Wells Fargo Center construction, Minneapolis, 1988
Whenever I see the downtown Minneapolis skyline I think of my brother Larry. When I was in college and he was in grade school, he would tell me of his dream of becoming an electrician. Ten years later, he was an apprentice electrician, learning the trade by assisting in the wiring of houses. In those days Larry would tell me of his dream of being a master electrician and working on skyscrapers. A few years later, he had achieved that goal, and worked on some of the Twin Cities’ largest buildings.
One day when Larry was working downtown I met him for lunch. I arrived at the corner where he told me to meet him, and I looked up and saw the cranes and the half-finished building already reaching far up into the sky. I also saw Larry waving as he was coming down the side of the building in an open-sided construction elevator. When he got down, he was very excited to tell me about the construction of a skyscraper; about all the work, all the materials, and all the steps that went into it. He was proud to be a part of it, and eager to talk about it. I was impressed by the planning and knowledge and precision that went into such a massive structure, and, I was impressed by the strength of the end result. Not even a tornado could move it, he said. Windows might break, but the building would stand firm.
In the first verse of Mark 13 the disciples were enthusiastically pointing out the wonders of the Jerusalem skyline to Jesus. “Look Teacher,” they said, “what massive stones and what magnificent buildings!” The main building they were admiring was the Temple, which was indeed a wonder of the ancient world. Scholars today still do not fully understand how such a massive structure was built with the technology then available. Huge stones were brought in from great distances and then lifted to incredible heights. It would be a huge undertaking even today. Therefore, the disciples were walking around in amazement and admiration.
Model of Herod’s Temple
But Jesus did not seem to be impressed. After all, it was he who, with the God the Father and God the Holy Spirit created the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. Was he going to be impressed by a little pile of building blocks like that? That was like child’s play to him. He could have put that whole temple into one small side valley in the Grand Canyon. And not only was he not impressed, he told the disciples that it was not going to last. In the very next verse Jesus said to them, “The time will come when not one stone will be left on another.” And that great temple which so impressed the disciples that day, was within 35 years, almost completely leveled by the Romans.
I will never again read this text without thinking about the 9-11 attack on America. The Twin Towers of the New York World Trade Center were indeed among the most impressive structures of the modern world, each more than twice as high as the huge and strong buildings Larry worked on in Minneapolis. Yet, in less than 90 minutes they were reduced to a pile of rubble. And on that day many people were thinking about the very thing that Jesus went on to talk about in the rest of this chapter– the end of the world. “Teacher,” the disciples asked, understanding for once what Jesus was getting at, “When will these things happen, and what sign will there be that they are about to take place?”
Then followed Jesus’ famous and often misunderstood sayings about nation against nation and wars and earthquakes and famines and all kinds of other fearful and great signs from heaven. Every age since Jesus has had all of those things, and every age since Jesus, including our own, has had many people saying, “See, the end of the world is just around the corner.” Someday, somebody will be right, but in the meantime, I’m hoping those in Washington will keep working to keep the Social Security system solvent, because a lot of people might need to be drawing on it before the end comes. (continued…)
Mark 13:1 — As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
Mark 13:2 — “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
Mark 13:32 — (Jesus said), “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
O Christ, you are the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to you, and all ages; to you be the glory and the power, through every age, forever and ever. Amen.