Like the tolling of some great bell, Mark 13 offers dire warnings of what might befall those who do not stay awake during perilous times. Summoning apocalyptic language, the gospel writer struggles to alert readers to the urgency of their situation—perhaps Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of
Interpreters of this text debate its context and meaning. While the passage refuses to chart a schedule for the end-time—and warns against presuming to know what only God knows—there is clear instruction about how one is to live in the mean time. One is to watch and pray.
It is very easy for us to lose any sense of urgency about the second advent of Christ. The yawning centuries since this text was written have led many to conclude that watchfulness was a practice relegated to the first century. We tend to watch other things: the stock market, our diets, or the clock when no one is looking. The Markan Jesus urges us to watch for the signs of God’s nearness, indeed always to be watching for God. Simone Weil has written: “Attentiveness is the only faculty that gives us access to God.” So, we must be on the watch.