The Pony Under the Pile: Reflections on Mark 13:1-8
I take this to be an assurance that the Holy Spirit will support us in trying times and that we need not be filled with dread over trials that lie ahead. However, I don't take it as an excuse to renege on our responsibilities to use our gifts for God in the present. After all, Mark 13:10 tells us that "The good news must be proclaimed to all nations."
Martin Luther famously tried slacking off once. He depended on the Spirit to take up the slack, but it didn't work out very well. The story goes that Luther, when a professor at the University of Wittenberg, decided one week that he would take Mark 13:11 at face value. He spent no time whatsoever on his Sunday sermon and instead worked on his commentary on the Psalms. He later recounted what happened when he ascended the high pulpit of the Castle Church at Wittenberg and looked out over the sea of expectant faces. "Sure enough, the Holy Spirit spoke to me, and the Spirit said, 'Martin, you didn't prepare!'"
Assurance #2: The one who endures to the end will be saved (13:13).
Winston Churchill (1874-1965), British orator and Prime Minister during World War II, knew about persistence during wars and rumors of wars. He famously said, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never, in things great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."
He also offered this advice in the darkest days of World War II: "If you're going through hell, keep going." This saying is an apt summary of the good news that is to be found beneath the pile of fears and famines, pains and persecutions of Mark 13.
Country singer Rodney Atkins echoes Churchill's words in his lyrics to "If You're Going Through Hell, Keep on Going:"
Well you know those times
When you feel like there's a sign there on your back
Says I don't mind if ya kick me
Seems like everybody has
Things go from bad to worse
You'd think they can't get worse than that
And then they do
If you're going through hell
Keep on going,
Don't slow down
If you're scared, don't show it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you're there.
This all begs the question, "When we're going through hell, how can we keep on going?"
The answer? By remembering two pieces of very good news concealed in the pile of pains, pangs, and persecutions of this text:
- The Holy Spirit supports us in every dreaded encounter and event.
- The one who keeps the faith and endures to the end will participate in Jesus' victory over death.
Hugh Anderson, The New Century Bible Commentary on Mark (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987).
R.T. France, "The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text," The New International Greek Testament Commentary Series (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002).
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.