Breaking through Anxiety
The whole world was shocked with the terrorist shootings and violence in Paris on Friday 13th November. It was possibly associated with the drone attack on “Jihadi John” (Mohammed Emwazi), who in his turn had executed journalist James Foley and six others. It was a grim replay of the many ways in which violence surges around the world in our time. It seems there is darkness in many corners. In our personal lives there are times we experience threats, violence, or great anxiety.
So when we read of “wars, and rumors of war” in the thirteenth chapter of Mark’s gospel, it resonates with our own experience. Furthermore, the destruction of the temple and the famines that appear in Mark 13 are experiences with which we are familiar in modern times, are we not?
Mark 13 is packed with references to the Hebrew Scriptures—up to eight references within a single verse! Everything Jesus says here would be thoroughly familiar to the Jews as reflecting centuries of the prophets. In all times and places people have been confronted by fearful challenges.
As our series of Gospel readings in Mark reach chapter 13, we enter into the final section of his Gospel. Throughout Mark’s Gospel there has been the element faith versus fear, carried all the way through into the last sentence of the original Gospel (Mk 16:8)—that the women would not carry the good news because they were afraid.
The Jewish and Christian congregation in which Mark was when he completed his writing was probably the congregation in Rome. Mark’s own congregation was suffering persecution by the Roman authorities, including Claudius and Nero—executing St Peter and St Paul among others. As time went by, the congregation built the catacombs there to hide from persecution. So it is natural that the element of fear would be so prominent in Mark’s Gospel. There may be times we also withdraw in fear into catacombs in our own lives.
(Indeed, a reason we use the bell during the Eucharistic prayer is this: Due to the darkness and winding passages of the catacombs, those early Christians couldn’t always actually see the silent moment of the offering of the bread and wine. Similarly, in our personal darkness a bell rings. The bell sounds out hope. It calls us to give thanks, and look up in faith.)
For his fearful congregation Mark recorded the words of Jesus and the prophets, predicting violence, wars, famines, trials and persecutions. In and through all that, however, at least some of them would keep faith and bear their testimony, Jesus said, like the reading from Daniel 12:1-3, which anticipated the support of Archangel Michael — even when opposed by all, and even when betrayed by their own children and families.
We know how to defend our children when they are bullied or under threat. We know how to defend our country when it is under threat. But are we suddenly quiet, submissive and paralyzed–disloyal–when it comes to bearing our testimony to Jesus?
Moreover, Jesus said they should constantly be on the watch and be on guard lest they fall into the grip of faithless anxiety and slip back into the world of self-centeredness. Rather, they should constantly rely on God’s miraculous power through the Holy Spirit; and rely upon the Christian Hope of the resurrection. These are the great central themes of Mark’s Gospel and they appear here in chapter 13. Despite all fearful apparitions, trusting in God’s power and counsel, we have “a goodly heritage… and hope” (Ps 16:1-11).
One great example of testifying to the Good News of Jesus Christ despite persecution was St Andrew the Apostle (the fisherman brother of St Peter), whom we remember on November 30th. He bore his witness all the way through to his martyrdom, the Holy Spirit strengthening and guarding him and ushering him into the Christian hope of the resurrection.
Another example we have seen of this was in Charleston on 17th of June. Pastor Clementa Pinckney, Myra Thompson and seven other people gathered for a bible study on that Wednesday at Mother Emanuel AME Church. Then arrived Dylan Storm Roof, 21 years old– and the group received and welcomed the visitor. He sat with them as Myra led the bible study. Then he shot the whole group of nine people, extreme racism being his motivation. Despite his cruelty or persecution of them, they bore their witness all the way through their martyrdom, the Holy Spirit strengthening and guarding them and ushering them into the Christian hope of the resurrection. Because of their suffering, the divisive Confederate flag is coming down everywhere.
Multi award-winning TV Presenter, Producer, Mentor and Female Activist, Leah Charles-King recently said this: “It’s easy to get crushed by life. I nearly did: all those years of being bullied, from school to school, and even at my dream job. It would have been easy to quit. Yet even when I had tears in my eyes and my spirit was broken, I stood still in the storm. I urge you to do the same. Don’t quit. Sometimes you may feel as if you are travelling without moving… desperately working toward you goal without seeing the results you hope for; but don’t you dare give up. It’s at the moment which may be your breakthrough.”
How will you and I respond to the call of Jesus in Mark 13? Will we fall into faithless anxiety? Will we fail to bear our testimony because of the opposition of the community or our very own family members? Or will we depend on the miraculous power and guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and, like St Andrew and Myra Thompson, bear our testimony all the way through into the resurrection?