I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Mark 13:24-37
C. Other texts for Year B for 1st Sunday in Advent
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
24a Of what distress does Jesus speak? but that only begs the question of knowing the hour.
24b-25 Why the extinguishing of all of the natural lights? Is it so that the only light before us will be Christ, the Light of God, so that we will be fixed upon this light alone?
26-27 This compares with Rev 7.
28 Does the fig tree come to leaf sooner than other trees? Is it like a forsythia bush, which is among the first to blossom in the spring? Or does this refer to the fig tree that Jesus curses which withers and dies.
30 Obviously this does not mean that those who physically heard the words of Christ would not die until he comes again, but does it mean that the age of humanity would not pass away as has passed away the age of dinosaurs? Does this mean that as we each die that Christ comes again?
31 The word that was in the beginning and ever shall be.
32 While “that distress” and the darkening of the sun and the stars and the coming of the Son of Man will mark the gathering of the elect, like the fig tree marks summer, ignore the false prophets who foretell the end of the world.
33-36 Perhaps these signs are like the footsteps of the owner coming up the path. When you see these signs it is already too late. If you are going to live as if Christ mattered, do it today!
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- This apocalypse begins with 13:1. It goes through three preceding stages: rumors of war, persecution of believers, and widespread panic and slaughter.
- Followed by priests plotting to kill Jesus and woman anointing him with a jar of nard.
II. Literary Study.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
- Luke 21:29-33 – Expands parable of the fig tree to include “all of the trees.”
- Matt 24:32–36 – Very similar to Mark, but omits parable of man leaving servants in charge.
III. Question the text.
B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?
Fig tree: Leaves used by Adam and even for modesty. Possibly symbolic of prosperity (see 1 Kings 4:25). In Greek mythology (probably known by audience) a crow is tempted by ripening figs and is delayed in completing an errand and punished by Apollo.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- CoG: Do not wait until you see signs of the apocalypse to begin preparations. For even when things look best, the time is near.
- Music: “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- A woman, new to the faith, asked about the second coming. She wanted to know what to do with all of the predictions of signs of the Second Coming in the Bible. How would she recognize them as real and not a trick by some false prophet? And if she could deduce for herself as to what year it would be? I quoted to her: No one knows the day nor the hour. But as for me, I would live each day as if tomorrow was the day when Christ would come again, for if in leaving her shop I chanced to pull out in front of a large truck, then for me today would have been my last day to do anything about it. [BTW, I was always VERY careful pulling out of her shop across the two lanes of traffic and a turning lane.]
- A preacher reported that as a teenager her mom would leave her in the house to clear the table and wash the dishes while the mother went out for a regular evening meeting. The teenager would delay in doing the tasks so that she would just finish the task as her mother entered the house, so it would look as if she had spent the whole three hours cleaning up, yet knowing full well that her mother was not deceived.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Pheme Perkins, The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Mark” (Abingdon Press, 1995). “Today’s readers have a difficulty with prophetic oracles, because they think of them solely in terms of predicting the future. [Similar to predictions from experts and pundits.] Old testament prophecy, however, provides a different framework for statements about the future. They are diagnoses of the moral or spiritual health of the people. … Destruction occurs only because the words of warning go unheeded. Thus prophetic speech is a form of instruction, not fortune telling.”
In her reflections, she hypothesizes two stories of last words to a loved one who dies unexpectedly to illustrate the need for watchfulness even two millennia after these words were first spoken. She concludes: “Being a faithful Christian does not just ‘happen’ like crabgrass or dandelions popping up in the lawn. It requires the care, attention, and cultivation of an expert gardener.”
Lamar Williamson, Jr., Interpretation: Mark, (John Knox Press, 1983) notes that signs which people associate with the end of the world have occurred countless times. Offering pragmatic guidance for the present he cites a New England legislature panicked by an eclipse. Opposing adjournment one commissioner said: “Mr. Speaker, if it is not the end of the world and we adjourn, we shall appear to be fools. If it is the end of the world, I should choose to be found doing my duty. I move you, sir, that candles be brought.” The command to “Watch” stresses the dimension of present responsibility.
Ralph Martin, Knox Preaching Guides: Mark (John Knox Press, 1981) cites verse 13 as key to understanding this chapter: “… but the one who endures to the end, will be saved.”
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
- Do not be tempted to wait for signs, be ready at all times.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
- Encourage endurance in the face of troubling times.