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.

Mark 13:7

“And, when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; such things must occur; but the end is not yet.

the harm done
by rumors of war
is no less
than war itself

both trap souls
in fear of fear
erasing any memory
of original partnership

disappointment in others
surfaces my
desire for revenge
upon all who disappoint

until war comes full circle
to do in myself
and a next war
is seeded

How unapocalyptic.

If we can’t count on wars and the sound of wars to be a sign of a final war to end all wars, we also won’t be able to use any old earthquake, volcanic explosion, tornado, cyclone, hurricane, typhoon to make the case that things are any more dire than they have been. We won’t even be able to use a doomsday clock or climate change to bolster our claim to the ultimate disaster.

If there is no penultimate sign either the world will go whimpering on without us or we’ll all be surprised at the same time when the curtain has dropped and doesn’t go back up.

We all know the bumper sticker, “Things Happen”. What we are wrestling with here is the even worser time when “Nothing Happens”.

It is very easy to sense a danger behind every blessing. Therefore the work of every angelic messenger (as well as yours as an earthly messenger) is to begin every message with those famous words, “Be not afraid”. Today we might say “Stay Calm and Carry On”.

It is helpful to cast our mind back to Mark’s time. The Jewish revolt against Rome failed. To protect yourself it was wise to turn someone else in. The Temple finally fell. There were wandering Messiahs, each claiming to be the real deal—more Messiahs than The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

How is a community to stay together when their usual world has fallen apart? How does a community continue in the face of competing authorities each with a claim on their raison d’être?

Within the context of swirling meanings and nothing familiar to grab on to, it is actually helpful to know the swirl is not a final threat. We still have a wilderness retreat available to return from recentered.

Mark 13:6

Many will take my name, and come saying ‘I am He’, and will lead many astray.

to my disciples I say
my disciples will deceive
many about my teaching

they will be well-intentioned
with a high niceness quotient
as sincere as the day is long

my teaching is not transferable
it is caught and extended
never certified or rule-bound

the more a core tenet
is centralized the more
it becomes tangential

having known how difficult
it is to live belovedly
I am prepared for disappointment

so friend I say to all
dive deeply enough
to teach your truth

I authorize no one
to represent me
and deceive others

Beginning with the plural “many” we finally end up with each of them claiming a singular state of being—the official representative of G*D, the I AM.

This represents the wide variety of claims, both personal and sectarian present everywhere today. We couldn’t handle a church unified by removing all but the official line of control with Peter holding all the keys.

We couldn’t handle it moving toward two sets of keys, the second claimed by Martin Luther.

We certainly can’t handle all the different G*Ds found swirling within any but the most rigid church structure.

Many were deceived by a church universal, by two, and by a multitude. Always this needs to be said in the present tense that many are deceived right at this moment. Someone is out to get someone else as they claim there is only one way, their way. So goes idolatry in every age, regardless of the number of choices.

It is always the right time to anticipate a prophet speaking against one’s own particular expression of a source of meaning. The dangers of internal idolatry, competing religious expressions attempting to convert one another, a next false G*D, and the neglect of Neighb*rs are ever present.

There is not only an unknown time factor for wrapping up; there are untold numbers of speculations as to how it is going to happen.

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.