Thursday, July 19th. Mark 13:28-31

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Mark 13:28-31


Every time I read this passage I wish I knew more about fig trees.


Every time I read this passage I wish that Jesus wouldn’t have said “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place…


Fig trees I can learn about.  But that second line invites me into the kind of word parsing that I really hate.  We all remember the infamous line, “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”  Legal and semantic technicalities aside…no one appreciated that line.  So it is that a literal reading of “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place…” is troublesome.


The truth is, most of what is described in Mark 13 actually did happen.  The Jewish-Roman War raged from 67-70 CE.  It was horrible, particularly in Jerusalem, but not just there.  From the countryside and villages of Galilee in the north to the massacre at Masada in the east, the Roman armies were brutal and efficient. THAT generation of people are long gone but we are still here.  So what do we make of that?


I can well imagine that Bible interpreters seeking to preserve a very narrow foundation for biblical authority would jump on the word “all” (from ‘all these things have taken place’) and then argue that Jesus was making a future prediction.  Much has clearly happened but not all has happened so we are still waiting for the end of time, the final consummation (and conflagration), the closing chapter, the fat lady to sing.


But I come from a very different point of view.  The authority of the Bible does not rest for me on parsing individual words wherein the meaning is a closely guarded secret only available to the highly educated theological elite.  Nor does it rest on a very narrow and literal foundation of the modern myth of “scientifically measurable and observable phenomena.”


For me, the foundation of the Bible rests in God’s promise to use the interplay of people reading and talking and sharing and interpreting and being interpreted by, long preserved written witnesses, of the living relationship of the Creator and the created, the Redeemer and the redeemed, the Sanctifier and the sanctified.  Which is why, when I listen to the Bible alone or with others, I play close attention to what the text is actually doing to me/us as I/we read it.  Because I believe it is precisely in that interplay that God continues to speak and the living Lord continues to be revealed to us.


Thus, this text tells me that we are very selective in “reading the signs of the times.”  Farmers know when to plant.  Meteorologists warn about hurricanes.  Economists…well, we don’t want to go to far with this…  But the point is that we are quick to see the “signs” that are physically manifested around us all the time.  But we are far too often blind to the spiritual signs, to the meaning behind and beneath the surface, to the deeper realities of what is going on in reality.


The dark realities of life are real in every generation.  And the power of God’s word to shed light into that darkness, to reveal a path to peace and wholeness, will never pass away.  And the living Lord Jesus will always be just at the gate, just around the corner, as close to us as our next breath.


Draw that next breath deeply – don’t hold your breath out of fear.


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we always want answers because answers feel like mastery, they feel like power, they feel like the secret code to eternal insider status.  But answers seldom help.  So what we really need is your presence in our lives as we live in the questions of life.  Come to us and draw us to you, in this time, to the end of time.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


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