“As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Teacher, look!
What awesome stones and buildings!’
Jesus responded, ‘Do you see these enormous buildings?
Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.’”
Mark 13: 1, 2 (Common English Bible)
Someone once remarked that the reason we stumble through life is that our focus is on the wrong thing. That is precisely the dynamic of this story from Mark’s thirteenth chapter; the disciples’ focus is on the “awesome stones and buildings” (v. 1). Jesus shifts their focus from the present to the future, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” The disciples had chosen as their focus that day, the wrong thing. Jesus then announces that evil is expanding – that things are going to get worse – and that all disciples had the responsibility to “watch out;” to be ready for the end. Yet, Jesus tells his disciples, “Don’t be alarmed” (v. 7). What Jesus declares is that God is still in charge. Rather than becoming pessimistic about what the future holds, followers of Christ are to be optimistic about God.
This teaching from Mark’s Gospel is an invitation to live today with tomorrow in mind. That is exactly what we do when we wisely invest in an Individual Retirement Account or participate in a company retirement plan – we make a decision today with our retirement in mind. Decisions today are in response to questions such as, “What will my income needs be once I am no longer receiving a paycheck?” Another question might be, “How long do I expect to live?” Both questions affect decisions made today. Jesus asks the same. Jesus is here offering a glimpse of the future so that “until then” disciples may make informed and responsible decisions in the present. Jesus is not satisfied with anyone stumbling spiritually through life. “Here is what the end looks like!” declares Jesus. Decide now how you will move positively toward that future.
Few who lived in Florida at the time will soon forget Hurricane Andrew of August 1992. A class five hurricane, the most forceful and destructive of hurricanes, completely destroyed over 25,000 homes and caused significant damage to another 101,000 homes in South Florida. The day after the destruction, a local news crew arrived in a community where every home was gone, many with only the concrete foundation as evidence that a home was present on a particular site. Every home gone, that is, except one that sustained only minor damage. The owner of that home was in the front yard, cleaning the debris left behind by the storm. The local news reporter approached him with a microphone and a television camera. “Why is it that your house is the only one that stood against the force of the hurricane?” With considerable humility, he answered that he built the house himself, that he built the home according to code that insured that it would withstand hurricane force winds.
Apparently, the builders of the other homes cut corners, saving money by using materials that fell short of code. When the strong winds blew, those homes could not stand. That is precisely the lesson Jesus teaches here. God calls each of us to live lives today deeply rooted in a discipleship to Jesus. The quality of that discipleship prepares us for the coming of “earthquakes and famines in all sorts of places” (v. 8). The end is drawing near. Jesus wants all who hear him to know that we do not have forever. This glimpse into the future is not a call to experience dread and despair. It is a call to focus on living faithfully in the present “just as if” the end will arrive any day. This is not the time to be sloppy in our relationship with Jesus, to be haphazard in our daily time with God reading scripture and praying. “Don’t be alarmed” (v 7) when the world looks hopelessly out of control, says Jesus. God alone will determine the end of time. It belongs to no other power. Our responsibility is to pay attention to God in the present, placing our hope in the Lordship of Jesus Christ who holds the future.