“The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.” – Julian of Norwich
SCRIPTURE & DEVOTION: Mark 13:1-36; focused on Mark 13:5-9, 31-37
Jesus said to them, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginnings of birth pains. You must be on your guard…
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It is like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
The word “gospel” means “good news”. This morning, as I read this 13 th chapter of Mark’s gospel in the grip of the global coronavirus pandemic, good news is hard to find. Death tolls are continually on the rise; supermarket shelves are empty of some basic items necessary for personal health and hygiene. In some places, hospital beds and life-saving medical equipment are in short supply. Stores and businesses are closed; people are out of work and wondering how they will provide for their families. Many are experiencing a pervasive sense of fear in public, a profound sense of isolation in private.
We Christians are accustomed to turning to scripture for reassurance, encouragement, and consolation in times of crisis. This chapter in Mark would not seem likely to provide us with much in the way of comfort. Throughout this passage of scripture, Jesus warns of dire events to come: the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, wars, famines, and natural disasters, family strife and betrayals, persecutions of the faithful, and many attempts to lead people astray from the truth of his words.
Eight times in this brief chapter, Jesus uses the words. “Be on your guard!”, “Be alert!”, or “Keep watch!” He knows how easy it is for people who are suffering to lose hope, thereby losing the ability to trust God in the midst of hardship, pain, and uncertainty. He cautions his disciples primarily against false prophets with their schemes to deceive the faithful, urging them to hold true to his teachings no matter what happens. When we really stop to consider, what could be more comforting than the knowledge that, even though heaven and earth may pass away, the words of Jesus are ours for all time and eternity?
The word “watch” is an interesting word, for it can have many meanings. As a verb, its two most common meanings seem exact opposites from one another. We can “sit back and watch”, i.e., do nothing but serve as a spectator for whatever happens, or we can “watch” in a very active sense, paying attention to what is happening around us, alert for changes, always looking for ways to avoid pitfalls and stay on the path. Being “watchful” means being ready to deal effectively with whatever comes to pass; therefore, knowing what to expect in advance is very helpful. In this way, Jesus was equipping his followers to meet the challenges that lay ahead, attempting to ensure that the terrors of the times to come would not overwhelm them and cause them to fall away into sin and darkness. After all, light to see by is essential for one to be able to “watch”. Jesus is our light. Even when things seem darkest, may we remember to seek the light of his presence and find hope and comfort in the truth of his word.
Jesus, we ask that You would open our eyes, to see people and situations with Your perspective. Would You help us to be ready and equipped to live as Your people, being a light on a hill that points people to You and Your unfailing love.