In this season of the apocalypse that precedes Christmas, as the Church reads warnings about the end times, we can turn to Mark’s Gospel, itself arguably a prophetic apocalypse, and ask what all this end time stuff means to us.
Mark squeezes chapter 13, the famous “end times” discourse, between two stories of women. The first comes at the end of chapter 12, in 12:41-44. Jesus directs his disciples to watch an old women put two copper coins into the temple treasury. She is a model of the old covenant, of the testament that is coming to an end. In this sense, she is the perfect set-up for chapter 13, in which Mark describes not the end of the world but the end of the old covenant using language borrowed from the Old Testament. This old women has completely devoted her life to the temple. She pays all she has to support the temple, because the temple for her represented where God dwelt. By giving all she had, she was giving all she had to God in the form of the primary symbol of Old Testament belief.
Then comes chapter 13, where Jesus prophesies, right after praising this woman, that not one stone of the temple will be left upon another.
And then at the beginning of Mark 14, in verses 3-9, we see another woman. This woman also gives a great amount. If it is not her whole livelihood, it is “very costly” and was possibly all of her savings. But unlike the woman before, she doesn’t give to the temple. Instead, she gives to Jesus. In other words, Jesus has replaced the temple. Chapter 13 was the transitional discourse and the two Women represent the two Covenants.
Both are examples for us as Advent comes quickly towards us. Yet in particular, it is the woman of chapter 14 who tells us what it means to be a member of the New Covenant. It is to give all, not to the temple, but to Jesus. She “breaks the jar.” This has become a powerful symbol in my own prayer. Each day we must take whatever is most costly and important to us and “break it” before Jesus and pour it out. This is the only way to live day by day in the new kingdom. And what better time than Advent to begin the breaking.