25 Pentecost, November 15
In Jesus’ day none of the modern means to assist the natural but sometimes dangerous process of childbirth existed. “Birth pangs” vividly portrayed the pain and anguish suffered by the mother and, by extension, her family.
In the Gospel reading today our Lord gives a rather grim prediction of the future. There will be war, earthquakes, famine. Frauds will pretend to be the Messiah and will draw people away from true religion and virtue. Their predictions that the end is coming will be disproved as time goes on, leaving them behind. Christians are not to be afraid. These are the birth pangs of a new creation.
Jesus made these predictions quietly to his closest friends. They had been in the Temple, and his friends had marveled at its wonder, its huge stones and pillars. Today we can only find a hint of the grandeur of the place when we stand at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The glories the disciples saw vanished when the Romans, led by Titus, destroyed the Temple and most of the city in A.D. 70. Some speculate that the destruction of Israel’s holy place decisively turned the mission of the Church toward the Gentiles.
Jesus tells his friends that the Temple will be destroyed so that not one stone will be laid upon another. Some suggest that Mark wrote this after the fact, putting into Jesus’ mouth a description of what happened. They suggest that to Mark the new Creation had been realized in the life of the swiftly expanding Church, which survived the wars and all the destruction as Jews took on the might of Rome and lost everything, to become marginalized and scattered. If, as most scholars believe, Mark’s Gospel was written around the time of the Temple’s destruction, there is no reason why the predictions ascribed to Jesus are untrue. Winston Churchill predicted the Second World War years before it happened and even he did not claim to be the Messiah.
Christians may believe that, in a sense, Jesus’ prediction about the fall of Jerusalem and the survival of the Church was an accurate reading of the signs of the time. The tragedies, wars, famines, and false teachers we see as we look back and expect in the future are the birth pangs of the coming kingdom. It is not for us to know when or how God will restore all things unto himself. We can know and believe that the kingdom will come.
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Look It Up
Read, mark, and learn Mark 13:1-8.
Think About It
How do you embrace the blessed hope of everlasting life?