Do you remember the comic strip “Li’l Abner?” It featured the exploits of the Yokums—Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae, and others. I always remember the character with the unpronounceable last name. You know the one— he was always portrayed with a storm cloud—a dark cloud of misfortune always hovering around his head. Joe Btfsplk was his name. I guess the more proper pronunciation of his name was more akin to what is called the Bronx cheer. Bad things always followed him around and that pall of misfortune always seemed to be contagious, affecting anyone else who was in the vicinity.
In history there have always been eras that were like that. They were times in which the people felt that a cloud of misfortune was hanging overhead, in which the tenor or the time was a feeling of apprehension about what might be coming down the pike next. The times in which we live are by no means the first time this has happened in history. Another such time in history was during the first century, during the time of Jesus, in and around what we know as the Holy Land. We might do well to ask ourselves: is there anything that we can learn from them, from history that would help us in this present time?
On the more optimistic day, people had a sense of hope and longing for a better world, which they articulated as the vision of the Kingdom of God. But on most days, in those times, the pall of negativity that hung over Jerusalem was an awareness that they were living in the final days. People could see that it was only a matter of time before all that they held dear was swept away and destroyed. They could look backward in history and make note of the earlier destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 587 BC, and the Babylonian exile or captivity. They were well aware that the construction of the temple—an ongoing project and a feature of the reign of Herod the Great—was actually the third rebuilding of the temple.
Very little emphasis is placed in our understanding of history that the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Council or Sanhedrin were comprised of people who were fairly paranoid—and they were paranoid for compelling reasons. They knew full well that if they did not maintain a delicate balance, the wrath of Roman would descend upon them. And there were zealots—the original terrorists who longed for that very thing to happen because they were just crazy enough to think that by creating a crisis they would be able to bring into being the reign of God.
The prediction of Jesus about the destruction of the temple was in fact a thing that happened about twenty or thirty years after his death and resurrection, in 64 AD. And, while we do not necessarily take it in this manner, our Lord’s comments to the disciples are meant to be encouraging, not frightening. Because what they are intended to be is a reminder that while things change, the providence of God is there. The plan of God is there, even when we do not see it. Especially when we do not see it.
So the message is fairly direct in this passage and the ensuing other verses from Mark 13: remain faithful. Don’t let your faith be shaken, but remain constant. Don’t be alarmed. And, don’t give in to fear. Look for redemption.
The cloud of fear hanging overhead is precisely that thing that keeps us from seeing that there is hope. It keeps us from seeing the light, and it robs the human spirit of its energy. If we put all of our attention into the storm cloud of doom overhead, what energy is there left for anything positive. Because, ultimately a fear based world view is like expanding foam insulation. Once you start, it will fill up every crack and crevice. That’s good when you are trying to keep the winter chill out. It is not so good when it obscures the grace of God.