Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost | Mark 13:1-8
Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts based on the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary.
Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down
We have a fascination with the dark. We cannot turn away from the spectacle of destruction, catastrophe, the specter of death. A plane crashes, an earthquake or storm brings havoc, ebola begins killing people, and we cannot help but watch. It is mesmerizing.
The people near Jesus heard him admire a poor widow placing two coppers in the collection box, but being who they were, they missed the point. They did not know the truth of it, that God would value so small a thing. As soon as they walked out the temple gates, they began to look back, admiring the buildings, the stonework, the massive scale of the temple.
Everything you see will be destroyed, Jesus tells them. All of the great stonework will be thrown down, all the great buildings of the temple will be in ruins.
It happened just as he predicted, of course. The Romans destroyed this second temple in 70 AD, just as the Babylonians had destroyed the first one. It was nothing new.
Some say that the calamities Jesus described came to pass with the destruction of the temple, or during the dark ages with the collapse of western civilization, or that the suffering he predicted has yet to come. All of these interpretations are differing versions of the truth. All of them miss the point.
Even without the Romans, the temple would have fallen. Everything passes, buildings fall, stones crumble—and that is nowhere to put your faith, Jesus was saying.
It wasn’t about the temple. That was only buildings, stones piled one on top of another, and those had already been torn down once, the woodwork burned, the gold taken. The Babylonians had done it six centuries prior—destroyed the temple, destroyed Jerusalem, taken the best and the brightest of the people into exile.
No, it was never about the temple itself. It was an impressive piece of construction, but it was more impressive as a mental construct. It was a symbol. All that the Jewish people thought of themselves, all that they thought about God, that is what the temple was. The temple looked like it was made of stone, but really it was built of ideas.
Jesus wasn’t talking about buildings. He was talking about ideas. In particular, Jesus was talking about the ideas we construct about ourselves, the framework of beliefs that we have built up about God.
Ask the religious folk, and we will tell you all about God. Not that all of us are in the same temple. Oh, no—we’ve built lots of them, piling our stones higher to separate us from the errors of other religious folk.
Come into our temple, and we will tell you what God is like. We will tell you how God went about creation. Some of us will even give you the date it happened. We will explain God’s plan for the world and the universe, an explanation we built on the idea that things have gone as they should, that things have gone wrong, that there is something inherently flawed in the nature of our world. We will explain the future. (It’s really good for us. Maybe not so much for you.) We have constructed all of it, idea by idea, stone by stone, building walls around our ideas of God and walls around our ideas of humanity, so as to keep out other people’s thoughts.
Jesus said that it would all come falling down, stone by stone, brick by brick, idea by idea.
So long as we think we understand God, we do not need to look. So long as we think we know God’s plan, we do not need to listen. We are safe within the construct of our belief systems.
A belief system, no matter how well constructed, is not God any more than a telescope is a star. It’s fine to use a telescope. It is insane to think it creates the light we see when we look through it.
If ideas about God get in the way of finding God, let them go. If our own thoughts are so loud we cannot listen, it is time to be quiet. If our explanations about God prevent us from being open to God, our temple has become a prison.
We need to tear down our walls.