As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
I’ve heard a lot of female friends’ birthing stories. It immediately elevates them to “hero” status in my eyes. Both of kids were planned C-sections. My ex is no less heroic, as I I had a front row seat to her insides becoming her outsides for a moment, but our story lacks the drama of water breaking, pushing, and dilation. We did have a pretty harrowing experience on my 30th birthday. It involved a Thai restaurant and false contractions brought on by their lack specificity with how spicy a “3” on a scale of 1-9 might be. That was crazy! Still, I here the stories of women who have gone through the birthing process and I am in awe. I’m also dumbfounded that so many of my friends chose to go through that process a second time. What could be worth the pain? As I look at my two kids, the answer here is clear: new life is worth it all.
This is a problematic passage as apocalyptic passages always are to 21st century minds. We have to remember that the gospel writer is doing the difficult work of meaning-making around the destruction of the temple that happened in 70CE. Mark justifies the violence of his world with “Jesus predicted this would happen”.
I look at this week: 129 dead in Paris, 37 dead in Beirut, 67 dead in Baghdad, countless in Syria, 300 for the year in Baltimore, unrest on college campuses, earthquakes, school shootings, rampant violence in the name of God… “Jesus predicted this would happen” doesn’t take the sting out of these present day happenings, nor do I think it was meant to in Mark’s time. Stories of apocalypse are not to deflect from the pain of the present. They highlight the pains, give them, context, and attempt to infuse them with meaning. They are meant to be words of hope.
Please don’t hear me skipping over the grieving. For folks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Japan, Baltimore… the wounds might be far too fresh. Friday was only a few days ago… but then again, I’m part of a tradition that grieves death on Friday and celebrates new life on Sunday. Forgive me for being hopeful.
“The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice”
I take hope in the interconnectedness of this world. I take hope that within hours we were all connected to the Parisian tragedy as if it were our own. I take hope in hearing the voices of those who would not let us forget the victims of other tragedies while we honored the fallen. I take hope in the critical analysis that takes place that says we can’t ignore the lives of black and brown people while remembering those of white Europeans. I take hope in the Parisians who would not let their recently welcomed refugees take the blame for this tragedy and marched against Islamophobes in their country and spoke out against those in ours. I take hope in college students gathering around the country to speak against the inherent racism of educational institutions built off of histories of privilege. I take hope in conversations on institutional racism being brought to the public consciousness in a way it never was before. I take hope in the men of Baltimore who patrol the streets, making peace. I take hope in those who are working to build up economic and educational opportunities in those communities that have long been neglected.
The unrest and dis-ease we feel in our world is coming from two different sides. It comes from those who see a new world coming and long for its day to dawn and it comes from those who have benefitted so greatly from the old world that they don’t see the beauty in the new. Both sides recognize the truth. The new day is here. There is a world of equality longing to be born. There is a world of dignity longing to be born. There is a world of world of opportunity longing to be born. There is a world of peace longing to be born. There is a world of love longing to be born. The new world longs to be born and our role, the role of people of peace, love, and justice, is to midwife this new world’s existence.
Yes, the world is violent. Keep pushing! Yes there is inequality. Keep pushing! Yes, there is corruption and greed, keep pushing! Yes, it feels like we’re sliding backwards at times, keep pushing! Yes, those who choose division often seem to speak the loudest, keep pushing! Yes, it is often hard to see the way forward through all the tears… keep pushing!
I grieve with brothers and sisters around the world. I’m tired of this shit. I don’t want to keep turning on my computer and seeing these things scroll across my timeline. I get depressed. I feel powerless. I feel hopeless. But something inside of me tells me to keep on. It tells me that what is happening now is crowning. It tells me that we can’t give up not now, not ever. I can see the pain, I can hear the cries and all I can say is new life is coming.