I was watching the news last night (a dangerous thing to do these days) and listened to a number politicians espousing their very staunch, determined views about an array of national and international issues. What struck me most was the tone with which they spoke. It seems to me that the strong-willed resolve they portray to the nation and to one another has at least encouraged, if not catalyzed, the polarization and stark divisions in our country and the world.
In his latest stand-up, The Comeback Kid (streaming on Netflix), one of my favorite comedians, John Mulaney, discusses how adults actually have far more leeway than children have when it comes to giving concrete answers. He argues that when children have to answer “True/False” questions, they should have a third option, which is, “Who’s to say?” While most adults employ the “Who’s to say?” option fairly regularly, I realize that politicians simply don’t have that luxury in the current political climate. But can you imagine it? If politicians received a question about immigration or foreign policy, and they simply shrugged their shoulders and responded, “Who’s to say?”
All of these thoughts came to mind as I read Mark 13 this week. Verses 32-37 state, “32 ‘But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 33 Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. 34 It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert.'”
The verse starts with “But nobody knows…” In political and religious discourse these days I hear very few people stating, “nobody knows.” Even when dealing with the Second Coming, which Jesus specifically addresses here, I hear a lot of people writing and talking confidently about their knowledge that we’re actively facing the End Times, or that the End Times will never happen, or that they know something concrete about the matter.
The text tells us that we don’t know, so we should stay alert. Not that we don’t know, so we should start studying and postulating and calculating; rather, that we should stay alert. Jesus says that even he doesn’t know when the end times will happen. It’s like a divine “Who’s to say?” But we are told to stay alert, to stay focused on God, and to trust that God knows God’s perfect timing. So may we step back today, may we feel humble today, and when facing questions in which we cannot know all of the answers, may we stay alert and offer a simple, “Who’s to say?”