Seeing signs, responding faithfully
Many pages have been written trying to determine who Mark writes to. Is Mark writing for a congregation before or after the fall of Jerusalem, when Christians fled the city (see Mark 13:14-19)? While it might help us in understanding Mark, it does not change what we do know: Mark is writing for Christians in the first 50 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Mark is not writing for us, he is writing for our early Christian (and at this time still partly Jewish) forbearers.
Also, it seems clear that whatever the exact nature of what they are facing, it is a difficult time. Now, reality is that people in Roman occupied Galilee, where Jesus came from, and many other parts of the Roman Empire, were often facing difficult times. The early church, with their message which were often at odds with the Roman imperial religion often faced difficult times.
In that sense Mark is also writing for the church of the ages – or at least, the church in every generation should be able to hear Mark’s message. We too see the signs of the times, like the leave of a fig tree, and know that for us, or for certain sectors of our society, suffering is about to increase. Sometimes, we know that our witness to justice will contribute to our own troubles. In those times Mark 13 is for us.
Because in the end, Mark 13 is a call to faithfulness. Not the ease of practicing Christian disciplines in the safety of church and home, but exactly the difficult faithfulness of continuing to do what is right in times of struggle, even times of suffering. Be awake, always. At midnight, just before sunrise. We are the ones representing the Son of Man, and that task doesn’t end.
So when we see the signs in our own times. When we see that suffering is on the increase, that the powerful play games which will surely bring more pain to the most vulnerable, even when we see the extreme suffering of flooding worsened by global warming and the ways in which our cities were constructed, may we not resort to speculation, but rather commit to discerning what it means to remain awake in this day, to remain faithful amidst the threats and shouts around us.
To think about: If you look at the politics of our day, at the inequalities, and at the ways in which the powerful play with the lives of the powerless, what does faithfulness mean today?
Written By: Rev. Cobus van Wyngaard, Lecturer in Systematic Theology at the University of South Africa (Unisa) and minister of the Dutch Reformed Church Pretoria.