Jesus’ conversation found in the beginning of today’s text was difficult to hear and hard to understand for the disciples who sat with Jesus so long ago. In many ways it is also difficult for us to understand and hear these words two thousand years later: Jesus is describing the life that is to come for the disciples and for those who will follow. His intention is not to scare the disciples, but to prepare them and help them understand that there are certain things that are important as he prepares to leave.
As I sat next to my friend John in the ICU and watched him take his last few breaths in this life, I reminisced about the many gifts and graces he offered me during our friendship. He had given so much to the church, to the community, to his family, and to me personally. In many ways, I felt as though John and I understood this world from a similar perspective. In addition, we had served together, worshiped together, and met together on many occasions. We had become good friends and John was someone I respected and admired. There are many holy moments in life and one of the most holy is that time when a person leaves this physical life and goes on to life eternal. In that moment God is truly present. I said several things to John that I had meant to say for years and prayed with him more than once during those last few hours. Perhaps there is freedom in that holy space to open up to what God has in store and what God is doing in the here and now.
As Jesus tells his disciples good-bye and prepares for the trials and persecutions that are to come, there are several things that Jesus obviously thinks are important to pass on before he goes. Perhaps it is the holiness of the moment as they sit together, or perhaps it is clarification about what God will do. Jesus tells of the destruction that will come and the trouble that will face the people of this earth, but he also gives his friends some words of advice. Jesus tells the disciples to be aware and to watch out for those who will try to take the name of Christ and lead the disciples astray. Jesus knows that the disciples have been dependent upon him and he worries about their future path. Out of this care and concern, Jesus tells them to keep the teachings and the path that he has set for them and that no matter what destruction or persecution may come, to remain faithful to his guidance.
Jesus has many discourses with his disciples and friends and many of these are about future things that will occur. Mark 13 is unique in the eschatology that is presented surrounding the temple and the end times. The destruction of the temple is often seen as an allusion to the passion of Christ just a few chapters away. In this case, however, Jesus is telling about things that will not be seen in his life, but rather things that are to come in the fullness of time. Why would Jesus make such a point of this? Perhaps it is to warn the disciples and to give them the best chance possible with what will come.
One way we can pass on what is most important to us in life is to consider the world after our time in it has passed and consider what we can and should do to help those who will remain here after. Some people in the secular world think of this in terms of leaving a personal legacy that people can remember and look up to, but for the Christian, we already have the legacy to admire. Our job is to help persons see that legacy more clearly by what we offer during our life. One of the things I appreciated most about my friend John is that you never questioned what he was thinking or believing; he stated things clearly and definitively and you never wondered where he stood or what he thought. It is because of this, that, although John is no longer with us here in this life, there is no question about what was most important to him. He spent life pointing others to Christ and to the important things in life, and he left a legacy, not of himself, but of God’s work of love.
Jesus wants to remind, encourage, and warn the disciples and us that there are many opportunities to hear legacies and create legacies that will draw us off course from where God intends for us to be, but when we follow the legacy of the Christ, we can weather the storms and trials that come and we can move forward in faith.