Jesus began to say to the disciples, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 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.
‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.’
In recent times we have been bombarded with many negative statistics suggesting that those who espouse the Christian faith are members of an endangered species. We are told that unless we ‘compromise’ over doctrinal matters that carry the weight of scriptural authority, the Church of Jesus Christ is doomed to extinction. Perhaps we should not be surprised that all this bad press is wearing down many of the Church’s loyal members … even when the facts belie all this negativity.
The imminent demise of Christianity has been a theme that has run throughout the last two thousand years. But … the Church (or Community of Believers) established by Jesus Christ himself lives on.
Today we remember Mark the Evangelist, the writer of the earliest of the four gospels in the New Testament. Mark’s gospel was written between twenty and thirty years after the resurrection, and yet it carries the weight of great authority because of Mark’s close association with the apostle Peter, the rock on which Jesus built his Church.
Mark’s gospel, the shortest of the four gospels, emphasizes the actions of Jesus, rather than his teachings. It is seen as a narrative which encourages its readers to persevere through suffering and persecution. All of this comes to the fore in today’s short reading.
Jesus said: Beware that no one leads you astray. These words have an urgency that still resonates in the twenty-first century. These words should be constantly on our hearts as we read of the ‘necessary compromises’ and the soon to be experienced ‘death’ of the Church. Those who hold this passage dear will also recall more words of Jesus: do not be alarmed.
Jesus’ earthly life was a roller coaster of acceptance, adulation and rejection. Jesus’ remarkable birth marked the beginning of a journey that would end in the apparent victory of his critics and persecutors, those who saw Jesus and his teaching as a serious threat to their authority and power. Just as faithful Christians have held firm to Jesus’ teaching down the centuries, so his detractors and persecutors have seen their attitudes pass through successive generations. And so I return to my opening words: ‘In recent times we have been bombarded with many negative statistics suggesting that those who espouse the Christian faith are members of an endangered species.’
Today we are being challenged to take the baton that has been passed on to us by earlier faithful generations and keep moving forward in faith. Mark’s gospel is incisive and direct, and it highlights that even Jesus’ earliest followers were as human as us. So … let us cling to Mark’s narrative as we journey on in faith: not being led astray; not being alarmed; enduring to the end.