James Alison on Mark 13 and September 11, 2001

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There is something apparently callous about this. We react to bad news as to a form of emotional blackmail, obliging us to “feel” for the victims, and be outraged by someone who doesn’t appear to feel. But not Jesus. His attention is entirely concentrated on his interlocutors. It is not the events themselves which concern him, but their reaction to the events, and what that reaction says about whose power they are in. We can imagine the excitement of those telling him, wanting a pronouncement of appropriately apocalyptic tenor: the Galileans were not sacrificing at Jerusalem, probably at Gerizim. Maybe this was their punishment from God. But they are disappointed. Jesus completely de-sacralizes the event, removing any link between God and what has happened. Any link between morality and what has happened. If we are caught up in thinking like that, then we too are likely to act in ways moved by the apocalyptic other, the god of blood and sacrifice and murder, of morality linked to worldly outcome, and we will perish like them. To ram home his point, he chooses an example where there was no obvious moral agency, no wicked Pilate, no sacrifices of dubious validity: the collapse of a tower — maybe an architectural flaw, maybe a small earth tremor, the shifting of an underground stream, who knows. Once again, Jesus completely de-sacralizes the incident. It has nothing to do with God. But if we are caught up in the world of giving sacred meanings, then we will be caught up in the world of reciprocal violence, of good and bad measured over against other people, and we will likewise perish. Once again I stress: Jesus will not be drawn into adding to meaning. He merely asks those who come to him themselves to move out of the world of sacred-seeming meaning. What does it mean for us to learn to look at the world through those eyes?

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