Mark 13 is titled The Eschatological Discourse. Eschatology is a part of theology that focuses on the last things: death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell – and is intrinsically linked with the virtue of hope. Even with such heavy language as Jesus uses in this chapter, we aren’t meant to see the end with fear, but in it’s proper context, it’s all about hope. Fr. Mike Mireau’s rant about Not losing any Battles with Cancer exemplifies this… even if he dies from cancer (which he sadly did), he is “more than a conqueror.” That is Christian faith regarding the end – it is always laced with hope.
On its own, this chapter offers some passages that are worth some further reflection. Mark 13 begins with one of the disciples sharing his admiration for the temple – the same as you or I might speak in awe of a grand Cathedral or Basilica. Jesus’ response is pretty gloomy: “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2). But it’s not just gloom of which Christ is speaking… He is offering a prophecy for what is going to happen four decades later, in about 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed, and the temple was demolished. The walls you can still see in Jerusalem today make up a part of the foundation, but of the sanctuary there wasn’t a single stone left upon another.
When the disciples ask for clarification about what Jesus meant (the temple was at the center of Jewish worship, and the idea that it would be destroyed would have been very disturbing) – Jesus explains that the destruction of the temple prefigures the end of the world. The temple is to be destroyed within the next generation; but the end of the world will happen at a time known to God alone (Mark 13:32-33, Matthew 24:36). The Christian community would recall what Jesus had said at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and they fled to the mountains (Mark 13:14) instead of remaining behind to defend the city and temple alongside their Jewish brethren. This would add to the strife between the two communities, which would culminate with the expulsion of Christians from the Jewish synagogues and what amounts to their excommunication from Judaism.
Jesus’ evidence for the end of the world: false Messiahs (Mark 13:6); wars (Mark 13:7); conflict between nations, disasters, and famine (Mark 13:8) all seems dramatic. And in every age, well-meaning Christians have taken it to mean that the end is here. If you googled “end times” you would find no shortage of writings and predictions that what we are facing in our time – whether it be unrest in the Middle East or Africa, or the current crisis in the Ukraine, or any other war you can think of – that these are fulfillments of Christ’s prophecies in Mark 13. The same was written a few decades ago during the Cold War, and a hundred years ago as national conflicts erupted into the First and Second World Wars. Cardinal Thomas Collins used to comment that using conflict, famine, disaster, and false claims to religious authority as indicators of the end are ambiguous: can you think of a time in history when we haven’t faced such things? In a way they seem to confirm Jesus’ last command: we ought to keep awake, because we don’t know when the end will come (Mark 13:32-36). The Church says that we are indeed living in the eschatological (end) times – and have been since the resurrection of Jesus. In other words, we have been given all we need both in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, in His passion, death, and resurrection, and in the helps He leaves us (the Holy Spirit, the Church, and her sacraments) in order to attain the goal of our hope: eternal life in Heaven with Him.
Jesus’ words in this chapter also give us one other important item to consider: to follow Him means to be missionaries who will likely be persecuted. This “end time” we live in – between the first and second comings of Jesus – is meant to a time of missionary activity, where those who follow Christ speak Him by their lives: in word and in action (Mark 13:10). Unfortunately, not everyone will hear the Gospel as “good” news. Challenging others to believe in God and to live according to His direction will be met with resistance, and that resistance can cause us great suffering. While this discourse lacks the poetic beauty of the beatitudes, He gave the same warning there (Matthew 5:10-12). To identify oneself with Christ (as a Christian) means to open yourself up to the same fate: persecution and even martyrdom. We may be beaten, tried, betrayed, hated, or killed (Mark 13:9-13) – but all of this comes with a promise. The Holy Spirit will help us know how to speak (Mark 9:11) and “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). We can trust God because no matter what else may pass away – our lives, friendships, family relationship, and even Heaven and Earth – Jesus’ words will not (Mark 13:30). It is with this hope that we face whatever difficulties or challenges may come – just as Fr. Mike is facing his cancer. He knows that whatever happens, he wins… because Jesus always wins. May we know the same.
“I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” ―St. John Paul II