What Is Saving Your Life Right Now? Paying Attention

Weekly Bible Devotional
“What Is Saving Your Life Right Now? Paying Attention”
April 26, 2020

Scripture for Sunday: Mark 13:24-27, 32-37
24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Notes on The Text:
If you are getting anxious about the length of this current crisis, you can relate better to the disciples’ angst about the length of their suffering. In the scripture for this week we hear the anxiety of the disciples around timelines. They wanted to know how long they had to wait before the fulfillment of Jesus’ vision for the kingdom of God. They wanted clear-cut answers that would help them endure the pain of their present time. Not only that, they also wanted markers along the way.

The people of Jesus’ time were suffering under the oppression of the Roman government and the abuses of the religious system of the temple in Jerusalem. There seemed to be no end in sight for their pain. Most of the people were living in poverty, near starvation, while the leadership of the temple and the government lived in luxury. Jesus used apocalyptic imagery to help wake his followers from the nightmare in which they were living. Apocalyptic imagery about the Day of the Lord is often used in the Bible to show the conflict between the values of the kingdom of God and the unjust realities of the world. The whole Gospel of Mark revolves around the theme of the kingdom of God which is the reality Jesus is renewing with a deep commitment to social, economic, and spiritual justice.

The signs that are given in this passage have often been misunderstood as literal predictions of the end of times. When Jesus talks about all these events that will happen before “this generation” passes away, some people have taken this to mean a certain generation in the future. While in fact, the obvious meaning of “this generation” is the generation contemporary to Jesus. The end was coming for Jesus. He was about to be arrested and executed by the authorities. In fact, a lot of what is predicted in this text happened with the events of the passion of Jesus. These apocalyptic predictions give the passion narrative its world altering significance. The events of the passion were seen as fulfillment of the apocalyptic vision of Jesus. The darkening of the sun happened at the time of the crucifixion. The disciples were invited to stay awake and be watchful, but what did they do in the garden? They fell asleep. The temple curtain was torn in two. What finally altered the status of the temple was the death of Jesus. That created a different center for worship. The Roman guard at the crucifixion proclaimed the glory of God in Jesus which is another fulfillment of this prediction. The earthquake was another sign. The cock crowing was another sign of the fulfillment of these events because Peter did not recognize his betrayal of Jesus until the cock crowed. Then two days later at dawn Jesus was raised from the dead. All of this is to say that Mark was trying to tell his audience who were living at the time of the actual destruction of the temple in the year 70 CE, that the fulfillment of Jesus’ vision has already happened and Jesus has been glorified and his rule has been inaugurated.

For Reflection:
Since the events of the cross of Jesus Christ have begun a major change in the course of history, how do we live today? What can we learn about this waiting time from the experience of the disciples? When our waiting seems to be indefinite, how do we find grace in it? The answer comes through the phrase “Keep watch/awake.” This one phrase is repeated three times in the short span of our story for today. This was the key point that Jesus was trying to make. This was an important theme in the Gospel of Mark where the disciples over and over again didn’t get the message of Jesus. They often misunderstood or even totally missed what Jesus was trying to say or do. Their invitation and ours today is to “keep watch/awake.” And we keep watch because Christ is coming to us today and every day and the course of history is being changed through the unfolding of God’s love. What is missing is our ability to see and to keep watch. The promise that Jesus gave to the disciples that he was going to be with them until the end of the age is still being fulfilled here with us even today. Our work is not to hasten the coming of Christ. Our work is to be watchful, and to be awake because Christ comes to us every day and we ourselves can become the very presence of Christ in the world, if we follow his way, continue his mission, and embody his spirit.

In her sermon, “On the Clouds of Heaven,” Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Every morning when you wake up, decide to live the life God has given you to live right now. Refuse to live yesterday over and over again. Resist the temptation to save your best self for tomorrow. Live a caught-up life, not a put-off life, so that wherever you are… you are ready for God…Ours may be the generation that finally sees him ride in on the clouds, or we may meet him the same way generations before us have – one by one by one, as each of us closes our eyes for the last time. Either way, our lives are in God’s hands.”

It is interesting how during this coronavirus pandemic, we are paying a lot more attention to things we used to ignore or take for granted. We are aware of staying six feet apart when we used to bump into people by accident. We are aware of all the things we are touching when we used to not pay attention to any of that. We are aware of how much we appreciate human connection when we used to complain about having social or work obligations. We are aware of how our actions impact the health and well-being of our whole society. I find great hope in all these experiences of waking up and being more mindful. I hope that you do too! The poet Mary Oliver simply and beautifully put it,

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

Prayer by Marian Wright Edelman:
Lord, help me to persist although I want to give up.
Lord, help me to keep trying although I can’t see what good it does.
Lord, help me to keep praying although I’m not sure You hear me.
Lord, help me to keep living in ways that seek to please You.
Lord, help me to know when to lead and when to follow.
Lord, help me to know when to speak and when to remain silent.
Lord, help me to know when to act and when to wait. Amen.

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