In about 2011, we visited my brother and sister-in-law in London and had an opportunity to attend a communion service at St Paul’s Cathedral. The sheer scale of it all was very impressive, especially as one looked up and saw tourists walking around the dome. They looked so tiny from down on the ground.
I have a sense of what the disciples must have been feeling in our reading this morning. Our text from Marks Gospel opens today with the disciples and Jesus leaving the Jerusalem Temple saying to Jesus: “Look, what large stones and what large buildings!”
In this passage we see that the disciples are real country bumpkins. The fact that they are so impressed with the large stones and large buildings of Herod’s Temple complex in Jerusalem reveal that they were not very familiar with the temple. They had not spent enough time in Jerusalem to have become familiar with the temple so that it no longer surprised them by it’s size.
Secondly, it is clear that the disciples are particularly interested by external things, outward displays of wealth and power. It is interesting, because our passage today comes just after another passage that is also about outward displays of wealth and power.
In that passage it was the rich and famous of Jerusalem who made a big display of their wealth and their generosity by making a boastful outward display of how much money they were contributing to the temple treasury. But Jesus was not so impressed, because they were giving out of their wealth.
Jesus was far more impressed with the poor widow who put in a few copper coins, but for Jesus her contribution was much more significant, because in his words, she gave all she had to live on, while the wealthy gave of their spare money. It didn’t make much of a difference in the end to their standard of living. They gave of their excess.
In that passage, Jesus was not taken in by large outward displays of wealth power and status.
In this passage today, Jesus seems like wise unimpressed. Jesus doesn’t join the disciples in their amazement at the large buildings and large stones. Size doesn’t seem to impress Jesus very much.
Earlier in the gospel, he had tried to teach his disciples that very point when he spoke of the Kingdom of God being like a mustard seed. For those who knew their Jewish Scriptures, they would have expected Jesus to say that the Kingdom of God was like a great towering Cedar of Lebanon. Instead, Jesus said it was like a mustard seed, a small seed, which in fact didn’t grow into a very impressive plant at all. It was more like a bush than a tree. Some would suggest, even more like a weed because of the way it spread and took over a garden.
Jesus was not taken in by great outward displays of wealth, power and status. Not taken in by large buildings and large stones.
Jesus knew that nothing in this world lasts forever, kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall. Outward displays of wealth and power only last a season before the sands of time blow over them and great buildings are turned into rubble.
“Do you see these great buildings?” Jesus says to the disciples, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
In other words, Jesus suggests, don’t put your faith in great buildings, they don’t last forever. Don’t put your faith in external things, the winds of impermanence and change will blow over them.
The kingdom of Jesus is not to be found in outward external things. The kingdom of Jesus is not of the world of things at all. The kingdom of Jesus is a hidden dimension of the heart, and when we have entered that Kingdom the outward glories of the world no longer seem quite as important as they used to. When we have entered that Kingdom of the heart, we will discover that true and deep happiness can never be equated with external material things. The Kingdom of God is the kingdom of the uncreated, that which existed before anything came to be and will continue to exist when all things will come to an end. When the great buildings of the world crumble and are thrown down, the uncreated, silent kingdom of the heart will remain, and a joy that wells up from within that is not dependent on anything external, but wells up all on its own. Uncaused, uncreated, a joy and a happiness that comes from touching that which is eternal, that which has no beginning and that which will have no end.
The disciples said to Jesus, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus said to them, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
If Jesus is not impressed with the great outward display of Herod’s great Temple complex... what does impress Jesus? There are a few things in the Gospels....
- In our passage just prior, Jesus is impressed by a poor Jewish widow who gives her last few pennies to God out of deep faith and devotion...
- Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan, a heretic, someone who lived on the other side of the tracks, who stops to show an act of kindness to his enemy, a Jew who had been attacked and robbed on left for dead on the road.
- A man named Zachaeus, a traitor and a swindler, who had grown rich at the expense of others who has a change of heart that makes him want to put right what he had done wrong
- People who do acts of kindness in secret out of the goodness of their hearts, avoiding making a display to get the attention of others, not even allowing their left hand to know what their right hand is doing.
- A soldier, who cares enough for his servant, that he humbles himself and comes to Jesus seeking help. And when Jesus agrees to come with him, He does not feel worthy to have Jesus come under his roof.
- A women who anoints Jesus head with expensive oil as an act of love and devotion... it may seem wasteful... but it is an expression of a heart over-flowing with love... and for Jesus love is worth more than any amount of perfume.
"When people see some things as beautiful
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
If you over esteem great men,
people become powerless
If you overvalue possessions
people begin to steal.
Success is as dangerous as failure.
What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
You will always keep your balance."