As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
November 15, 2021, Words By: Joel Aguilar, Image By: Unknown
When I was a child, I had these racing thoughts of horrible things happening to me or my loved ones. I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a lifelong struggle with anxiety. So, when Guatemala closed its borders and lockdowns began in March 2020, my anxiety got worse. I had nightmares that the pandemic would last forever and that the world might end.
I’m a worrywart, but I tried to play it cool. For those who know me, it was obvious that I was struggling. I turned to my idiosyncratic coping mechanism — consuming books and knowledge. I went through hundreds of pages of heavy reading every week, but it didn’t help. The more I studied about life, death, and the end of the world, the more I went down the path of what I call anxious morbus — the anxiety-ridden attraction to things that could go wrong.
I know that I’m not the only one who faced deep anxiety during the last year and a half. For that reason, I want to invite us to bring our anxiety to the lectionary reading this week.
At the end of Mark 12, Jesus and his disciples witnessed a widow giving everything she had in the offering plate at the temple. Her intent, of course, was to give to God. And Jesus applauded her generosity. But he also highlighted the reality that her contributions were supporting a temple system that had strayed from its mission — that was crushing people just like her.
In our reading for today, which immediately follows the story of the widow, we encounter Jesus and the disciples leaving the temple. One of the disciples, perhaps without fully understanding what they had just witnessed, uttered words of praise for the greatness of the Herodian temple, a symbol of political, economic, and religious power. “Look, teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
Jesus responds with apocalyptic and worrisome words: “Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.” These words affected the disciples. They jumped to anxious morbus. After all, in their eyes the temple was stable, solid, magnificent, and indestructible. If it could fall, what could stand?
When their anxiety got the better of them, they privately asked Jesus about when this horrible event would happen.
After a year of pandemic, conspiracy theories, and massive disruption in our societies and personal lives, it’s not hard to sympathize with the disciples. They wanted to understand what was coming in order to relieve their anxiety.
Jesus didn’t quite give them the answer they wanted. But the beauty of this passage, and what comes after, is that Jesus creates an alternative to the anxiety and conspiracies that offer the false predictability, stability and control that we crave.
It’s easy to miss, but in Jesus’ speech in this chapter, he addresses the impending destruction, but he never attributes the violence and chaos to God. He is making a point by omission here, and it’s a point he continues to make throughout the book of Mark.
It is not God who is creating this “apocalypse.” It is us! We are the ones who are violent! God is just revealing our violence.
Jesus invites us to stay alert so we are not sucked into the rivalry and the contagious nature of the violence to come. And so that we aren’t fooled into thinking the violence and suffering comes from a dark, childish god. For that reason, we ought to “Watch out that no one deceives us.”
Even though this message may not seem incredibly comforting at first glance, there is amazing freedom in knowing that we are the ones prone to violence, not God.
We rest in the hands of a peace-full, loving God in whom there is no violence. The more we embrace this truth, the more free we are to approach our neighbors and the world with an attitude of abundance instead of suspicion and scarcity. After all, even if the world falls apart, humanity will fall into the hands of a gracious God, redeemer and sustainer of life.
Dwelling Among Us
What has made you anxious and worried in the last year and a half?
Would a God in whom there is no violence make you less anxious?
What is keeping you away from that God?