the cloak, with one cloak or none, we are called from chaos all about to a stillness within where through clouds that strip our knowing from us we visit a dark night from whence will come a next beginning of Good News.

The disciples might be considered to have one cloak with which to be sent forth. Those in the crowd and additional followers can be seen as working toward having a cloak, but currently without one. Whether one is in the inner-circle, an outer-circle, or is a Reader outside the circle, just looking in, there is a wondering about why things can’t just be made better by having us be in charge.

Without an experience of being out-of-control and having a deeper-than-wilderness experience of meaning beyond tradition our power would soon degrade into power over others. We would claim an authority beyond our ability to be responsible.

Mark 13:15

and a person on the house-top must not go down, or go in to get anything out of their house:

hey you
watcher on the roof
it’s time
I’ll catch you

run run
there’s no time
to take anything
I’ll run with you

To emphasize the need for speed and running to the hills, to your garden, to a wilderness, Mark gives specifics.

The first is for those in the city. There is no leisure spot to be a couch potato. In the cool of the evening, when it is time to talk with your G*D Partner about the day just completed and prepare for a new day not bound by this one, there is no time to even say “Amen”. Anything not proactive is betrayal. We can’t laze our way into better.

This is not an appeal to run that you can live to fight another day. This returns us to Baptizer John. All the multitude from Jerusalem that left to find John in the wilderness bellowing about Isaiah’s “straightway” and baptizing changed hearts need to be joined by those of today who have finally focused on the disaster around them and need to get mobilized.

This is an echo of Abraham’s warning to Lot to flee the abomination that results in desolation when Neighb*rs are abused, when a Belovedness-creating G*D is replaced with anything that will serve us and avoid our having to serve or deacon in the world. Be diligent in your fleeing. There will be no time to catch a glimpse, over your shoulder, of what is already burning like the never-ending garbage in old Sodom’s Gehenna.


The “desecrating sacrilege” (see Daniel 11:31, 12:11) and Mark’s cryptic editorial comment (“let the reader understand”) in 13:14 refer to the final Roman siege of Jerusalem. In the tradition of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 21), Jesus calls for his followers to abandon the defense of the Temple-state as a lost cause. The conditions described in 13:15–18 certainly reflect the plight of wartime refugees.

Today, with the increase of refugees everywhere, we see the results of a quick flight. Travel with no change of clothes, with no extra provisions, takes us back to Jesus’ sending forth messengers two-by two. Before a healing is available, there needs to be an awareness of how dire the situation is—12 years bleeding, a daughter dying.

Mark 13:14

“As soon, however, as you see ‘the Foul Desecration’ standing where it ought not” (the reader must consider what this means) “then those of you who are in Judea must take refuge in the mountains;

ruled by disgust
we set up rules
about who is pure
who is most foul

eventually our disgust
of them and those
comes to the center
of a sin-sick soul

betrayed by our own heart
in its deep-heart’s core
drip drip dripping
our peace away

we leave a usual harbor
push through protective barriers
to stormy wildernesses
well past survival’s need

It is very easy to become affronted by everything. Everywhere we look we see disgusting and destructive acts. It is particularly galling when these seem to be done by choice, to be intentional. It is enough to make one run away. This can occur in any number of arenas—religion, addiction, politics, and even family dynamics.

Here a Reader is encouraged to analyze one key stimulus that will motivate them and focus them so they will not be so reactive that everything is seen as an equal challenge and they find themselves fatigued rather than engaged.

The reference in the first part of the verse is found in Daniel 11:31–32; 1 Maccabees 1:41, 48, 54, 60–61; and 2 Maccabees 6:3–6. If this were updated we could translate Antiochus into Hitler and understand the attempt at genocide that hits so hard with examples such as Auschwitz.

Sabin167–68downplays the apocalyptic:

The significance of the phrase is rhetorically highlighted by its placement at the center of Jesus’ discourse. The very centrality of “the desolating sacrilege” distinguishes Jesus’ discourse, I think, from any trace of “apocalyptic” eschatology because it makes the cause of human misery neither God’s wrath nor Satanic victory but the ordinary human lust for power….
     …. the linking of the present distress with the biblical images of recurring tribulation points to the other end of the cycle, which is one of hope. Jesus’ discourse in fact also concludes on a note of countering imagery.

Mark 13:13

and you will be hated by everyone because of me. Yet the person who endures to the end will be saved.

for goodness sake
your goodness
learned from others
only carries you
to the edge of suffering

past suffering
to a further shore
there is no being carried
as we are stripped
until alone we are
for goodness sake

Mark only uses the word ὑπομείνας (hupomeinas, “one who endures”) once but it is a key to the rest of the story that has a promise of suffering and death hovering over it. Will the beginning of Good News find that it really is a start or will it come to no good end?

“Will you endure with me?” is a continual question Jesus raises with both his partner disciples and his partner G*D. In response to this question there is running away and silence.

It is this sort of question that keeps the travails listed in this chapter from becoming mere apocalypse and opens the possibility of there being an eschatological significance to this journey to Jerusalem. It is through an endurance of trust that we find our way, not our relative moral superiority to another.

Wright180reminds us of endurance as a virtue, in and of itself.

Jesus told us we would need patience to hold on and see the thing through. We should not be surprised if we are called, through whatever circumstances, to practice that virtue—however unfashionable it may be in our hurried and anxious world.

This will echo Paul in Romans 5:2–4:

We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (CEB)

Endurance is a word well-suited to the kind of intentional wilderness wandering in which the Israelites and Jesus were tested. It is an essential element to allowing an involved detachment that comes at today’s problems from the perspective of tomorrow’s Good News. Endurance gives a way to measure how today’s disciples are doing.

As democratic processes around the world are being tested by varieties of fascism, this ancient virtue becomes critical to coming through another beginning—a beginning of a next darkening age.

Mark 13:12

Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; and children will turn against their parents, and cause them to be put to death;

no it’s not
as bad as it gets
a betrayal beyond belief
awaits in room 101

it is not
each turns in each
to be feared
as fearing our worst

in the end we rue
not being betrayed
such shows our trust
but o-o-oh our betrayal

Betrayals are realities in most times, not just Mark’s. This must be dealt with in real time and is also a narrative foreshadowing of the announced suffering and death that is still on its way.

Disciples not only want a preferred seat in projected glory days ahead; they also are the ones who, in large and small ways, betray

The “father” mentioned here will have connections to a later “daddy” who will be absent through silence and through inaction will have the effect of turning their child over to a death system.

Those who once held a parent’s finger in hope and trust will turn to point a finger at them. So it is with siblings, disciples, parents, and crowds of people who, having found a particular healing, have not found a way to heal the system in which they are immersed.

Alongside all the healings and hope of a Good News, Elizabeth Struthers Malbon in her chapter on “Narrative Criticism” in Anderson39stresses conflict:

Conflict is the key to the Markan plot. As Markan characterization does not depend on psychological development with the characters, so the plot does not turn on high suspense and complicated intrigue among the characters. The plot moves by conflicts between groups of characters, or rather, between God or Jesus and groups of characters. There are multiple conflicts, along several dimensions.

Conflict beyond their control is the reality that displaced persons of every generation face. How have such unwise sapiens continued? This is particularly pertinent in terms of the created order not mentioned here. Regional cultures have, time after time, betrayed and denuded their landscape to the point of it being uninhabitable. In an increasingly global world, this same behavior will have the effect of destroying the whole context of human life. The warning here returns us to ever-present questions of idolatry leading us so inward there ceases to be any other reality than an increasingly rigid ideology.

Mark 13:11

Whenever they betray you and hand you over for trial, do not be anxious beforehand as to what you will say, but say whatever is given you at the moment; for it will not be you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.

in the worst of times
opportunity is present

uncontrolled by circumstance
visions dance within our heart

revealing a falsity here
extolling a secret gift there

amid all truths
choose the larger

as long as ever you can
live from joyful mercy

It is time to dismiss the illusion of control. Those who trust their partnership with Grace (whatever model of which you prefer), are in no position to out-maneuver those who practice legalisms (no matter how falsely they are named).

You have been taken in by someone’s desire for power over their circumstance and you have been caught in their web. Trying to out-guess a plotter is always a reactive game. Their desperation brings a creativity that cannot be matched without also matching the fear that lies behind it.

When faced with your caughtness in a situation beyond your ability to manifest success, there comes a time when your attempts to be a change-agent have to be put down in the face of implacable care-less-ness. At such a time we are back at the foot of Transfiguration Mount where the only resolution will be through prayer or in anticipation of another Mount with a Garden on its slope where even prayer must give way to a prior commitment to a partnering with a Grace that sees and names and trusts Belovedness.

Although non-violent resistance has a better track-record for needed change than retaliatory violence, it comes with no guarantee of success, only a vision of a better tomorrow that must be lived today, regardless of its consequences in a world not ready for it. Mark’s community was experiencing their lack of control of circumstances. Wars and rumors of wars, re-occupation, loss of a Temple and a leader disrupted their daily lives. We face the same sorts of principalities and powers in our time.

Take part in all the political and resistance movements you can while knowing that these necessary but weak tools will betray our best intentions. We, too easily, are made in their image and unable to put them down. Reliance upon a longer vision offers a better way.

Mark 13:10

But the good news must first be proclaimed to every nation.

in season and out
nothing soothes
a wounded soul
like a larger

out of control or in
practice perfects
a smooth telling
raising hope
facing fear

paying attention or not
we wade
heart deep
in pictures
from tomorrow

In a time when the present is chaotic and any future for next generations appears worse than dismal, it is difficult to believe any redemption, much less resurrection, is available. Myers175 looks clearly at typical responses then and now:

…Sadness, awe, rage, fear, and a feeling of overwhelming powerlessness are the constant companions of thinking people.

     Because we so often find these negative feelings intolerable, we are constantly tempted to displace them with aggressive behavior toward an “enemy” who becomes the object of all our fear and rage. Or we turn our frustration inward in self-destructive behavior…. Or we respond to the complex and disturbing challenge of our world with panaceas, simplistic solutions that excuse us from deep or nuanced analysis. But the most dangerous temptation of all is not to look, to narrow our awareness, to enter into psychic numbness, to become passive and withdrawn.

     The pervasive habit of our culture is to take refuge in denial, to hide from the world in the “business as usual” of our private lives. We close our eyes to avoid facing the reality around us by surrounding ourselves with the mind-deadening escapes of modern society. Yet the gospel calls us to look at reality and to acknowledge our feelings of sadness and despair that surface when we feel the pain of the world.

To gaze upon suffering, death, and rising in what might be the silence at the end of Mark’s tale, leads us back to the beginning of his story—Good News spoken before it is Good News, announced in advance of our constructed systems hitting bottom, dissolving in a universal solvent, and rising no more but awaiting a better seed.

In this warning chapter, we are not to be surprised at how quickly and pervasively life can fall apart. In the face of the realities of an all-too-real intention by powers to sow confusion, foster hate, and revel in death-dealing we are to “Watch”, to be clear about more suffering than simply our own, and to “Witness” through a proclamation of “Good News” and “Belovedness” as a background to all else.

Mark 13:9

“See to yourselves! They will betray you to courts of law; and you will be taken to synagogues and beaten; and you will be brought up before governors and kings for my sake, so that you can bear witness before them.

watch out
suffering can take over
in the bat of an eyelash

seemingly stable families
will turn to individual advantage
catching you off-guard

there is no power
all hurt someone

when you are caught
be not surprised
behave based on something better

Mark is addressing two different times—that of Jesus and his own. This is one of those places where that is visible. Here the specific reference is to his own time as there is no report of these types of events taking place in Jesus’ time. Then it all focused on removing the leader. The disciples had not yet become problematic. In fact in Mark everyone has watched out for themselves and run away, gone underground.

It is in Mark’s own time that encouragement is needed  to deal with the double trauma of the death of Jesus and the fall of the Temple. There was also increased pressure on those who would not give up their understanding of this particular “son of adam” leading them toward the kind of fearlessness that comes when assured of being a beloved.

In Jesus’ time we will be dealing with the opportunities for witness that will come to the Disciples, Peter and the Women. The challenge to Mark and his readers is to not fail as the first followers did, but to carry the beginning of Jesus’ Good News to their generation.

There is a coming together of these two times in the opportunity to witness, testify, tell the truth. This can be translated in two different ways—witness to; witness against.

The followers of Jesus still have witnessing to do against the religious leaders of their time who thought getting rid of Jesus was all that was needed. This againstness can take the positive function of healing as well as telling more parabolic riddles the leaders can’t hear. In Mark’s time and now, again, the sense of being adversarial can be taken as a given and a witness to or before the political and religious leaders of the time is what is needed.

Mark 13:8

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This will be but the beginning of the birth-pangs.

the beginning of suffering
is not off
in some far distance
or just around the corner

the beginning of suffering
is already on
from a first change
to a previous breath

the beginning of suffering
ebbs flows
felt more deeply
subsumed under joy

the beginning of suffering
a lack of proof of anything
background radiation

Mark began with a reference to Creation, “the beginning”. His is a beginning of “Good News”—a report from the battle-front that the fighting is over.

This “beginning” goes back before various Words went out and day-by-day order was established where there was only roiling waters as “this” fought against every other “that”.

Reading multiple religious traditions finds evidence of beginnings and endings separating and merging. A sign can shift from a beginning to an ending and back again as we try to sort out what it is that means something and what is covering over what it means to live straightway.

All through what has become designated as a 13thchapter, we are hearing one attempt at continued awareness after another. The question of a sign has been raised by the disciples and Jesus is asking for a proactive awareness (Wisdom’s perennial work) over knee-jerk reactions that pull and push us into confusion (the Satan’s perennial work).

The anticipation of suffering, arrest, and death can be seen as the outcome of every proclamation of Good News. Likewise the anticipation of rising attends every sign of the end. Wisdom’s work is the sifting and sorting to see where we are on this rhythm of yin and yang.

The beginning of Good News is also a story of the beginning of Birth Pangs. These are the signs of a coin being flipped, of a reversal of a reversal. The idolatry of certainty is revealed as our attempts at consistency stumble, once again, against the life force of seeds growing even as we sleep. These signs of an end are, surprise!, the beginnings of a beginning we didn’t even know we were up to facing yet one more time.