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Reflection on Mark 13:33-37

A man on a journey

 A man on a journey  ING-048
01 December 2023

“It is like a man going on a journey.” Jesus is telling his followers that he will die. He has told them this before in very explicit language — “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). His disciples do not understand, and they are frightened. This is not surprising, considering that what he has said to them describes a series of events that will be absolutely singular and transformative. The Son of Man will follow unnumbered sons of men to death on a cross, and because he does this, death itself will die. Jesus has tried to prepare his friends for what must appear to them to be an utter catastrophe, the abuse and humiliation he must suffer. After having come with almost impatient haste to Jerusalem, the city where he is to die, he tells his disciples again what is about to happen, rephrasing it in broader and gentler terms, the kind that might be used to comfort children. He says he must leave them for a while.

But Jesus, being Jesus, will not trivialize. He speaks from an awareness his disciples cannot yet share. As his followers begin to understand who he was and is, his absence from the world will become another kind of presence in it. This itinerant Galilean speaks of a well-ordered household maintained by its servants, who are always aware that their master might return at any time. There is an apocalyptic energy in his insistence on the immediacy of his return, which will not be preceded by any sign. There is also the anticipation of a sudden joy that will vindicate all faithfulness and hope.

This household of servants is entrusted with the work they would do in any case. Considering whose house it is, this would surely include the practice of generous hospitality, and of teaching and learning, of nurturing and healing, of offering help and comfort for every need that finds its way to their door. In this fragment of parable Jesus looks beyond the grief and confusion that is about to overwhelm his friends to a time of watching and waiting, the ordinary sanctified by expectation. In all that they do, they will do it remembering him.

Marilynne Robinson