It measured over 36 acres in size. It took nearly 80 years to complete. It was comprised of massive limestone slabs measuring 9 feet high and 24 feet wide. The limestone was covered by the finest of marble. The doors and gates, and pinnacles were wrapped in the purest of gold. It was so white and so dazzling that the ancient historian Josephus compared it to a “snow covered mountain” when viewed from a distance. Of course, I am describing the extravagant and extraordinary Temple of Jerusalem during the reign of King Herod the Great. This is the Temple where Jesus spent the last days of his life teaching and sparing with the religious leaders. This is the Temple where the curtain separating humanity from Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God’s presence was torn in two when Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross. And this is Temple where the disciples looked up in amazement and declared, “Teacher, look at these massive stones and enormous buildings.” Look at the grandeur! Look at the beauty! Look at the power! Look at what human ingenuity can do! Look at what the wonders of technology can accomplish! To which Jesus responds, “One day it’s all going to come crashing down.”
Now I have to admit that it is a bit awkward on Giving Sunday as prepare to offer our gifts for the support of buildings and structures and programs and ministries, to hear Jesus remind us that one day our great human accomplishments will all come crashing down. It’s a bit unsettling to hear Jesus talking about war and rumors of war. About earthquakes and famines and geo-political conflict. But what’ even more unnerving is the fact that this dramatic apocalyptic teaching represents the last word from Jesus in the gospel of Mark. These are his final instructions to his disciples. In the very next chapter, he will be arrested and put on trial. So, how do we make sense of these dramatic final words from Jesus?
I think at this particular moment in his life, as he is preparing for his impending death, Jesus is challenging his disciples to face the same question that he has been asking them since the very beginning – Who are you going to follow? When everything you thought was stable and secure and indestructible comes crashing down, who are you going to follow? When the circumstances of the world around you grow increasingly chaotic and confusing, who are you going to follow? When the future seems uncertain and everything you have always known seems to be slipping away, who are you going to follow? This question lies at the very heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
In our gospel reading today, the disciples, after listening to Jesus describe the impending destruction of the Temple, come to him and ask, “When will this be? Tell us, when is all of this going to happen?” But in classic Jesus style, he doesn’t answer their question. Instead he give them a warning: “Beware that no one leads you astray.” You see, for the Jesus, this is not a chronological issue, this is a relational issue. Jesus is not concerned about the calendar. But is very much concerned about commitment. Jesus does not seem to be worried about following a timeline, but he does want to ensure that his disciples follow the path that he has been leading them on since the very beginning. Beware that no one leads you astray. Who are you going to follow?
The Greek word that is used here literally means “don’t let anyone lead you off the right path.” Don’t let anyone cause you to wander. Don’t let anyone entice you to go roaming around in the wrong direction. The implication here is that Jesus has shown us a particular path to follow, a particular way to live, a particular mission to fulfill. In fact, the earliest days of the church, Christians were simply called “followers of the Way.” And so, Jesus issues this warning, “Beware that no one leads you astray.” Now I don’t know about you, but I am prone to wander. There are so many things that seek to distract me from following the way of Jesus, so many voices that try to get me to wander off pathway of righteousness. Every day we are bombarded with distracting voices that want to lead us astray.
Some of these distracting voices are profoundly personal. In our baptismal liturgy we acknowledge that there are sinful desires that seek to draw us from the love of God. We all have areas of our lives where we stray from the path. We all have patterns of behavior, mindsets, and attitudes that cause us to wander. We all have moments when we wittingly or unwittingly choose to act and believe in ways we know are contrary to vision God has for our lives. In those moments, Jesus comes to us with forgiveness, grace, and compassion, but he also comes with conviction and he asks of us, “Who are you going to follow?”
Some of the distracting voices we experience corporately. The voices of materialism and consumerism. The voices of greed, pride, and human arrogance. The voice of what we might call “comparative analysis.” That’s where we compare ourselves and measure our self-worth against everyone else around us. He’s got the better job. She’s got the nicer car. They’ve got the bigger house, the happier family, the larger bank accounts.” In the midst of all of these distractions, in the midst of all these competing voices vying for our attention, Jesus comes to us and says, “Who are you going to follow?”
And then, of course, there are some distracting voices that are quite literally global in nature. When we turn on the news or read the paper or check in with our social media accounts we hear about wars and rumors or war. Natural disasters. Horrific acts of violence. Deepening political division. Economic uncertainty. Temples and towers, symbols of human achievement – things we think are stable and indestructible, come crashing down all around us. And in the midst of all of these ongoing challenges in our world, we come face to face once again with this most basic question, “Who are you going to follow?”
Jesus said, “Beware that no one leads you astray. There will many who come in my name.” There will be many who come claiming to bring peace. There will be many who come claiming to speak truth. There will be many who come claiming to offer salvation. But Jesus came to show us particular path to follow, a particular way to live, a particular mission to fulfill. And nothing will be able to stop the mission of the kingdom of God. As we gather here this morning, just as Jesus predicted, the gold from the pinnacle of Herod’s Temple is long gone. The hallways lined with the finest marble have all be reduced to dust. The enormous limestone slabs now lie in heaps of rubble. But the mission of God continues. We are still the people of the Way. We are still following the pathway of righteousness. In the midst of the challenges. In the midst of the distractions. In the midst of all that seek to draw us away from the love of God, Jesus comes and taps us on the shoulder, and says, “Who are you going to follow?” And I think we all know what our answer should be.