Weekly Bible Reflection

Mark's Alternative Economy

Advent Sunday

Mark 13. 24-end: "Watch Out!"

Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together: "The continuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community".

Of the many voices we hear commenting on things like the global financial crisis, climate change, habitat destruction, famine, population overload, resource depletion, war, violence etc. etc., which do we listen to?

The Text - viewed from the 'underside'.

In order to understand this passage we need to go back to the beginning of chapter 13. Jesus and his disciples leave the Temple (v1) and one of them remarks on the sheer magnificence of the structure but Jesus says that it’s all coming down (v2). This evokes the question ‘when will it happen?’ (v4). In reply, Jesus says that many messianic pretenders will come seeking to lead people astray; there will be conflict, earthquakes and famines. From one perspective the outlook is completely bleak, from another it’s the overture to a new beginning (v8).

Jesus then speaks about a terrifying sequence of events. His followers will be persecuted and taken to court. They will be ‘handed over’, beaten and cross-examined by governors (13v9). Under pressure, families will be divided against themselves (13v12). And worst of all there will be an act of ‘desolating sacrilege’, namely, the Roman army marching right into the temple and planting the deified Emperor’s standard in the holy of holies followed by the Temple’s destruction. Jesus urges his followers to be ready to run for their lives when they see these signs (v14).

Alongside these predictions by Jesus, Mark sets great cosmic events associated with the end of history and the coming of the Son of Man (v24-26). This is not a detailed outline of the end of the world as some have wrongly assumed, but rather a word of encouragement to a fragile community of Jesus’ followers. Come what may, God’s purposes will not be frustrated. It’s designed to free them from the paralysis of fear, despair, apathy and cynicism.

In this passage we see how the author of Mark’s gospel cleverly threads into the text little hints about the circumstances in which his household churches find themselves. He assures them that God’s sovereignty will prevail and that ultimately God will deliver them (13v20).

Just as Jesus called his followers to be watchful (alert and awake) in the face of immanent catastrophe (v 35-37), so his community must remain steadfast, fully focused and earthed, leaving no room for wild and pointless speculation (v22-3). They are to remain alert and strong throughout the whole of the Roman night from evening to midnight to cockcrow to dawn (v36).

When Jesus was arrested and the events of the passion unfolded, the followers of Jesus failed dismally to remain vigilant. They were overwhelmed and unprepared for the great struggle against the Powers of darkness that ensued. Mark’s community must not allow this to happen to them. They are encouraged to ready themselves for the coming of God, the ‘Master of the house’ (v36). God will always be with them in the midst of great suffering, persecution and martyrdom; his triumph is assured. This is the source of comfort and hope.

Responding as a community
  1. Do you think that the start of the church’s new year (Advent) should begin on a note of pessimism and despair? Where, if at all, does a message of doom and gloom fit into the gospel proclamation today?

  2. What does it mean for you as a community to remain ‘watchful’?

  3. How should we respond to those who spend time and energy speculating about the ‘end of the world’?

  4. In what ways is your community a sign of Jesus’ coming? Are there things you have been challenged by in this study which would enhance the way you point to God coming amongst humanity in Jesus?

  5. How might you as a group express your sense of expectation and watchfulness this Advent?
Praying Together

You might like to begin by singing a hymn or song of Advent: we recommend ‘Come Holy Ghost our hearts inspire’ if someone is able to lead it. It can be found at http://gbgm-umc.org/programs/wad99/umh603.stm and if you then click on midi music the tune will be familiar to everyone!

You may like to use the prayers at http://www.richardeinerson.com/einerson_005.htm and/or at http://revsbrown.tripod.com/aplaceforprayer/id75.html.

You may wish to prepare your own Advent wreath or variation thereof for the next few weeks of study together. Make it the focus as you sit in circle in prayer.

Spend time praying for specific needs in the wider community and world and in your small community. End each prayer with the words… ‘Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.’
Going Deeper
  1. Notice, only the doorkeeper has the job of watching (v34). The other servants have their ordinary everyday jobs to do, what they always have done, keeping the household in a state of readiness to welcome the Lord of the household returns. How is the task (gift) of watching shared within your community?

  2. The call to remain in a constant state of alert because the signs of God’s kingdom are all around with buds and leaves appearing on the branches of fig trees in the barren depths of winter. The summer of God’s kingdom and harvest are just around the corner.

  3. We have entitled this series ‘Mark’s Alternative Economy’ because we believe that Jesus calls us to live an alternative way of life to the destructive patterns of life we see around us. It is interesting to note that the word ‘ecumenical’ used to describe the Universal Church, the Body of Christ, is derived from the same Greek word as economics, oikonomia, meaning "management of a household, administration" which in turn comes from oikos, "house" and nomos, "custom" or "law", hence "rules of the household". As we move through Mark we will be challenged to reconfigure our way of life more in keeping with Jesus’ kingdom vision.

Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion

From Stephen - Sutton Montis
Our Fellowship Group were puzzled by the conflicting ideas that 'only one of the community' is called to be the watchman' - yet 'everyone is to keep awake'.
We had real difficulty identifying anyone in any of the six parishes in the Benefice who was the Watchman or the prophet (See Isaiah 64 reading) and we recognised this as a missing or hidden 'gift'.

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