“Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” the disciples express to Jesus their amazement at the glorious temple in Jerusalem.
In response Jesus asks a rhetorical question: “Do you see these great buildings?” I mean, do you reallysee them? See them for what they are and what they represent—the authority of earthly power wrapped up in heroic, human efforts to appear glorious and right? These are the stones upon which we build our lives. And they are going to crumble, topple and fall. “All will be thrown down,” Jesus says.
The end of the pandemic is not what we expected. A few months ago I assumed it would be more cut-and-dry. One moment we are living under the threat of COVID with all the attending lockdowns and restrictions. And, then, when it’s over, it’s back to normal and we can do things the way we have always done them.
But that’s not the way it’s really going, is it? To a large degree things are better. Most people are vaccinated, and therefore groups can gather in public spaces to do the things we want to do together. But the truth is, being vaccinated doesn’t mean we aren’t susceptible to getting the virus, doesn’t eradicate the virus. It doesn’t mean we can’t still pass it on even with lowered risk. After so many have suffered significant loss of health and well-being, and facing significant health challenges, nothing is cut-and-dry. It’s hard to make long-term plans, make decisions and commitments more than a few days in advance.
It already feels like the building blocks of our lives—the places of certainty that have guided us our life-long are crumbling. How will we know what to do, and when to do it? We, like the disciples, may be looking for signs to determine the path forward in uncertain, fast-changing times. “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign?” This may be your prayer, too, these days.
What will replace the stones that are thrown down? What will be our guide? What will be the measure of our faith if not what we have built?
To help them experience God amid all that competes for their attention and obedience, Jesus first pulls the rug out from under their expectations.
Put yourself in the disciples’ shoes: How would you feel if Jesus said these words to you sitting outside on the ground level looking up at the impressive 45-storey Claridge Icon building in Little Italy, here in west-end Ottawa? Seems unbelievable, improbable at best.
Jesus’ audacious words in the Gospel text at first create confusion and maybe distress. Jesus’ words upset any pretense of stability we might seek especially during a time of disruption. If anything is thrown down, it is our certainty. Which, it seems, makes it even more difficult, more challenging, maybe more impossible to discern anything let alone make decisions and plan for the holidays and beyond.
But maybe that’s the starting point. Maybe that’s where what Jesus is all about must begin. The birth-pangs. The uncertainty. The disruption of ‘normal’ life. The present moment, however turbulent, is the necessary pivot towards embracing the expansive vision of God.
Because at this pivot we are most vulnerable, honest, and true to ourselves. At this point we have nothing to hide, nothing to prove, nothing to pretend we are. And maybe that’s where we need to be, if for a moment.
Because if we believe that what will happen in the future is largely dependent on our success, on achieving greatness, or solving all the problems on the planet, we will get stuck at best, despair at worst. And perhaps we already have gotten stuck, to some extent, with some issue or problem we face in our lives. Perhaps we are already locked down in despair.
The truth is, something is going to happen whether or not we make a decision. Something is going to happen whether we decide to do ‘x’ or decide to do ‘y’ or decide to do nothing at all. Doing nothing is a decision that has consequences. Something will happen. And that’s the point of life in faith.
Knowing that the future does not ultimately depend on our getting it right. Knowing that what really matters in life is beyond our compulsion to be perfect and make something glorious of ourselves. Knowing this can free us to move forward in faith, making decisions and taking risks in good faith. And trusting in the love of God who holds us no matter what.
So it’s not like we’ve got this, “Here’s God; here’s us. God’s just waiting till we get our act together and then we’ll all be well.” That’s not God. That’s a religion based on our egos. And those stones are tumbling down.
Rather, God is alive. God is love. Love is the measure. Love will guide us. Whatever is loving, gracious, kind and merciful—this is the way of the Gospel, the way of Christ Jesus.
“Love is pulling us on to do new things and we need to trust the power of God in our lives to do new things.” When we experience an unwiring of ourselves— this is a painful process, yes — we recognize that it is “the God of Jesus Christ [who] is … the power beneath our feet, the depth of the beauty of everything that exists, and the future into which we are moving.”
We can then roll with the stones that are tumbling down and join the rising movement of love that holds us all together and brings us hope for a better future.
 Mark 13:1-8