SECOND SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT
Give Birth to Justice
Mark 13.8 Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one
another. There will be earthquakes everywhere and there will be famines.
These things are like the first pains of childbirth.
There are Christians who look at the Bible and try to calculate
the future. Apparently some have seen there direct predictions of the
attack on New York's Twin Towers on 11 September, 2001.
If one reads the Bible in this way, it's tempting to hope that if
things get really bad in the world, God will one day come down from the
clouds and make them better.
We can read these words this way if we so wish. But such a reading is
not helpful - if only because events are likely to prove us incorrect.
History is littered with Christian groups who have fervently expected the
end of the world in their day. Such groups range from the Essenes in the
time of Jesus and the Fifth Monarchists during the English Civil War, to
Jehovah�s Witnesses in our own day.
As we all know, they were without exception wrong.
The danger of believing that the world will be sorted out by God at
some indeterminate future point, is that it encourages many to become
fatalistic about the future. Worse, at least one group today seems to want
to hasten God's rescue by encouraging war in Israel. They justify this
bloodthirsty position by referring to predictions by modern-day Calamity
Janes that the "first pains of childbirth" will start in the Middle East.
However, most scholars believe that Mark�s mini-apocalypse and Daniel's
so-called "predictions" in the Old Testament were both written, not before
a calamitous event, but afterwards. The Book of Daniel was written after
the Greeks had desecrated Jerusalem in the second century
bc. Mark's passage was penned after the Romans destroyed the city
On this reading, the words accredited to Jesus, far from being a
prediction of the future, were Mark's comfort for the present. It is hard
for us to imagine the horrors and brutality of Rome. Remember, this was a
society which, only 70 years before the time of Jesus, crucified the
followers of Spartacus three deep for forty miles along the Appian Way.
Many of the poor wretches stayed alive for up to a week.
Maybe words like those in Mark 13 give hope to an Auschwitz generation
and to others who have lived through horror. When, for example, up to a
million people were hacked to death in Rwanda, what hope was there? What
hope is there for young people growing up in parts of the developing world
We in the West can't criticise from our relative comfort those who
cling to the belief that one day God will come and make it all right.
And yet we know that in reality God will not come down from heaven
and put it right.
As a result, those we most admire are those who have not
accepted that injustice is inevitable. They have not waited for God to
sort things out. They have actively set about creating justice.
Such in the 20th century must include Gandhi, Martin Luther King and
Nelson Mandela. None of these accepted as inevitable the injustice of the
world around them. None of these read Mark 13 and taught that Jesus would
come down from heaven to make the world better.
Far from it. They fought for justice, they suffered for justice - and
through them justice came.
So if passages like Mark 13 have any value beyond comforting people
whose hopelessness we cannot imagine, then surely it is to inspire us to
be prepared to suffer the pains of ourselves giving birth to a genuinely