An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of theThirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Mark 13:24-32, November 18, 2012
DISCIPLESHIP MEANS THE following of Jesus. In Mark, however, discipleship has a definite reference—he is not just any Jesus. The Jesus being followed or referred to is the Son of Man: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow men… Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels”(Mark 8:34b-38). But who is this Jesus, the Son of Man?
In Mark’s Gospel, this Son of Man who we follow in discipleship is, among others, the Jesus who must suffer, is rejected and killed (Mark 9:31; 10:33), and who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for all (Mark 10:44b). As Son of Man, Jesus corrected his disciples for their wrong perception of what following him meant. For example, he criticized Peter who, instead of accepting the prospect of suffering and humiliation, thought of reviving David’s conquest (Mark 8:33). It is also for this reason that he silenced the brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who wished to occupy the prominent and prestigious places in the kingdom of God (Mark 10:38a).
Jesus’ criticism of his disciples makes it clear that to follow Jesus as Son of Man is rather costly. For judged in the light of worldly standard, it brings problems, deprivation, and suffering. A review of the Gospel readings of the preceding Sundays confirms this. The rich man refused to follow Jesus. When challenged to sell his property and give the money to the poor, his face fell because he was rich. For him, he could not suffer the loss of his wealth (Mark 10:23). As can be seen in Jesus’ prohibition of divorce, it also deprives one of his right to put away his wife for any cause (Mark 10:9). Discipleship also requires the giving up of ambition to lord it over others; instead, it asks the follower to accept suffering entailed in the ministry of service (Mark 10:38). Indeed, in one’s effort to call upon Jesus and follow him, as in the case of Bartimaeus, one could meet opposition and even attempts to silence him (Mark 10:48).
Does all this mean that following Jesus as Son of Man has nothing in store for the disciple except humiliation and defeat? Not at all. In the end, there is justification and triumph in discipleship. Although the disciple may live in a world enveloped by trials, difficulties and turmoil, he has a very certain consolation that the Son of Man he followed is coming back to give him eternal life in the age to come, making him share in his power and glory (see Mark 10:30). This is one point which this Sunday’s Gospel stresses: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky” (Mark 13:26-27).
This is to say that when Jesus comes as Son of Man, we who followed him in suffering and even death will be victorious over the powers of evil and death. Structures of power and domination represented by the stellar phenomena will be toppled: “The stars and constellations of the heavens send forth no light. The sun is dark when it rises, and the light of the moon does not shine. Thus I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their guilt. I will put and end to the pride of the arrogant, the insolence of tyrants I will humble” (Isa 13:10-11). “Then the moon will blush and the sun grow pale. For the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, glorious in the sight of his elders” (Isa 24:23). Or, in the apocalyptic language of the 1st Reading, those who followed Jesus “shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament”(Dan 12:3).
According to Mark, the chosen ones will be gathered from the four winds (Mark 13:27). This assembly of the elect who have followed the Son of Man fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah: “Fear not, for I am with you; from the east I will bring back your descendants; from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north: Give them up! and to the south: Hold not back! Bring back my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth: everyone who is named as mind, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isa 43:5-6). This only means that like the Son of Man, the people of the new covenant are vindicated.
The point is obvious. Discipleship may be costly, but in the end, a final victory over the forces of darkness awaits those of us who followed the Son of Man. Hence, we have much reason to take up the cause of discipleship.