And Jesus says: What I say to you, I say to all: keep awake. (Mk 13:37)
Today Jesus and the disciples return from their final visit to the great Temple of Jerusalem. Throughout Mark’s narrative Jesus brings the Good News to God’s people, all those who live outside the norms of accepted society. Yet throughout his ministry the image of the Temple looms darkly in the background. Immediately upon his baptism, the Holy Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness. There, raised to the pinnacle of the Temple, he rejects Satan’s challenge to test God by leaping towards his death 450 feet below. (Matt 4:5-7) From there, the Temple stands as the symbol of Jesus’ conflict with the religious authorities.
The Hebrew god is located deep within the Temple. Access to God in the Inner Temple is prohibited to all but the holiest of high priests. Only they may travel beyond the velvet curtain that bars entrance into the presence of God. Limited access is available to the average worshipper by paying a fee in the antecourt. There Caesar’s coin is exchanged for temple currency. As he overturns the tables of the money changers Jesus comes into direct conflict with the high priests. He denies their authority to restrict access to God. This sets them on the path to destroy Jesus.
Let’s take a close view of the Hebrew Temple. Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, is dominated by this huge complex. It is a great building of white marble and gold with bronze entrance doors. To view those doors is said to risk being blinded by the reflection of the sun. The Temple walls rise upward to the height of a twenty-storey building. Its central plaza encloses the area of six football fields. Some of the stones so admired by the disciples this morning weigh up to 400 tons. The Temple of Jesus’ time is not just another neighborhood synagogue down the street. The Temple stands as the religious, political and economic center of Israel.[i]
This is the image that Jesus will throw down, as he responds to his disciples who, admiring the Temple, act as though they are on an architectural tour. Magnificent as it may be, the Temple has become a man-made attempt to glorify a God held prisoner within its walls. It is the symbol of religious, political and economic thought that Jesus will throw down and rebuild in three days on Calvary.
The Temple, however, is only the symbol of the conflict. The villains are the chief priests and scribes within, those who assume the role of guardian of the Hebrew god. Jesus’ prophesy is rejection of those who have placed a velvet curtain barring access to God. Turning over the tables of the money changers, he cries “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mk 11:17)
Jesus makes it clear that his quarrel is with the the keepers of the Temple. These are the self-appointed caretakers who reject the authority of God in Jesus. While at the the Temple, Jesus put them on notice as he confronts them in the parable of the vineyard. A man plants a vineyard, puts a fence around it and makes all preparations for a distant journey. He leases it to tenants to care for the vines until his return. In due time, he sends his servants for the accounting. The tenants refuse the accounting and beat the servants. The owner sends his son for redress. The tenants beat the son, throw him out of the vineyard and kill him. The Chief Priests and Scribes get the message. Unwilling to accept the authority of God in the person of Jesus, they conspire to eliminate Jesus. (Mk 12:1-12)
Years ago my family and I were sent on temporary assignment to Atlanta. As a native New Englander, I sometimes remark that this was my first foreign assignment. During those three years we frequently traveled and toured civil war battlefields. Memorabilia of that tragic and terrible conflict are found everywhere. Close by the school our twin boys attended stands a marker identifying the location of Union headquarters. Here, on the heights above Atlanta, with a clear view of the city below, General Sherman’s staff will make plans for their descent upon the stronghold of the Confederate army.
This morning Jesus sits on the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple. He is positioned directly East of Jerusalem, with a view across the Kidron Valley below, towards the great Temple of Jerusalem. From this height Jesus will descend to confront the authorities who have corrupted their responsibility. In their hands, the Temple oppresses rather than provides. [ii]There, across the valley below are the real life tenants. Here are the caretakers who refuse to yield any portion of the vineyard which, in reality, does not belong to them. [iii]
In the three days ahead, Jesus will achieve wild success in the mortal defeat of crucifixion and the ultimate final victory in resurrection.[iv] At the moment of victory, the curtain of the Temple is torn in two, from top to bottom. (Mk 15:38) It is rent apart, ever again to be restored. No longer will God be held in a man-made prison. The house of God has returned to a house of prayer for all nations. Jesus, the temple of God now lives in our hearts. The doors of his Temple are open to all people.
The Beginning of the Story
This would seem to be the end of the story. It is just the beginning. Remember the opening words of Mark’s gospel: hear now the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mk 1:1) Jesus confirms the good news. The Kingdom of God is near, but no one can know the time of its coming. The disciples, Jesus’ lieutenants ask how will this be accomplished? How shall we behave during the struggle ahead? What signs will disclose that our mission is accomplished? Will we be deceived be false signals run up by the opposition? What are your instructions for us? Jesus leaves us with words of encouragement.
And Jesus says: What I say to you, I say to all: keep awake. (Mk 13:37)
Beware, keep alert, for you cannot know when that time will come. (Mk 13:33) Jesus has led us this far, it is now for the disciples to become the messengers. Great change requires great struggle. There will be wars and rumors of wars. Nation will rise against nation. There will be earthquakes and famines. Belief systems will war one with another. False prophets will claim to show the way. Many will fall away while others will claim to succeed them. These are not prophesies of ancient times. The growth of the Kingdom is part of the present age. [v]They describe the horror we have experienced during the present age, as man’s acts of inhumanity against humanity have multiplied thousand-fold.
Jesus declares to his disciples, as he does to us, that these are but the beginning of the birth pangs. When you see these things take place, you know that the Kingdom is near. (Mk 13:29) What I say to you I say to all: keep awake. (Mk 13:37) Empowered by the Holy Spirit, press on to proclaim the good news to all nations. Be ready to rise to the call.
Today we honor those veterans who have risen to the higher call in times of wars and rumors of war. We celebrate all the men and women who stood to the colors when called by their country. Many will be sent in harm’s way. Yet in the hearts of all who rise live these words of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Hear him prepare his Maine Volunteers for the grim struggle they shall face on Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg.
“Men, his is a different kind of army. If you look back through history, men have fought for pay, for women, for land, for power, or because a king leads them. We are here for something new. It has not been seen in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it. Not divided by slave state or free. Here, no man has to bow. Here we judge you for what you do, not by what your father was. Here you can be something. It is not the land. It is the idea that we all have value. You and me. What we are fighting for, in the end. We are fighting for each other. 
Jesus calls us to be ready. Do not be alarmed, all this must take place, but the end is still to come. Proclaim the Good News. Stay awake! Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt 28:20)
This is a sermon delivered to the congregation of Emmanuel Church, Newport, RI on November 14, 2021.
I am indebted to the following for their insights into the lectionary: William L. Lane,
The Gospel of Mark, Eerdmans (1974); David Rhoads et al: Mark as Story . Fortress Press. Kindle Edition; Ira Brent Driggers, The Politics of Divine Presence, © Kininklije Brill NV (2007); and Benjamin A. Edsall, This Is Not the End: The Present Age and the Eschaton in Mark’s Narrative
Roger C. Bullard, September October 17, 2021
 Jewish Virtual Library, ©1998American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (1998-2021) https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org
 Joshua Chamberlain’s speech (excerpts), Gettysburg (1993), Turner Pictures, Ronald F. Maxwell, Director & Writer.
[i] Rhoads et. al, Kindle location 1726
[ii] Driggers p 242
[iii] Driggers, p. 244
[iv] Edsall p.446
[v] Edsall p.431