Thursday, August 03, 2017

Mark 11. Jerusalem

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.
 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”?
   But you have made it a den of robbers.’
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
 ‘Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.’*

 Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’

Reflection questions:
Why is Jesus in trouble with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem?  What problem does he cause?
What does Jesus teach about prayer?
How does Jesus address questions of his authority to act and speak the way he does?
What would cause you to make a public demonstration, to take a public stand?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mark 10. Let me see again

Mark 10 is hard core teaching on relationships.  What shall the Christian community be like?    How will to be different from the world?
Male privilege in patriarchy allowed men to divorce women without grounds.  She could simply be dismissed.  Women were at a deep disadvantage in that society, economically and socially.  Though they contributed significantly to the household, they were considered subordinate to men.  Subservient.  Vulnerable. Weak. Disposable.  Jesus' prohibition of divorce does two things:  First it places marriage within the context of the divine covenant. It is part of God's grace/love act, placing men and women in relationships.  Therefore, men and women are accountable to God and each other for their marriage.  A marriage is meant to reflect God's love, God's blessing, God's fruitfulness.
Second, Jesus' prohibition protects women from neglect and abuse.  Because faithful men were supposed to avoid sin.  Jesus' rule on divorce was more or less a slap in the face of patriarchy.  Jesus sees women as precious bearers of God's image, not as instruments of male domination or satisfaction.  Divorce is prohibited on the grounds that God joins people together, because God is love. No love, no marriage.  Jesus would have been a good husband.  A Christian community protects marriage and protects those who are vulnerable in relationships.
Then Jesus welcomes children and blesses them.  He elevates their status, too.  Children are meant to be seen and heard, loved and nurtured.  Children possess an innocence, awe and wonder, a healthy respect for things that are bigger than they are, courage to try new things, imagination and a mind eager to learn.  They are all qualities of someone who will "enter the Kingdom of God".  This is not a literal term, as in to go into a place.  It means to be open to the presence of God in our lives.  It means to trust God and move forward in that trust.  Children are less inhibited, less prejudicial, less judgmental, and more inclusive.   They are not burdens or problems.  They are divine blessings.  Jesus would have been a good father.  A Christian community looks to its children for guidance and inspiration.  A Christian community looks to protect them, to nurture and teach them.
Jesus saw wealth as a potential hazard or obstacle to one's relationship with God.  Possessions can possess our hearts and souls in ways that prevent us from obeying God with our lives.
Discipleship is surrender, relinquishing a sense of control and security we feel that money gives us.  Money does not guarantee a better life, a good life, a memorable and meaningful life.  But a relationship with Jesus can bring these things.  Along with hardship.  No life is perfect. But to be fully alive does not require wealth.  Jesus calls for a simple life, unencumbered by stuff.  A Christian community is generous and care free with its material possessions.  A Christian community is non-competitive.  The first will be last and the last will be first.  Because the kingdom of God values equality and justice.
Jesus' mission is to die in Jerusalem.  The church's mission is to go with him, to die with him.  We do this when we act as servants of the world.  When we are more concerned about the welfare of the poor, the women, and the children than we are about ourselves then we are the church.  Acts of selfless generosity set the Christian community apart.  Many people appreciate the church in service to the world.  Many people want to be part of that kind of a community, making the world better by serving vulnerable people.  We can do this personally and informally.  But we can also organize to do this on a bigger scale.  Our church is most effective at fighting hunger, both locally and globally.

Jesus restores sight to the blind.  Those who want to see the truth, the way, the light are given that opportunity with Jesus.  There are people who think they see, but they are really blinded by prejudice, patriarchy, power, or privilege.  Jesus says that faith gives us sight.  Women, children, the poor, the servants (slaves), the ones who suffer---these are the ones closest to Jesus and, therefore, closest to God.  If we want to know God, we need to know the way of suffering in the world.  Those who are comfortably in charge cannot see God.  We do not see God from above, from an exalted place, but from below, from a place of humility.  This is, ultimately the invitation and challenge of discipleship. How low are we willing to go to see Jesus?  To the prisoner?  The homeless man?  The hungry child? The single mom on food stamps?  The disabled senior living in the broken down trailer?  If we're too busy tending to ourselves to see them, we could lose sight of the king and the kingdom we've been invited to serve.  
Notice the many Kairos moments in this chapter.  From beginning to end.  Pharisees.  Children. A rich man.  James and John.  A blind man.  These encounters with Jesus happen today, if we recognize them.  They happen in our marriages.  With our children.  Among leaders and neighbors.  With the suffering, the disabled, and the vulnerable.  And when we are self-absorbed and self-focused we might miss the moment.  Faith is awareness.  Be aware this week.

Mark 10. Let me see again.

He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.
 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’
 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’
 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Reflection Questions:

Blindness and sight are analogous to other things:  ignorance and knowledge.  Doubt and faith.  Injustice and truth.  Innocence and guilt.  In what way does Jesus "restore sight"?  What forms of blindness occur in this chapter?  
How does privilege, wealth, and status blind us?  What is the remedy for this kind of blindness?
Who are the ones who "see" God's face in the face of Jesus?  Who is unable to "see"?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mark 9. I believe. Help my unbelief

In Mark 9 we see Jesus teaching Peter, James, and John; Jesus teaching the 12 disciples; Jesus addressing crowds; Jesus personally engaging one family.  We hear the voice of God, a voice we have not heard since the 1st chapter and the baptism of Jesus;  We see Moses and Elijah on a mountain.  We hear Jesus speak about his death, about the power of humble service, and about threats against the human community.  Jesus mission is relational.  We see and hear, in this chapter, Jesus practicing UP, IN, and OUT.  He reveals some holy mysteries (resurrection) to his closest disciples.  He takes the three with him on a holy retreat, where he is seen in the presence of Moses and Elijah, liberator/ lawgiver, prophet/healer. Jesus transcends them both as son of God. It is on the mountain that Jesus' relationship with God the Father is reiterated.  That experience changed him and Peter!  They had an epiphany, a moment of clarity and identity that will shape the rest of their life together.
It was certainly a Kairos moment for Peter. So significant that he wanted to capture it and prevent it from coming to an end.  Nevertheless, Kairos moments end.  We don't get to stay "on the mountain",  and life in the trenches continues.  
We learn that prayer is sometimes the only effective work one can do to confront forces of opposition and resistance.  Jesus suggests here that the power to heal is God's alone and that we are often powerless to change other people.  This is good news.  We do not have to fear personal failure, only trust God.  Faith is honest, vulnerability before God.  Trusting in invisible powers of goodness, rather than our own willing attempts to do the right things .  We learn that faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive.
Jesus navigates between crowds and personal needs.  He is not so distracted by the crowds that he cannot see and hear one suffering father.  He is mission focused.  He listens.  He acts.  How many people are not helped or healed by Jesus?  More than he actually, personally helps or heals.  
Jesus offers up core teachings about discipleship, too.  Its not about achievement or greatness.  Its about service.  Its about hospitality and welcome.  And its about doing justice by showing mercy toward those who are suffering.  In fact, Jesus boldly says that if you are not against him, you are for him.  What might this mean?  Even indifferent or ambivalent onlookers who don't stand in the way of justice are part of Jesus' mission team.  An agnostic physician is indirectly on Jesus' side.  Secular nonprofits that feed the hungry are on Jesus' side, even though they do not express their mission religiously or spiritually.  This is freeing for us. There may be a lot of people outside of 'the church' who are not opposed to our mission, may even contribute to it.  Jesus says, let them do what they do.
Jesus sees the mission of God as a big, grassroots movement of change that does not end.  We get to be part of it when and where we are.  We get to be merciful, to confront injustice, to pray against suffering and for healing.  We get to be part of Jesus' extended family on mission.  And we see allies in that mission in and outside the church.  How joyful to see God's work in the world, in places we may never go and with people we may never touch.  How freeing to trust and know that God is good.
Disciples are learning to balance UP, IN, and OUT like Jesus.  Disciples stand in the privileged place of having seen and heard Jesus.  And we are challenged to share that in our everyday lives.
Perhaps you will be part of a crowd this week.  But, will you see or hear the one person in need of your attention, your time, your compassion or help? You will, if you spend time abiding "on the mountain" with Jesus first.  Take a moment everyday to hear God speak. Listen to Jesus.  Maybe the word you will hear is this one:  "You are my beloved child.  I am pleased with you."


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Mark 9: I believe. Help my unbelief!

And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’
 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.’
 When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ Someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.’ He answered them, ‘You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’ And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’*

 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
 John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.*,* And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,  where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
 ‘For everyone will be salted with fire.  Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?* Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’

Reflection questions:   Define power.  How do people use it?  What powers exist in the world that we are unable to control?  If you had the power to change something, what would that be?
What power does Jesus have and how does he use it?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Mark 8. Deja vu all over again

Caesarea Philippi
Mark eight is the middle of the gospel story.  It is also a hinge or a turning point in the ministry of Jesus.
First, we see compassionate Jesus feeding a crowd of four thousand hungry people with a few loaves and fishes.  Again.  If this sounds familiar, its because Jesus performed a similar feeding miracle only a couple chapters earlier.  Did all this happen in the same week or month or year?  We don't know the exact timing, but we can assume that the disciples were present at both feedings.  Somehow they still don't understand Jesus' compassion power and its implications for those who are vulnerable.  Afterward, he travels on by boat.  Pharisees, the skeptical religious leaders, question Jesus' ministry. They demand a sign.  (What do you call two miraculous feedings of thousands of people?)  Jesus is frustrated with them.  He expects them to understand, to accept, to welcome him.  Instead he encounters resistance and ignorance.  The spiritual blindness of the disciples and the Pharisees (who just don't seem to see Jesus clearly) is embodied in a botched healing of a blind man.  It takes two attempts for Jesus to restore sight to the blind man.  Jesus spits in the man's eyes and all he sees are walking trees. A second attempt clears his vision.
High invitation/High challenge learning cultures create frustration.  Frustration is necessary for learning. Frustration reveals an emotional investment that is required to learn a new thing that challenges.  As a teacher, Jesus is emotionally invested in the learning community.  His teaching is demonstrative and he demonstrates more than once.  And he reflects with the disciples about the meaning of the action he takes.  He knows that consistency and practice are necessary for learning. And he is personally invested in them, spending time with them in the boat, going to engage in conversation with both Pharisees and disciples.
Jesus is invested in his followers.  He is invested in the well being of the crowds, too.  He is committed to those who are hungry.
The pivotal part of this chapter, however, comes in their journey to Caesarea Philippi.  In the mountains, north east of Capernaum, this little village was Roman.  A temple to the god pan is found there.  The Jordan River finds its beginnings there, flowing out of the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon.  They travel there, not to do ministry, but to reflect on the life of Jesus to this point. The first half of the gospel has been like going up a mountain, climbing, ascending.  His reputation grows, his powers to heal expand, his ministry multiples.  His reaching the summit.
He asks a central question for disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"  His reputation among others suggests that he is a prophet, a holy man, a representative of God.  Peter responds, "You are the Messiah (Christ, anointed one, long-promised King).  This revelation is subversive.  To announce Jesus' Messiahship is to pledge allegiance to a rebellion against Caesar and Rome:  In a Roman town named after Caesar!  Peter is bold in his response about Jesus.
Jesus began to teach them that the son of man must suffer and die and be raised.  And Peter rebukes him.  And Jesus rebukes Peter saying, "Get behind me Satan. Your mind is on human ways not God's ways." Peter goes from bold rebel aligned with King Jesus to Satanic opponent in a matter of minutes.  Why?  The threat of suffering and death enters into the story.
Jesus will surrender to the powers and political will of those who thrive on revenge, hate, and violence as means of control.  He will not save himself.  He will not use his power to protect himself. What we now realize, is that Jesus' movement is not a campaign to get elected to public office.  he does not do what he does for personal gain, recognition, or power.  He does not act out of self-interest.  He acts out of compassion for the vulnerable and out of devotion to God.
Finally, Jesus wants his disciples to know him and trust him.  He wants us to know him and trust him.  He wants to open our eyes to see his compassion at work.  He wants us to join him.  In the crowds.  In the boat.  In the mountains.  In the valleys.  Among the opposition and among the needy.
Where do you see Jesus?  What do you think of him?  What about his life is worth imitating?  What about his life challenges you?  Maybe it is the idea that someone so great, so powerful, so close to God should suffer and die.  Before the age of 40.  How could this be God's doing?  God's plan?  God's will?  How is Jesus' death accomplishing anything good?  Stay tuned...the story continues.  The descent begins.  Down he goes.  Will you go, too?