Mark 13 forms part of the farewell speech of Jesus, in the usual format of Jewish parting words, and is a compilation of different teachings. We can also read it as a testament or inheritance of Jesus, as his suffering and death becomes the legacy of his life. The cross of Jesus is the Good News of Mark’s gospel. Understanding the suffering of Jesus becomes the reference point for understanding our own suffering. Faith is the key in helping us to make sense of suffering.
The temple plays an important part in this narrative. It has a symbolic meaning that Jesus leaves the temple to sit on the slopes of the Mount of Olives when He talks about the demolition of the temple (vs1). He distances himself from the old tradition. He teaches that new life and a new future becomes possible through his suffering. The traditional place where one is expected to connect with God will be in ruins. A new relationship with God becomes possible in Jesus.
When the disciples heard the announcement of suffering and destruction, they reacted with disbelief, confusion, and resistance. Most people can identify with these reactions, because it is human nature to avoid any form of suffering. Peter, James, John, and Andrew were with Jesus from the start of his ministry, but they were unable to understand the purpose of this suffering.
Mark uses the Greek word semeia for a sign as keyword in this text. The ‘sign’ is that followers of Christ must expect suffering, pain, misunderstanding, rejection, prosecution, deceit and abandonment. There will also be external signs of wars, earthquakes, and famine. Mark uses the Greek word odino in verse 8 which refers to birth pains. This reference is appropriate, because, although the pain is intense and severe, it also results in new life and new possibilities. The birth of a child in this society also took away the shame of barrenness and gave the family new standing and honour. In the same way, how we approach and deal with suffering can result in new possibilities and honour in our faith communities and in society.
Jesus warns his followers that suffering is part and parcel of our walk with Him. The problem is that we are spiritually blind, just as the disciples were. We do not accept it and rather deny it and rebel against it. Jesus teaches that brokenness and pain are signs of new birth and new beginnings. We should receive this as a gift of awareness, a sign, showing us new possibilities for deepening our relationship with God and other people.
To think about: How can we change our attitudes towards the pain and suffering connected to HIV and AIDS, to see it as signs and opportunities for new beginnings?