As he [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
Has your identity ever been stolen? I haven’t had mine stolen, but I know of people who have had the distinct pleasure of having someone assume their identity. When that happens, it’s as if someone has run off with the essence of who we are. If someone steals our credit card and makes purchases in our name there is the chance that our credit score, finances, or even our very reputation will be ruined. While we create profiles for ourselves on websites like Facebook and MySpace, and share bits and pieces of ourselves with the world, if our name is pilfered, that’s another story.
In the text for today, Jesus also speaks about the importance of “what’s in a name.” He tells his disciples that many will come in his name and that they will lead people astray. Jesus is telling them that many will claim to be the Messiah, the one come to redeem the world. The first few centuries of the Common Era, when Mark’s contemporaries were hearing these words, were a confusing period filled with strife, struggle and hardship. Not only was the seemingly indestructible Temple dismantled, stone by stone by the Romans in 70 CE, but there were many other trials.
Playing off of peoples’ beliefs that Christ would be coming back very soon, there were many “pseudo-messiahs” and false teachers eager to step in to take Jesus’ place. In addition, the early church was plagued by internal conflicts over doctrine and right teaching, as well as by the external conflicts of persecution and even martyrdom. Life was confusing and not easy. Who could people believe or trust?
And what are we in the 21st century to do? In the midst of a recession, dealing with high unemployment rates, with wars and violence around the world, and plenty of people speaking false words of hope, Jesus’ words are incredibly timeless. Jesus does not want us to be taken in by all those things that might lead us astray: people telling us if we believe hard enough, we’ll make more money, or others saying if we send them money, we will be healed of our sicknesses and pains. He does not want us to put our trust in things like money or material objects, which, like the Temple, will crumble and pass away. Instead he urges us to put our hope and faith in him – the authentic and living Christ.
Picture it this way. Jesus is at the check-out in a store and as the cashier tells him the cost, he hands over his credit card. The back of the card says “See ID.” The cashier checks to make sure that he is indeed who he says he is and the transaction continues. Each of us is like the cashier seeking to check the ID of those people or things that would have us believe they are our saviors. We can use the tools of Scripture, prayer, discernment, and conversation with others in order to check the identification to see if those things are truly of God.
Although all the splendid things we have – cars, houses, money, electronics – will fade away like the Temple, in Christ, the living, indestructible temple, we have something solid to which to cling. I find it very telling that whereas a false teacher might seek to gain glory and to make a name on this earth, the one we are to follow is the one who submitted to death on a cross for our sake. In the crucified and resurrected Christ, we can look forward expectantly to the coming kingdom and reign of God, even in the midst of all our trials and pains. Perhaps if we looked at Christ’s ID, we would see the cross and the empty tomb.
Christ never said following him would be easy or free of struggle or strife. This text indicates quite the contrary, but Jesus does not leave us without hope. When we find ourselves being led astray, we can recall the comforting words of Jesus to the disciples: “do not be alarmed.” We have been given the gifts of Scripture, prayer and discernment in order to verify that we are on the right track. More importantly, we have been given the gift of Jesus Christ himself to illumine our way. Therefore, may we remember the word of hope that God gives to us each and every day in the authentic, living word, Jesus Christ. Amen.
© 2009. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.