Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Mark 13 and Stay Woke


Keep awake, Jesus said.  Keep awake. Pay attention to the times and the seasons.  Movements require that its leaders pay attention, because there is a rhythm to the work of building a just and peaceful world.  Some describe it as a step forward and a step back, or the ebb and flow of a rising tide. Compassionate justice has eluded the world.  Is the world safer, cleaner, fairer than it was in the past?  Are we making progress?
My wife is helping to teach the UN Millennium Development Goals as part of her school's LA curriculum. Check them out at   http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/.  Are the goals attainable?  Are they progressive?  Are they inclusive?   Who are the winners and the losers?

StayWoke is a paraphrase that has found its way into urban vernacular and the resistance work of current anti-racism organizing groups, like Black Lives Matter. It suggests that resisters must be vigilant in our efforts to advocate for just policies and safe communities. Check out www.staywoke.org.  Stay Woke is about policing the police in black communities where racial bias and profiling endangers young black kids daily.  Stay Woke is about becoming aware of internalized oppression and the ways in which black and brown communities continue to struggle because of the trauma of history.

For Christians, it means that we are paying attention for the cross--the places in which power is abused, the weak are oppressed, and the poor are trampled upon.  We must watch out for those who are vulnerable, risking vulnerability ourselves to do so. We are paying attention to the ways that the powerful assess threats to their power and use their wealth and influence to mitigate those threats, by further disadvantaging poor communities.

It is also a call to wake up from our own complacency with, comfort in, and conformity to the status quo dominant culture.  In what ways do we benefit from a system that favors white, educated, males and puts women and people of color at a disadvantage?

Stay Woke might mean to take a stand, to protest, to march, to oppose hatred and prejudice.  It might mean to take action in your community for your neighbor.

Jesus expects us to be vigilant, to pay attention to the news and politics of the day.  Because we will see the cross there.  In mass incarceration, in cuts to health care and food for the hungry, in anti-immigration policies, and in policies that benefit the wealthiest few.

Maybe this gospel is a Kairos moment for you---you've been unaware of the bigger implications of Jesus' mission.  Its not just about "saving souls" one person at a time.  It's not even about random acts of kindness and "being a good person."  It's about massive change, moving history in a direction, building a world around God's intentions--and not ours.  Jesus came to confront and destroy evil, hatred, bigotry, religious extremism, and political hegemony.  He came to rule as a King who dies for his people.

 Keep Watch.  In the midst of the darkness, the shitstorm, the ugliness and suffering, God is demonstrating love--on the cross.        

Mark 13. Wake Up!

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’
 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!”* and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news* must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
 ‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!”* or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. False messiahs* and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything.
 ‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
   and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
   and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he* is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert;* for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

Reflection questions:
What do you think about those who predict "the end of the world"?
The Bible says that there is a beginning and an end.  What do you think about that?
As we come to the end of the gospel story, of what are you more aware as a result of this journey with Jesus?  To what or to whom are you paying more attention?
What is the hope you see in this chapter?
How are we supposed to respond to the course of human events?  

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Where there is love

 "All you need is love".  It may sound cliché and an oversimplification, but that is what he said.  When asked about the commandments, Jesus named two.  The first one is very typically the response of an orthodox Jewish Rabbi.  He quotes the Shema from Deuteronomy 6; Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  But, then he quotes Leviticus 19, 'Love your neighbor as yourself."  The first one seems easier.  Pray, worship, trust that God is God.  The second one seems more daunting if you think about it.
  Together, he said, these summarize all the law and the prophets.  Wanna know what God intends for us?  Love God and your neighbor as yourself.  Simple right?
What if your neighbor is a single mom, about to be evicted, with no job, no family support, no money, and no place to go?  What if she comes to you for help?
What if your neighbor is a "snowflake" liberal or a Trump Republican?  What if he's a racist?  What if she's a Lesbian?  What If he's an abusive alcoholic?  What if your neighbor is mentally ill, with guns in the house?  What if your neighbor is Muslim?
What if your neighbor needs more than you are capable of giving her?  What if your neighbor is unfriendly, angry, mean, or rude?
In Mark 12, Jesus is addressing his opponents.  First, lets acknowledge this.  For all the good Jesus did--healing, feeding, confronting the demons, welcoming outcasts---he was not universally loved and adored.  His actions and words threatened the status quo, the leaders, who benefited from a certain level of privilege and status.  So, if your church's actions and words do not present a problem or a challenge to those who benefit from the way things currently are you might wonder if they're actually following Jesus.  
For example, Jesus begins with a parable.  It is evident that he is talking about the religious leaders.  He doesn't win them over by suggesting that they are like evil tenants, who have claimed possession of something that is not theirs.  Namely, God's vineyard---Israel itself! He suggests that Israel is not their possession.  It belongs to God, not to them.  And God intends for the vineyard to be fruitful, to benefit others. H expects the tenants to share.  Israel exists to serve and bless the world.  But they (the religious leaders) were treating Israel like a treasure they have been given for themselves.  If your church's building and property are too precious to give to those in the community who need it, you might consider Jesus' parable of the tenants. We are made to share.
On the question of whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus says "Give to God what is Gods and Caesar what is Caesars."  Some religious leaders suggested that you could not be a righteous Jew and pay Caesar's tax.  Jesus did not give them permission to pay the tax.  He reframed the question entirely.  What belongs to Caesar that does not also belong to God?  Is Caesar a god?  Is it a matter of competition?  NO.  We must learn to operate in the world, in order to win the world.  How?  It is possible to be a citizen of Rome and a member of the church.  They are not mutually exclusive. And we dare not confuse the two either.  Either/or and black or white choices rarely consider the whole matter of a thing.  Don't get hung up in this or that.  Its more often both/and.  Two seemingly contradictory things held in tension.  Like I am a sinner and a saint. We are made to embrace paradox.
Jesus goes on to suggest that in the resurrection, there will be no marriage.  Why does this matter?  He claims that men and women will be equals on the day of the Lord.  The kingdom of God does not treat women like second class humans.  Women are not possessions to be passed down or inherited.  Women are co-heirs of the Kingdom of God.  Men are not greater than women.  In one thought, Jesus elevates the status of women.  All will be like angels in heaven in the resurrection.  We, men and women, are made to be equal partners.
And by the way, God is all about life and living things and being alive. How do we know?  God only talks to living people.  And through them, to us.  Therefore, though things living die.  God can make dead things alive again, and in fact insists on it.  Watch the end of Jesus' story.  We are made to live.      
 Finally, Jesus identifies the richest person in the temple. A poor widow with one mite.  (Like a nickel).  She gives 100% to the temple offering.  Therefore she is the most generous person there.  Wealth is not what makes a person rich.  Generosity makes one rich.  She embodies faith, a full and complete trust in God for her life.  We contribute out of our abuundance.  She gave all that she had.  Jesus acknowledges, also , that the poorest among us also have gifts and a desire to give.  Its called human dignity.  
Jesus asks us to give all that we have, to hold on loosely to possessions, lest they possess us.   He teaches us to avoid petty, speculative, religious arguments.  He teaches us to question either/or, black or white kinds of choices. Jesus wants us to have hope.  Life is stronger than death.  What does love look and sound like?  Generosity.  Equality. Community-sharing. Dignity.  Look for a church that practices and proclaims these things.  You'll find love there. And where there is love, God is.
 
  



Mark 12

Then he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;*
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes”?’
 When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
 Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.
 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man* shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection* whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.’
 Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.’
 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.
 While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Messiah* is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
   until I put your enemies under your feet.’
David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?’ And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.
 As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’

Reflection: How would you describe Jesus in this chapter?
How would you describe his listeners?  His opponents?
What does Jesus teach about money and property?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

On Jesus, racial prejudice, and healing


Gospel Matthew 15:21-28.
21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.


When you experience pain or illness in your body or mind, what do you do?  Hope it goes away for a while.  Take an over the counter pain reliever.  Generally avoid going to the doctor, until you can’t.  When you can no longer avoid it, you go and seek a diagnosis and a cure.  The doctor may run some tests to confirm a diagnosis and then a course of treatment is administered, with the hope that the pain or illness is completely abolished.    

In Jesus’ world, an illness, a disease, a demonic possession were all the same thing.  A malicious enemy at work in the human body or mind, threatening to take life.  There is a sickness, a disease, a demonic power at work here that must be named.  It is racism.  It is the social construction that the color of one’s skin determines one’s value.  It is both overt, like a visible wound, and covert like a virus.  It infects every one of us.  There is no immunization from it.  It’s not an allergy that some have and some don’t.  I’m not saying that every person is a racist.  I am saying that everyone of us as affected by the systemic power of racial injustice that comes from racial prejudice.  Because some of us benefit from that system, experience privilege we often fail to acknowledge, because of our skin color.  And others are adversely affected daily because they are black or brown.  Prejudice is not new or American.  Though one could argue that the American story is illustrated by racial injustice. From the doctrine of discovery and slavery to Jim Crowe segregation and mass incarceration, the legacy of the American story is one of racial violence against black and brown and native peoples.  It is, as some have suggested, America’s original sin.  And a sin for which we have not collectively repented.  The results of that unrepentance are visible in Charlottesville and Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston and Ferguson and thousands of other acts of violent disregard for human life.  In our history whenever minorities and people of color have made gains toward greater equality, a white backlash has occurred.  Some of us feel threatened by black lives matter and civil rights and abolitionism.  That loss of power and privilege frightens whites with superiority complexes.   

Now I know this is uncomfortable. I know some of us would rather not have this conversation.  Some of us think this topic is too political and therefore out of bounds for friendly discussion, and certainly inappropriate for church.  Some of us feel powerless, others indifferent and unaffected.  It’s not a problem here.  Except that we look around a room of white people and realize that we do not reflect the beautiful diversity God has made. Why is that?   Peter’s Porch reflects more of that diversity.  The ELCA is the whitest church in America, with the fewest members of non-white racial composition.  After over two decades of intentional concern and activity, we are the whitest.  Are we that Eurocentric?  That out of touch with our changing, more racially diverse neighborhoods?   Are we that unaware?  This is our dis-ease.    

Today’s gospel is a story about racial prejudice and healing.  Jesus is confronted by a Canaanite woman.  For the Jew, the Canaanites were the native gentiles dwelling in the land God promised to them.  Today, they are Palestinians, or for us Native Americans.  These people were the enemies of the Jews.  They were an ethnic minority.  And they were despised.  Jews did not have relations of any kind with Canaanites.  Jewish men would not even acknowledge a Gentile woman.  They were invisible.  But this one is loud and crying out to Jesus, Lord, have mercy.  She comes as a mother on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter. 

Now we see a truly human Jesus, a product of his Jewish worldview.  At first he ignores her.  The disciples are so bothered by her that they insist he send her away.  So he verbally rejects her.  “I have come only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  I don’t heal gentiles.  But she persists. 

Finally, he calls her a dog.  A little yippy scavenger.  This is no term of endearment.  It is a biting slur.  I hear laughter from the disciples. But she persists.  She does not cower from him.  She crawls on her knees and begs for scraps from the master’s table.  She wants her daughter to be made well and she has come to the doctor for healing.  And she will get it, even if she has to be humiliated, mistreated, and devalued by this Rabbi.  It is her persistence, her insistence that Jesus change his mind and heal her daughter, that Jesus calls faith.  A faith that heals her daughter.  And I dare say opened Jesus up to God’s mission---a mission we heard in Isaiah---a post-tribal, post-racist world, in which all are valued as sister or brother worthy of love, respect, and equal treatment.  

This is not the Jesus we expect or want to see.  Its frankly, embarrassing.  I wish Matthew and Mark had deleted this story.  I wish we could skip it in the lectionary.  But, it matters now.  Because we can identify with this Jesus.  He is converted from a deeply embedded prejudice by a woman who refuses to give up on love and justice for all.  And it speaks to our moment.  We are being confronted by the demon of racism, of white privilege and supremacy, of hatred and bigotry.  Bigotry in the name of free speech is hateful and must also be condemned.  This is not Obama’s fault or Black Lives Matter or Civil Rights or King’s.  King was murdered to stop the movement.  Like Jesus we may choose to silently ignore it.  We may reject or dismiss the problem of racial prejudice.  We may say this is their problem, let them solve it.  We have nothing to offer.    

Or we may say this is our moment, when we are confronted with our own demons of racial privilege, prejudices, and pain. We may say this is a time for confession, for healing, for reconciliation, for real peace.  We may seize this moment to grow, to step out of the darkness and into the light.  We may become part of God’s vision in Christ, of diversity and harmony.  We may be converted, too.  

Because there is healing for us all.  It comes in the form of a hard conversation in which we must confront and acknowledge that the demons of prejudice and privilege persist.  We can learn to dismantle racism and build a community of peace with justice for all.  We must insist publicly and aloud that hatred in the form of bigotry and white supremacy and neo Nazism is always wrong and unacceptable.  Those who perpetuate it are endangering God’s kingdom, and, frankly the American promise that all people are created equal. We must insist on another way.  A way of love that sees the other as a person, a beloved child of God.  A way of love that never belittles or diminishes another brother or sister.  A way of love that hears the cries for mercy and justice and joins their cries.  A way of love that crushes the demons and gives life to all God’s children.     

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,
‘Hosanna!
   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"?