When Jesus Doesn’t Know

The Feast of St. Bartholomew the Apostle

By James Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 13:28-37

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”


In today’s gospel reading, Jesus extols his followers to watch for the coming of the master of the house. In the course of this exhortation, he states, “but concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

How are we to understand Jesus’ apparent ignorance here? Surely since Jesus is God — the Word who laid the foundations of the world — he does, in fact, know when everything will end.  But he clearly and unambiguously states that he does not know the day or the hour, and only the Father knows.

Rather than seeing this ignorance of the future as some kind of defect in Christ’s perfection, or an admission of his finitude, perhaps we should view it in the same way that we view his passion. Jesus does in fact have the power to resist the scourging and the crucifixion, but he, in his power, chooses to make himself subject to it. Similarly, although he has the power to see the day and the hour, he makes himself subject to our ignorance of the future.

This underscores further Christ’s commitment to solidarity with us. We are not enduring trials for a time knowing when those trials will end, but instead laboring for the good while ignorant of whether or when such labors will bring fruit. Frankly, we frequently find ourselves stumbling forward in the dark. In his refusal to resist the ignorance of the future, even in the face of his imminent passion and death, Jesus chooses to stumble with us. Not resting on his own knowledge, he places his hope in his victory over the grave wholly on the promise of the Father.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Egba West (Church of Nigeria)
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas


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