This meditation on Mark 13.1-27 is expanded from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook
If you participated in Ash Wednesday a few weeks ago, you may have felt the shocking way Lent sneaks up on us. It refuses to ease us into its contours and instead hits us in the face with as much blunt force reality as it can: You are ash. You will die.
For those uncomfortable with these sorts of truths, the text below does not let up. It is a scary and confusing one, speaking of death, torment, wars, and destruction–even among those most innocent in society. The confusion of this text led some Christian traditions (especially the 19th-century American Church) to separate these words from their original context and history and see them as terrifying images of the end of the world. Perhaps you grew up in such a tradition and read these words with that filter.
To the extent there is good news in this, it is that these words are not in fact talking about the end of the world. The bad news? Well, the truth of what it is saying is even scarier.
Jesus is not talking about an end-of-the-world Armageddon here. Instead, he is predicting the destruction of the Jewish Temple (which happened at the hands of the Romans 35 years later) and telling his people what to do when it happens. Just look at the verses immediately preceding the scary ones. Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed, his disciples ask when that’s going to happen and what will it be like, and then Jesus says all this stuff. When you start reading it that way, it’s pretty straightforward. But why does this matter?
Reading through the story of Jesus healing the man by the pool of Bethesda, I was struck by a series of things I wanted to share with you all today, in no particular order. (But first, read the story in John 5.1-9):
First, the man doesn’t go to Jesus or ask him anything–he doesn’t even request the healing himself! Jesus just goes to him and heals him.
Some Thoughts on Blaspheming Oneself
I’m going to talk some theology today, but first let’s talk about some feelings. I’ve got a dear friend that struggles from time to time with deep fears, shame, and insecurity around his relating to God and the state of his soul, and his anxious heart tends to latch onto religious and theological reasons for these feelings.
In the years I’ve walked with him, different aspects of Christian faith and theology have shaken his assurance that he is, in fact, a Christian and that he can have a hopeful belief in his present and future relating to God.
Recently, he’s been struggling with an idea that’s gone by a few different names throughout history: “The Unpardonable Sin”, “Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit”, “The Unforgiveable Sin”, among others. It’s repeated and reframed in a few places of the Bible, but here is Mark’s version:
[And Jesus said,] “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they [his enemies, the Jewish leaders] had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Many, many of you out there may brush this aside as one more cryptic saying of Jesus on which you can’t base the whole weight of eternity. Others may think this is such theological minutiae or so random out of everything in the Bible that they find it confusing someone would be overly concerned with it.