Friday, November 25, 2011

Advent 1 - Mark's apocalypse

Advent 1 - Mark
Sunday, November 27

Mark 13.24-37

But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened... (Mark 13.24)

This odd selection from the gospel of Mark is sometimes described as “the little apocalypse.” Responding to desperate times in the first century, the writer of Mark’s gospel recycled the apocalyptic imagery of the sun, the heavens and the “Son of Man” from Isaiah (13.19, 34.4), Joel (2.10, 3.4, 4.15) Ezekiel (32.7, 8) and Daniel (7.13).

Apocalyptic literature arises out of hopeless situations, times of oppression when people are suffering under wicked leaders who have no regard for God’s reign. The desperation of first-century followers of Jesus is expressed as the cosmos breaking apart (13.24). The hope is, that when the world seems to be coming to an end, God breaks in to set things right (the coming of the Son of Man).

The author of Daniel was probably writing during the Seleucid empire’s oppression of the Jews, when it was illegal even to own a copy of the Torah. For the readers of Mark’s gospel in 70 CE, the oppressors were the Romans, who had ruthlessly put down the Jewish revolt and totally destroyed Jerusalem—Rome’s final response to persistent attempts by Jewish re
volutionaries to overthrow the Roman occupation.

Apocalyptic writing expresses a dualistic worldview—the ultimate battle between good and evil. Direct intervention by God is the only hope.

These predictions in Mark remind me of the “Arab Spring” and the “Occupy” movement here in the US. People tolerate a certain level of suffering—it can go on for years. But eventually the pressure builds and their frustrations explode into the streets.

There is much promise in the ideals of the protesters in Tahrir Square, but the reality of the new government has not matched the expectations of the crowds [Our Egyptian guide Bishoy sent a text to Pastor Paul Rowold today that he is there with the crowds-see my photo of him in Abu Simbel in October]. And so it has always been with governments. Power so easily corrupts.

When I see Israel’s security wall meandering through a Palestinian farmer’s olive grove in Bethlehem, it’s easy to blame the Israelis for the misery of the Palestinians. It’s convenient to put everything into two categories, the good guys and the bad guys. But casting the Israelis as the bad guys does not explain the reality of life on the ground.

There are good guys on both sides—Jewish peacemakers who protest Palestinian evictions and lawyers who press for Palestinian equal rights. And there are non-violent protesters in Palestinian villages, standing in the path of the bulldozers clearing the way for the wall. And there are bad guys on both sides—the Israeli soldiers who beat Palestinian children and falsely accuse them of throwing stones, and Palestinian leaders who use public funds or bribes to buy a Mercedes or build themselves mansions in Ramallah.

In our soundbite culture, it is tempting to simplify the conflict and cast the characters as good or evil. Judging is easy and quick—we can admire our cleverness and be smug about our wisdom. But peacemaking—reconciliation—takes more work.

God of the new creation, we pray for those who work for justice and peace—in Israel and Palestine, in Egypt, in Libya, in Afghanistan, in the US and in all the troubled parts of your world. As they stand in solidarity with those who are suffering, give them hope and courage. Give us all wisdom and discerning hearts so that we recognize injustice, and give us all the courage to speak out. Amen.

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