Mark 13:37

And what I say to you I say to all – Watch!”

a consistent message
has its value
is grounding

no matter how consistent
its ground of being
does matter

keeping a lert
in a golden cage
is still kidnapping

“Say” is used here to speak to a particular person or community as well as to teach something that can be broadly applied.

 The Temple has been a key image in chapters 11, 12, and 13. If there is a sign to be given, this is a good candidate. In some sense it is too large to be a sign. It is the very water in which people swam and is just that usual, unexamined, and all too expected.

A part of our alertness is a continuing in a Wisdom tradition or Socratic examination of our lives. In a modern democracy this is translated from Temple to such touchstones as Liberty, General Welfare, and Common Defense. These are corruptible and all too easily become their opposite. The “abomination of desolation” comes to mean the assent of religious liberty over welcoming strangers, general welfare is rejected because of a fear of “welfare queens” getting something for nothing, and common defense becomes privileged by requisitioning all other resources away from education and infrastructure that would provide a more expansive tomorrow.

Watchfulness and alertness have increased their importance since the trinity of suffering, death, and rising made their appearance. How do we keep our eye on a restorative rising or a rising restoration without paying attention? It will be this rising that will bring any meaning of suffering and death to the fore.

“Watch!” has become the word (13:31) that will not pass away.

Every liturgical season needs this First Sunday in Advent emphasis. As the Western Church cycles through its telling of Jesus’ story, year after year, we keep coming to the final Sunday—The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe [Note: instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, moved to its current location in 1969 by Pope Paul VI]. This Sunday points to Jesus returned when Love of G*D and Love of Neighb*r are in accord. Yet we are immediately struck by how far we are from such a realized eschatology. And so we Watch! knowing that Watching is an activizing word. Watch and Love.

Mark 13:36

otherwise he might come suddenly and find you asleep.

at all cost
reorganize today
in light of tomorrow

no future surprise
lives without hope
that today is its day

every perchance dream
creeps in its petty pace
to spring full blown

startled to attention
beyond our expectation
doesn’t change our welcome

not what we looked for
is still what we have
hello when did you get in

Early on we ran into Mark’s telling his story at break-neck speed by the repeated use of εὐθύς (euthys, “at once”, “immediately”). This can be contrasted here with Mark’s only use of the word ἐξαίφνης (exaiphnēs, “suddenly”, “unexpectedly”).

The difference highlights Mark’s storytelling having an intention different from any happenstance that might startle us from our adjustment to a settled everydayness. When someone has been away long enough they pass on from growing our heart’s fondness for them to doing what is necessary without them.

 In an apocalyptic story we are taken unaware of the end, even if expecting it—remember any horror story picking off all the bit players so there can be a show-down with the disaster or escape by the hero/heroine.

Here the call to “Watch!” is not a too-late warning for an individual, but a call to a whole community. It becomes a way for them to watch over one another with encouragement and correction in the midst of every moment’s entropic tendency toward decline and disorder.

To “Watch!” goes beyond rules, to love of Neighb*r. This is to be a way of living together that includes an extension of present Neighb*r’s into generations to come.

Sabin159 notes that the “church fathers appear to be silent about this parable.” She goes on to say,

“the final thrust of the parable is the importance of keeping watch because the lord will return….the Temple will be once more inhabited by the divine presence. Thus the parable about the returning householder provides a merciful response not only to the disciples’ question about the Temple’s destruction but to their clear reverence for its ancient beauty and meaning….its destruction and its restoration.

Mark 13:35

Therefore watch, for you cannot be sure when the Master of the house is coming – whether in the evening, at midnight, at daybreak, or in the morning –

sleep deprivation
is excellent torture
activated awareness
disorients routine
instructive and destructive
paranoia confuses

a rooster announces betrayal
lauds breaks matins
visionary dreams of glass slippers
shatter and scatter
before practical prime
can make a to-do list

are we on a cross
or cross we’re not
a last temptation
a first opportunity
drift and float together
before a welcome home

It sounds as if there is an important relationship that still obtains even when the partners are apart. There is work that goes on to benefit both even when apart. There is an expectation of a next gathering that has a sense of joy in it.

This looking ahead to a return is the yearning found in The Song of Songs and every pair of young lovers. There is even the relaxed gaze of surety of seasoned lovers. This is enough to keep us alert to memories, living on behalf of, and expectations of better days worth our current expenditure of time and resources.

After this brief foray into joy we remember that the context of this short parable is in an exploration of the end of time while still in the midst of disaster. The someone who has gone away may well be, for Mark and his community, the loss of the Temple. Where we meet another can come to stand for the other. And now they are gone. What is there to do but stand beside the door and keep watch. No matter our day job, our vocation is to watch. In that watching we remember that this story interacts with the earlier one told to the chief priests, scribes, and elders about a vineyard and an absent landowner (12:1–11).

The watching for a return is not simply going to be a restoration of the old, but a new “building” with a new “cornerstone” that may not look much like the former partnership. Having been away, we are both changed and this new occasion requires new avenues of connection. As we moved from Garden to Temple we are now moving toward a different Garden enfolding a fruitful fig tree.

Mark 13:34

It is like a man going on a journey, who leaves his home, puts his servants in charge – each having their special duty – and orders the porter to watch.

it’s as though

by our appearance
it were actually though

while all around
there is less although
than first thought

the most attentive doorkeeper
can be fooled
by identity thieves
hacked iris scans

when revolution
deposes absentee landowners
guarding an open door
is a fool’s errand

a new occasion
shifts old commands
opens old eyes

through a looking glass
appearances are appearances

instructive though

All the turmoil that has revolved around a question for a sign has come to an end with no one knowing a day, a time, a sign. It is, indeed, as if someone has taken a trip. The one expected to know is not here. Only those who “don’t know” are left. Some, doorkeepers, have been told to keep alert as the rest ride off in all directions.

This might be a time to reflect on the various jobs we have done and are doing. Were we alert while doing them, or just doing as we thought we oughta? If we were alert, did our job have anything to do with the jobs others were doing, was our alertness only in terms of the job itself, or was it to see that special absent “someone” still present within the task at hand?

These questions reflect the many options that mice have when the cat is away. For the sense of leaving is that “someone” has indeed left the house, they are no longer in their own country.

The authority that has been given to each brings autonomy in how to do the job at hand. If we were listening in to Matthew (25:14–30) or Luke (19:12–27) we’d hear that each was given a certain amount of money, “minas” or “talents” and to see about investing it.

Mark doesn’t bring the judgment of being thrown into Gehenna (Matthew) or being stripped of what little you have (Luke). Here attention is something that can still be attained even if it has slipped a bit.

Mark 13:33

“See that you are on the watch; for you do not know when the time will be.

so far
time keeps
everything from
piling up together
cosmic comic crash

in time
time decays
every thing
stored for tomorrow
gray smoke

time lulls
time lies
sneaks past
the wokest watcher
coyote tricked

awake to time
and sidestep time
turn a blind eye
to flow and function
rise to this moment

A Reader can see how each apocalyptic phrase has a reversal that brings an assurance of hope closer. Wars and rumors of wars—Don’t be alarmed, this isn’t the end; Earthquake and famine—Only the beginning of birthpangs; Betrayal of friends and family to their death—Enduring in mercy will bring healing; and Tribulation beyond tribulation—A time of suffering will be shortened.

Sabin164sees in these reversals what is not explicitly stated:

What is perhaps even more striking is what the Markan Jesus is notdoing: he is not pointing to these disasters as punishment for sin; he is not telling his disciples that if they are virtuous they will avoid them. Rather his warnings to his disciples are directed elsewhere: against being led astray by imposters of him (vv. 5–6); against being anxious at the moment of trial (v. 11); against being deceived by false prophets and false messiahs (vv.21–22). Jesus’ warnings, in other words, are not directed toward the issues of nation or cosmos but aimed at the psyche—its vulnerability, its desire to be in control, its susceptibility to deceit.

Specifically about “watching”, Sabin1161–162remarks,

Covenantal theology tends to be linear, looking to the past and future. Creation theology tends to be circular, aware of repeating patterns. Wisdom theology, springing from the latter, is focused on the present. The urgency of Wisdom’s watchfulness, therefore, is not to be confused with the urgency of eschatological hope. The alternating time-frames in Mark permit both kinds of expectations, but the  prevailing emphasis is on Wisdom’s here and now…. It is a wisdom linked to an acceptance of the vastness of the divine mystery. Jesus as a teacher of Wisdom does not impart knowledge or “secrets” of the future but calls his disciples to a profound “wakefulness” to the mystery of the present moment.

Mark 13:32

“But about that day, or the hour, no one knows – not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son – but only the Father.

hope remains
a horizon away

hope against hope
rises again yet again

hope begets hope
deeper wider higher

hope’s night
never ends

hope’s day
never arrives

hope unknowable
is all we know

we hope
hope remains

Precision is not a gift of the future. We can talk a bit about the past, but even there one generation interprets it differently than another. Attempts to know ourself in the present brings their own difficulties.

There is a sense in which it would be comforting to know that someone knows what’s going down, has omniscience. This would keep us off the hook of being a participant in the events of our life. We might even go so far as to say we are not responsible for the consequences of unmerciful decision—it is G*D’s election of us that ordained our decisions.

To have G*D at some remove from us, becomes a trap reinforcing our alienation from G*D and Neighb*r, not to mention S*lf.

Imagine the difference if this last phrase was not a declarative sentence, but a continuation of the denial of knowing the future as separate from our present work. This would bring us closer to working out what it takes to operate holistically and responsibly to surprise our ancestors and delight our descendants. This would reveal the surprise of a growth beyond their sight and delight in a greater harvest than we can currently recognize as possible—more hundred-foldly than thirty.

Back in 13:4 there was a question of what sign will let us know we have to get serious about life. Since then Jesus has been speaking in

clichés of the period, common ways of expressing a general fear that the world is getting worse. If one is aware of this fact, one cannot read them as literal prophecy of the end of the world or as some special “apocalyptic” message of Jesus. ~ Sabin163

Here in 13:32 the response to the question is that there is no day or time or sign to look to as authorization to grow up and act mercifully—no matter the consequence. We are, simply, in this together.

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.