Westminster North Campus
Mark's Gospel Digital Group
will meet at Westminster North
on Wednesdays at 1 PM!
14501 N Rockwell Ave
OKC, OK 73142
Mark's Gospel Index
We are on an Advent break and will pick up after the first of the year! Thank you for your patience!
Sources used in this study include: The New Interpreter’s Bible: A commentary in twelve volumes, Volume VIII Interpretation: A Bible Commentary to Teaching and Preaching, Mark by Lamar Williamson, Jr. Mark for Everyone by N.T. Wright
WEEK 1 / DAY 1 - SEPT 22
1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son,2 happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:
Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, 3 a voice shouting in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.”[a]
4 John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 5 Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
12 At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.
Here we go! The Gospel of Mark starts off with a bang, and there is hardly a moment’s pause before we start noticing the many different things that are happening in this brief bit of text. We have a beginning statement that sounds like a title but functions like an introduction. We have a gospel about “Jesus Christ, Son of God,” that starts with telling John the Baptizer’s story and showcasing the connections between John’s prophetic style and Old Testament prophets’ style. We see baptism, repentance, and are introduced to the Holy Spirit. We also watch with bated breath as Jesus steps into the vast unknown of the wilderness—a place where so many prophets and the covenanted people of Israel have lost and found God in stories of old.
With all of these pieces happening at the same time, it is clear that the writer of Mark wants us to see connections to the God who is known throughout Scriptures and to tie Jesus to
him in a unique way. We, as the audience, can see hindsight significance in the naming of Jesus as Son of God. We can draw back to old and new scriptural stories to see the bigger picture of who Jesus is and how he changes the world. So, not only are we introduced to Jesus in this incredibly specific way, but in the abruptness of the start of this story, we also see that it is necessary to ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’ in our own lives as we ready ourselves for studying this Gospel of Mark together.
So, let’s prepare:
1. If you were to title and introduce your own life right now in a similar way as Mark 1:1, what would that title be? What is the first story you would tell?
2. Knowing the true nature of Jesus, we know that he was sinless and therefore didn’t need to be washed clean by the waters of baptism. Knowing our true natures, we know that there are definitely things we need to be washed clean of. What are one or two things you would like washed away from you—perhaps a burden to you or something that takes your attention away from God?
3. What are some ways you connect with your baptism on a regular basis?
4. The wilderness holds a vast mystery of space, time, and unknown danger for Jesus and yet the Mark text is quite short and undescriptive. Why do you think Mark leaves this out? What point is Mark making? Or is he making one at all?
One thing to note, a couple of different commentaries break out this text to include verses 14 and 15. These texts say that after Jesus leaves the wilderness he goes to Galilee and begins his ministry. I think we have a clear break with his journey into the wilderness where Satan tempts Jesus and the angels took care of him, but why do you think others believe we should include the start of Jesus’ ministry at the end of this particular set of verses?
WEEK 1 / DAY 2 - SEPT 23
14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”
16 As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 18 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 19 After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. 20 At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.
21 Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. 22 The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. 23 Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”
25 “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” 26 The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.
27 Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” 28 Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.
In the very first sentences of this passage, we see a passing of the torch of sorts. When John is removed from the scene, Jesus steps into the light and we start seeing how John truly prepared a way for Jesus’ ministry. Again, like in Mark 1:1, this first set of statements seems to act as an introduction to something new. Without a good transition sentence or even a leading phrase, Mark moves immediately into telling the story of Jesus’ first disciples and we are off and running with Jesus instead of John.
I think because we comfortably know the story, we don’t give as much credence to Peter, Andrew, James, and John’s decision and sacrifice here. Sometimes our knowing of the story creates a little complacency with the way we remember these stories and apply them to our own lives. Often, I think this over-familiarity bleeds into the way we “do faith.” Some of us have had strong faith our whole lives; some of us “do faith” as part of a routine. Some of us “check-in” on Sundays and “check-out” the rest of the week. These early disciples literally abandoned everything and changed their lives. They gave up prosperous jobs, deserted
their families, left their communities who counted on their fishing skills, and followed a man they hardly knew for a reason they clearly did not understand.
Right after they do this, they watch him (Jesus) cast a demon out of a man. It’s a pretty dramatic turn of events for these four fisherman! They drop everything, turn their lives upside down, and then the person they are supposed to be trusting and learning from tells the only one who knows who he actually is not to tell anyone. They are kept in the dark and expected to just go with it.
To me, this passage begs a few questions:
· These four men gave up a LOT to follow Jesus—and seemingly, without thinking it through at all. What have you sacrificed lately to show your dedication to your faith? Have your faith decisions been more calculated or thought through than these disciples’? Why? What does or doesn’t make you pause?
· When, like these disciples, have you walked into a totally new situation and gotten more than you bargained for? Was it funny or terrifying? How did you react in the moment and after the fact?
Interestingly, I think we probably all have done something like what the disciples are doing here but on a much smaller scale. I know I have. I have gone to camps, conferences, and professional enrichment courses where I was expected to trust the leader and the process to take me on a journey that will impact my everyday life. If you have ever had a “camp high,” a time when you have had a mountain top experience outside of your normal, everyday routine, you have experience this, too. Therapy also seems to fit this mold. We trust someone else to help us dive into unknown parts of our minds and souls to help us discover something new. We don’t always trust the situation at the beginning, but often by the end, we are believers.
Perhaps this is true of the disciples, too, especially in the Gospel of Mark. For the first several chapters of Mark, everyone else is trying to figure out who Jesus is. Some of the middle chapters show us that the disciples are trying to figure out who Jesus is. The last half of Mark’s gospel is when we understand who Jesus is in the larger, more impactful context of salvation. Maybe we aren’t always supposed to know the whole story until we have asked some significant questions—in life and in faith.
· So, what are some significant questions you need to be asking in your life or about your own faith? How does that shape your approach to the world and your place within it?
WEEK 1 / DAY 3 - SEPT 24
Mark 1:29-45 Common English Bible (CEB)
29 After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. 31 He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.
32 That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered near the door. 34 He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.
35 Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. 36 Simon and those with him tracked him down. 37 When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”
38 He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” 39 He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.
40 A man with a skin disease approached Jesus, fell to his knees, and begged, “If you want, you can make me clean.”
41 Incensed,[v] Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do want to. Be clean.” 42 Instantly, the skin disease left him, and he was clean. 43 Sternly, Jesus sent him away, 44 saying, “Don’t say anything to anyone. Instead, go and show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifice for your cleansing that Moses commanded. This will be a testimony to them.” 45 Instead, he went out and started talking freely and spreading the news so that Jesus wasn’t able to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, but people came to him from everywhere.
Jesus tells the man with the skin disease not to tell people what has happened, and what does the man do? He shouts about it from the rooftops (perhaps even literally). This man tells so many people, in fact, that Jesus can no longer enter towns to teach, preach, and heal. Now he has to stay outside of the towns in “deserted places,” and everyone has to come to him.
But don’t worry. The people are willing. In fact, people are so willing to come to wherever Jesus is that when the disciples approach him during his prayer time about how the people were seeking after him, Jesus tells them it’s time to move on and takes the disciples on a journey through Galilee so he can preach to other people, too. And so they go.
I want to point out a couple of things to you in this passage that caught my eye.
- Our passage begins with “29 After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew.30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed…” What I notice is that we are told about yet another sacrifice some of these fishermen have made to follow Jesus. If they went to Simon’s house (whose name will become ‘Peter’) and found his mother-in-law in bed sick, then Simon Peter was married while he was following Jesus everywhere—and he possibly had children, too. How does this change your perception or opinion of Peter? Do you relate to him more or less based on knowing this? Maybe he balances family, fatherhood, and passionate devotion well…who knows! But I do know that thinking through the stories I know about Peter, it seems unlikely.
- For more information on Peter’s wife, visit: https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/all-women-bible/Peter-8217-s-Wife
- In verse 41, the Common English Bible (CEB) says that Jesus is “incensed” with a footnote attached to it. The footnote tells us that “Most critical editions of the Gk New Testament readfilled with compassion.” I think those terms in modern language are used quite differently and mean very different things. I have always thought that the word ‘incensed’ has a negative connotation, as in passionate but with malice, not other-centeredness. I believe that the definition of ‘filled with compassion’ is a statement that is intimately tied to his soul and his connection with others, without any malice in sight.
- How does the difference in these two translations change the tone of verse 41? How does it change your impression of Jesus?
While the man with the skin disease was told not to tell anyone about what Jesus had done, he was so overcome by who Jesus was and what Jesus had done that he could not keep quiet. When was the last time you were so consumed by something that it just spilled out of you?
WEEK 1 / DAY 4 - SEPT 25
2 After a few days, Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. 2 So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them.3 Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed. 4 They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying.5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”
6 Some legal experts were sitting there, muttering among themselves,7 “Why does he speak this way? He’s insulting God. Only the one God can forgive sins.”
8 Jesus immediately recognized what they were discussing, and he said to them, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions? 9 Which is easier—to say to a paralyzed person, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk’? 10 But so you will know that the Human One[a] has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, 11 “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”
12 Jesus raised him up, and right away he picked up his mat and walked out in front of everybody. They were all amazed and praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”
It’s a miracle! There are so many wonderful parts to this short story that are worth noticing, but I’m only going to point to one that particularly strikes me today.
Let’s talk about the number of people gathered.
In his own, abrupt way, Mark goes on and on about the number of people who were gathered to hear Jesus speak and teach. He says “…there was no longer space, not even near the door” and that more people were still coming, including the four who carried the paralyzed man, and they couldn’t get through the crowd to Jesus. That’s a pretty excessive description for Mark! And we notice quickly, that in a short span of time, Jesus has accumulated quite the following of believers.
- Why do you think this is significant? What does that tell us about what the people were looking for and wanting—just a healer? Just a teacher and preacher? Both? Something more? Something new?
I often try to imagine what it would be like if someone came into our world now, today, and started doing what Jesus did—healing scores of people, telling us that our way of living faithfully is incomplete, creating a stir with people from all different backgrounds and causing them to set aside their differences and hear something collectively. Our world is still so divided, just like it was then, that we often have a hard time standing beside people who are different from us and hearing or experiencing something together. But Jesus created space for that.
He united people, he helped us listen to opposing points of view, he helped us see people first and differences second. In many ways, that in and of itself is a miracle. We hear stories of a healed paralytic—both of sin and his paralysis and think that that is the true healing in this story. But what if that was a healing in the story and not all healings in the story. What if part of the magic and mystery of this story is the crowd gathered? This unified body of believers gathered despite their backgrounds, their differences, their perspectives on the world, their social class, and everything else that divides them and they experience something together.
If you could envision a time, place, or issue of which we could all be united, what would it be? On what issues, if we truly look at people first and differences second, would you like us as a people to find better common ground?
My guess is that we could come up with so many different answers here that it, ironically, sometimes creates the disparity we see all around us. But that idea or vision of unity and solidarity sure is enticing, isn’t it? Perhaps…it even resembles the kingdom of God. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In any case, due to this crowd gathered, and the healing of this paralyzed man, Jesus is granted an authority that is unparalleled and hasn’t been seen before. Watch as this plays out in verses that are coming up.
As this is what strikes me with the story today, what stands out to you? Is it something different or the same? Why does that seem important to pay attention to as we hear this story?
WEEK 1 / DAY 5 - SEPT 26
13 Jesus went out beside the lake again. The whole crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he continued along, he saw Levi, Alphaeus’ son, sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Levi got up and followed him.
15 Jesus sat down to eat at Levi’s house. Many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples. Indeed, many of them had become his followers. 16 When some of the legal experts from among the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why is he eating with sinners and tax collectors?”
17 When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.”
18 John’s disciples and the Pharisees had a habit of fasting. Some people asked Jesus, “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples fast, but yours don’t?”
19 Jesus said, “The wedding guests can’t fast while the groom is with them, can they? As long as they have the groom with them, they can’t fast. 20 But the days will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
21 “No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes; otherwise, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and makes a worse tear. 22 No one pours new wine into old leather wineskins; otherwise, the wine would burst the wineskins and the wine would be lost and the wineskins destroyed. But new wine is for new wineskins.”
We all know that no one liked tax collectors in Jesus’ day and frankly speaking, not too many people like them today, either. But in biblical times, they are named a lot as a group of people who were undesirable, or sinners. That’s because they were a sort of necessary evil that everyone encountered (and was extorted by) on some level. Much of the economy of the time was centered on trade, moving goods from place to place, selling or bartering for your family or village’s needs. Every time you pass a certain checkpoint, you have to pay a tax to continue moving your goods along the path to the new region.
While this sounds a bit like a tariff, the difference here is that tax collectors were not collecting excess taxes based upon the government’s regulations or to manage specific imports and exports. Instead, often, the tax collectors would charge the government-mandated prices and then add a cushion for themselves as a way of padding their own pocketbooks. So, when Jesus dines with Levi, a tax collector, it causes quite the social stir!
But then, in a somewhat comical twist and backhanded statement about the disciples, Jesus says that he didn’t come to be with the healthy people, he came to be with the sick. Just as a doctor doesn’t heal healthy people but tends to those who need his or her care. I say this is comical because Jesus is somewhat insulting the disciples right in front of them by saying they are broken or ill or not quite all there…
And while comical, it also causes me to pause because I, too, can point to things in my life that feel broken or ill or not quite where I want them to be, and Jesus loves me and wants me to be a disciple. So, then, what am I doing judging these disciples for their faults, right?
- Where are the places in your life where Jesus would see you as needing to be healed? Or to ask it another way, what do you need a doctor to cure? (The Great Physician?) (The first question is from Jesus’ perspective, the second is from your own perspective.)
- How did you answer these questions differently? What can you learn about your own faith journey by thinking through these two questions?
Now, the next two pieces of these texts seem not to be talking about the same thing at all, and yet, they are. Here’s how: In verses 18-20, Jesus is being questioned about fasting. But in answering, he separates himself from the old traditions by saying basically that you wouldn’t put a square peg in a round hole. He was different from the prophets before him and the religious leaders before him. He was doing something new. And what is new, often sometimes doesn’t fit well with what is old.
- What other modern-day examples can you think of that might fit what Jesus is trying to say here?
- In what other ways do those sayings reinforce what Jesus is teaching and who Jesus is?
WEEK 2 / DAY 1 - SEPT 30
23 Jesus went through the wheat fields on the Sabbath. As the disciples made their way, they were picking the heads of wheat. 24 The Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look! Why are they breaking the Sabbath law?”
25 He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he was in need, when he and those with him were hungry? 26 During the time when Abiathar was high priest, David went into God’s house and ate the bread of the presence, which only the priests were allowed to eat. He also gave bread to those who were with him.” 27 Then he said, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath. 28 This is why the Human One[b] is Lord even over the Sabbath.”
Oh, the Sabbath. Definition: the seventh day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians. Origin: Middle English sabat, from Anglo-French & Old English, from Latin sabbatum, from Greek sabbaton, from Hebrew shabb?th, literally, rest. (Merriam-Webster online)
Sadly, this definition is far from explicit about how the Jewish people observe the day, how sacred it is and how important it is to their everyday way of life. They set their lives by it. Sunday at daybreak until Friday at sundown, they work incredibly hard and prepare for this day of rest. So, to see someone break it, especially someone who is creating a stir with his acts as the “Human One as Lord,” the Pharisees and religious-law-abiding citizens are stunned and shocked.
That said, Jesus’ statement in verse 27 is where I want to draw your attention. “Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.” God gave us the gift of Sabbath to love and to cherish, to live into and revel in, to take time to be with God and rest. I believe that over time we have taken these stories of “excused” working on the Sabbath and used them to excuse all of the things that pull us away from a Sabbath rest and holy focus, not just ones of real need.
Drawing us all back to a life of Sabbath takes work and dedication. One of the best books I have ever read to understand the Sabbath is called…The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel. He uses imagery and language that I’ve never heard elsewhere about how to love and live into the Sabbath. He says this:
“Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind and imagination. To attain a degree of excellence in art, one must accept its discipline, one must adjure slothfulness. The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence. It its atmosphere, a discipline is a reminder of adjacency to eternity…We often feel how poor the edifice would be were it built exclusively of our rituals and deeds which are so awkward and often so obtrusive…For the Sabbath is joy, holiness, and rest; joy is part of this world; holiness and rest are something of the world to come.” (pages 5 and 7)
- How well do you follow Sabbath? (I don’t mean ‘do nothing,’ but I mean found joy, holiness, and rest in the day.)
As always, Jesus is drawing us back to remember what is really important here. For the Pharisees, they believe that following the letter of religious law is what is most important. What Jesus is emphasizing is that God did not create the Sabbath so that we might suffer on that day from lack of basic needs, but instead revel in the day with our needs met and our bodies, minds, and souls ready to engage with God.
- Often, we think having our needs met is a much longer and more intricate list than what is truly necessary. How do you differentiate between the two in order to strive after Sabbath?
- What can you clear out of the way in order to have more Sabbath moments, even if you cannot dedicate a whole day?
WEEK 2 / DAY 2 - Oct 1
3 Jesus returned to the synagogue. A man with a withered hand was there. 2 Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 3 He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step up where people can see you.”4 Then he said to them, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they said nothing. 5 Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did, and his hand was made healthy. 6 At that, the Pharisees got together with the supporters of Herod to plan how to destroy Jesus.
7 Jesus left with his disciples and went to the lake. A large crowd followed him because they had heard what he was doing. They were from Galilee, 8 Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the area surrounding Tyre and Sidon. 9 Jesus told his disciples to get a small boat ready for him so the crowd wouldn’t crush him. 10 He had healed so many people that everyone who was sick pushed forward so that they could touch him. 11 Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down at his feet and shouted, “You are God’s Son!” 12 But he strictly ordered them not to reveal who he was.
The beginning of today’s passage makes me think about Jesus as a bit of a defiant child. Do any of you have one of those…? Where you tell them ‘no’ and they look at you, smile, and while looking innocent and sweet do exactly what you just told them not to?
I can only imagine that this is how the Pharisees are feeling about Jesus at this point. He is being defiant about the Sabbath rituals and practices now in two consecutive stories. He collects wheat and he heals on the Sabbath. He openly criticizes the practices of his community and the religious leadership. He begs for someone to challenge him with the intent and purpose of the Sabbath and when no one is able to name the right from the wrong, he heals the withered hand right in front of everyone. He is doing exactly the opposite of what is deemed acceptable.
And the Pharisees don’t know what to do with him. Jesus is gaining popularity and power, and he is being listened to and revered. How will they stop him?
- What do you do when you are faced with a person (your child, spouse, co-worker, etc) who does exactly the opposite of what you believe is right? How do you respond?
Our nation is in a place where none of us are good at listening to those who disagree with us right now. We bristle so fast when someone disagrees with us that we immediately stop listening. We try to figure out how to shut our opposition down rather than find ways to compromise. It seems that perhaps we are stuck in a Pharisee mindset of knowing how things should be done and get upset and distracted by those who disrupt that modus operandi. Whichever side of the fence we’re on politically, doesn’t this feel familiar to our current political climate?
- So, where is Jesus then? If we see hints of this kind of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees happening in our own day and time, where is the message of Christ prevailing? How are we disciples of a different way of life, one that pays attention to intent and humanity first, the child of God in every person before the things that make us different?
This is our role as Christians, right? We are called to approach the world from a different perspective and to know we are called to live and act in a way that heals instead of divides. Our job is to challenge the status quo in the name of the Kingdom of Heaven.
- What is one way you can do that today? How can you act as Jesus would want you to act first and as the world expects you to act second?
WEEK 2 / DAY 3 - October 2
13 Jesus went up on a mountain and called those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve and called them apostles. He appointed them to be with him, to be sent out to preach, 15 and to have authority to throw out demons. 16 He appointed twelve: Peter, a name he gave Simon; 17 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, whom he nicknamed Boanerges, which means “sons of Thunder”; 18 and Andrew; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James, Alphaeus’ son; Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean;[a] 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus.
Let’s just go ahead and tuck this little passage into our back pockets, because honestly, how many of you have this list memorized? I seem to always forget Bartholomew or Thaddaeus…
Other than just being able to name these disciples, what do you know about them? Who are you most familiar with?
I think we all know and can name stories where Peter is a main character (walking on water, denying Jesus three times, etc.). I think we know James and John are named often as Jesus travels and teaches and heals. And we know Thomas and his ‘doubting’. We also know about Judas Iscariot and his betrayal of Jesus.
But what about the other descriptions that Mark gives here. Why are the sons of Zebedee call “sons of Thunder”? It isn’t mentioned anywhere else in Mark and the text does not give us more information about this nickname. So, we just have to speculate.
- I would love to hear a creative reason why they were nicknamed as such. See if you can come up with something or some way these two men received this name. Have fun with it!
- Of these disciples, whom do you recognize. Which of these men was a name you didn’t remember?
There is some question about how women were involved in Jesus’ life and ministry. We see no mention of women being disciples here but know that he had devout followers who were female. If you were to name some of the female characters of the Bible as disciples, who would they be and why?
WEEK 2 / DAY 4 - Oct 3
Mark 3:20-35 Common English Bible (CEB)
20 Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat. 21 When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!”
22 The legal experts came down from Jerusalem. Over and over they charged, “He’s possessed by Beelzebul. He throws out demons with the authority of the ruler of demons.”
23 When Jesus called them together he spoke to them in a parable: “How can Satan throw Satan out? 24 A kingdom involved in civil war will collapse. 25 And a house torn apart by divisions will collapse. 26 If Satan rebels against himself and is divided, then he can’t endure. He’s done for. 27 No one gets into the house of a strong person and steals anything without first tying up the strong person. Only then can the house be burglarized. 28 I assure you that human beings will be forgiven for everything, for all sins and insults of every kind. 29 But whoever insults the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. That person is guilty of a sin with consequences that last forever.” 30 He said this because the legal experts were saying, “He’s possessed by an evil spirit.”
31 His mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside and sent word to him, calling for him. 32 A crowd was seated around him, and those sent to him said, “Look, your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you.”
33 He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 34 Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”
Often times in this passage, we as studiers of Scripture will settle into a discussion on the definition Jesus gives about family—who is and who is not his family. We go into conversations about how Jesus had brothers and sisters if Mary remained a virgin. We talk about our connectedness as brothers and sisters in God’s family and how that is bigger than just our blood relations. And we talk about Jesus’ dismissal of those who are not “on board” with the new message he is bringing to the people…to name just a few topics worth discussing.
Another direction we will often go with this passage is to talk about Jesus’ defense of himself as “not Satan.” He makes a good argument for why and how he is not Satan, but he never comes right out and says it. Instead he goes into this monologue about how a “house divided will fall” and “why would Satan work to destroy Satan?” What he’s really doing, I think, is using a little bit of sarcasm to point out how silly the accusations are against him. I mean, hey, if Jesus really is all human and all God, then why wouldn’t he know and use language in all of its various nuances, including sarcasm?
What I want to draw your attention in this passage today, though, is how these aspects of the story point to a change in the general public’s perspective on Jesus. He is really starting to separate those who believe from those who don’t. The Pharisees continue to challenge him. His family continues to be embarrassed by him and try to silence him. In their misunderstanding, Jesus takes the time for a teaching moment and parable, for sharing with the crowds who are watching and listening a lesson about how God’s kingdom is different than what we thought. And the crowd gets it.
- This seems to be like a trial or hearing—the evidence is given, there are character witnesses for and against the accused, and we are the jury, left to decide where the truth lies. As readers, we know the end of the story and have other accounts to enhance our ability to make a judgment about this particular charged called against Jesus. We know that he really is the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, and has the power and authority of the Triune God, Father and Spirit. But what if you were the crowd?
- How would you respond when you see his own family is trying to silence him?
- What is easier to believe—the Pharisees’ story or Jesus’?
- What conclusion would you come to if you walked up and saw this on the street and had to take sides?
WEEK 2 / DAY 5 - Oct 4
4 Jesus began to teach beside the lake again. Such a large crowd gathered that he climbed into a boat there on the lake. He sat in the boat while the whole crowd was nearby on the shore. 2 He said many things to them in parables. While teaching them, he said, 3 “Listen to this! A farmer went out to scatter seed. 4 As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path; and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. 6 When the sun came up, it scorched the plants; and they dried up because they had no roots. 7 Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked the seeds, and they produced nothing. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and bore fruit. Upon growing and increasing, the seed produced in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of one hundred to one.” 9 He said, “Whoever has ears to listen should pay attention!”
Jesus explains his parable
10 When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. 12 This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.
13 “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The farmer scatters the word. 15 This is the meaning of the seed that fell on the path: When the word is scattered and people hear it, right away Satan comes and steals the word that was planted in them. 16 Here’s the meaning of the seed that fell on rocky ground: When people hear the word, they immediately receive it joyfully. 17 Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. 18 Others are like the seed scattered among the thorny plants. These are the ones who have heard the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the false appeal of wealth, and the desire for more things break in and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 20 The seed scattered on good soil are those who hear the word and embrace it. They bear fruit, in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case sixty to one, and in another case one hundred to one.”
So, this passage is a long one, but if you got through it all, you’ll see that the second half explains the first. Jesus directly tells the disciples and “inner” circle what the parable of the sower means. While it is so helpful to have it all explained, it is a little condemning at the same time. I guess my problem with Jesus’ explanation is what happens when I “diagnose” myself according to these four categories.
- If you were to be honest with yourself, where do you fall? Are you the seed on the path, the rocky ground, scattered among the thorns, or on the good soil? How do you know?
- What does it look like today to be each of these four descriptions? Can you name someone who fits into each of them?
I worry about how easy it is to think we are in Jesus’ inner circle because we know the story and so that’s “all it takes.” But then I saw a YouTube video called “The Reason Christianity is Dying in the West” and it talked about having a ‘cheapened faith’. The video author’s point was that for many of us our faith doesn’t cost us anything, require anything, or cause us to sacrifice in order to be part of the crowd who knows who Jesus is and what he is all about. His argument was that if we don’t give something of ourselves to the process of being faithful Christians, then it is easier to consider our faith less precious or less valuable.
He uses a pair of shoes as his example. He tells a story of buying a favorite pair of shoes for $20 and when he went back to get a second pair, they were now $80. He spent the money on both pairs but tells us how much better he cares for the expensive pair over the cheaper pair. He said the value he gives to the pair that cost him more is significant and that he sees the same thing happening with faith in our country. Those whose faith costs them more, tend to prioritize and value it more.
This reminded me of a radio interview I heard a few years ago whose main point was that we have gotten too used to making church convenient rather than important. We blame schedules and busyness as reasons for not having time or energy or money for church. But rather than continue to lessen the responsibilities or accountability associated with faith, what this person’s research had found was that people actually wanted church to be more valuable, more meaningful, more intentional, and pack more power in its punch. Getting a fuller experience at church actually made people more willing to devote time and energy to the congregation and their individual faith development, not less.
Having this scripture passage in a different version that we typically have in our pews (CEB instead of NRSV) has changed the way I read it, especially verses 14-20. It made the language more modern for me and I saw it apply to our lives more directly. When we invest in faith and become good soil, our faith is richer and produces more fruit. When we don’t make space or time or place enough value in our faith as vital and lifegiving, then our faith seems to fail us by not producing fruit. We don’t see fruits of our labor if we don’t labor.
- This passage is challenging because it means we have to assess the product of our faith. What have you produced? What would you like to produce? How would you like your faith to be visible and tangible to others and not just yourself?
WEEK 3 / DAY 1 - Oct 7
WEEK 3 / DAY 2 - Oct 8
35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.
37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm.40 Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”
41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”
In this passage, Jesus does something extraordinary. He commands the winds and the rains, the seas and the storm. And the disciples are left asking, “Who is this and how does he have the authority and power to command even the seas?” We as readers know that Jesus is preparing the disciples to know more so they can go out and preach and teach and heal in his name, but they still don’t get it. They have seen him do what other proclaimed exorcists and healers have done. They have seen him preach and expertly talk about God. But quieting the winds is something beyond what a normal human can do. He has the power to save.
Now, I’m getting ahead of myself some because we obviously aren’t to the salvation part of the story yet, but the act and the point are important. They are starting to see Jesus as something bigger, something different than just a run-of-the-mill prophet. He is doing things and acting in ways that are starting to cause them more confusion instead of clarity. So, how does this help us know who Jesus is if the story is only stirring up confusion?
I think we often get caught up in the end of the story before we pay attention to the details of the plot to get there.
Think of it this way: when someone asks you how you liked a new movie that has come out, do you think of each individual detail, or do you focus on how the whole story built and concluded? My guess is that it would be hard to tell someone about a secific scene you loved if they haven’t seen the movie yet. They don’t have any context for what you are saying, and it would likely be confusing. For instance, it would be difficult to know why and a little odd that the prince is trying glass slippers on random women’s feet, if you didn’t know that Cinderella lost a glass slipper on the way out of the palace. The same is true for any other story you tell. Context matters. It is crucial to the power of a story. So, this is what Jesus is doing here with the disciples—creating the context.
- How would you create the context for someone to know about Jesus who doesn’t know the end of the story? What are the most valuable parts of the story that create the context for Jesus’ death and resurrection? Are his death and resurrection as powerful without knowing the rest of the story? (Yes, this is kind of a trick question.)
- Why does context matter? What other example can you think of like my Cinderella example that points to how context is important? (Suggestion: Star Wars—can you only imagine trying to follow along if you missed a part?!)
All of this is to say that we have to see how Mark starts to distinguish Jesus from all the rest of the healers of the day so that we start understanding how he is the Son of God. We also need to hear this story so that we know how he is truly powerful in a unique way. He calms the storm and fears of experienced fishermen. They know the seas and know storms, and yet they are still afraid. Jesus is shown here as someone who does not abandon them in their fears or worries about his own safety first. Instead, he is not only by their side the whole time, but he also comforts and protects, stands in solidarity with and fixes the situation to save these men’s lives.
- What storms have you had in your life that Jesus fixed or at least weathered with you in solidarity? How do you know Jesus was there?
- Are there times when you felt like Jesus wasn’t there for you or didn’t care like the disciples did in this story?
WEEK 3 / DAY 3 - Oct 9
5 Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the lake, to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out of the tombs. 3 This man lived among the tombs, and no one was ever strong enough to restrain him, even with a chain. 4 He had been secured many times with leg irons and chains, but he broke the chains and smashed the leg irons. No one was tough enough to control him. 5 Night and day in the tombs and the hills, he would howl and cut himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from far away, he ran and knelt before him, 7 shouting, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”
8 He said this because Jesus had already commanded him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”
9 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
He responded, “Legion is my name, because we are many.” 10 They pleaded with Jesus not to send them out of that region.
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the hillside. 12 “Send us into the pigs!” they begged. “Let us go into the pigs!” 13 Jesus gave them permission, so the unclean spirits left the man and went into the pigs. Then the herd of about two thousand pigs rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned.
14 Those who tended the pigs ran away and told the story in the city and in the countryside. People came to see what had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the man who used to be demon-possessed. They saw the very man who had been filled with many demons sitting there fully dressed and completely sane, and they were filled with awe.16 Those who had actually seen what had happened to the demon-possessed man told the others about the pigs. 17 Then they pleaded with Jesus to leave their region.
18 While he was climbing into the boat, the one who had been demon-possessed pleaded with Jesus to let him come along as one of his disciples. 19 But Jesus wouldn’t allow it. “Go home to your own people,”Jesus said, “and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how he has shown you mercy.” 20 The man went away and began to proclaim in the Ten Cities all that Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed.
Ah, the Legion and the pigs.
I remember that the first time I heard this story, I was in sheer disbelief about it. Jesus sends a herd of pigs possessed by demons into the sea? What a weird aspect of Jesus’ story to tell—especially since we already know that Jesus can defeat demons and exorcise them without problems. So, why tell this story?
What this story really sounds like to me is one befitting of this time of year—a spooky, scary movie plot. This man is described to be like many of the creepy villains in our scary movies. He is possessed by demons, out of his mind, cannot be restrained even by chains and shackles, howls, injures himself, and lives in a graveyard. He is a frightening human to encounter, to say the least, and Mark goes into explicit detail about how scary he really is. Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock got an idea or two from this story…
Even if he didn’t, the story still does not go as people expect. Jesus has just crossed the raging sea (which he calmed) and is now in an ‘unclean’ part of the region. He is immediately greeted by this demoniac man and when he asks the demon who it is, the demon says “Legion; for we are many.” This man is not just possessed by one demon, but many. And Legion greets Jesus, pleading with him to leave them alone. So Jesus, instead of sending the demons out of the country, sends them into a herd of pigs. Then he sends the pigs into the sea and they drown. The demons are gone.
This horror story of a tale about Jesus was as scary then as it would be now. We don’t know what to do with this man who is now cured. We are suspicious of Jesus and the power he wields. There is a lot to still be afraid of even though the demons are gone.
So, what do we do now with Jesus? His power is not just one that is comforting and happy now, but also terrifying and overwhelming. I’ll bet that not many of us see Jesus as a fear-inducing person very often because we tend to see the loving, laughing, comforting, praying, weeping, feasting Jesus who is the sacrificial Lamb of God. But here, despite not being any different in demeanor, Jesus comes off as frighteningly powerful.
The text does not tell us that this is why the people who witness this exorcism ask Jesus to leave their town and region, but my imagination and deductive reasoning allows for that possibility.
- In what other stories can you see how Jesus might be understood as powerful to a point of being intimidating or frightening, rather than the good-natured Jesus we typically hear about and know?
- What other stories have you heard or read about Jesus that don’t sit with you well? Why don’t they? What is it about those stories that bother you?
WEEK 3 / DAY 4 - Oct 10
21 Jesus crossed the lake again, and on the other side a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. 22 Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, came forward. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet 23 and pleaded with him, “My daughter is about to die. Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
A swarm of people were following Jesus, crowding in on him. 25 A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors, and had spent everything she had without getting any better. In fact, she had gotten worse. 27 Because she had heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes. 28 She was thinking, If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed. 29 Her bleeding stopped immediately, and she sensed in her body that her illness had been healed.
30 At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 His disciples said to him, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you? Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 But Jesus looked around carefully to see who had done it.
33 The woman, full of fear and trembling, came forward. Knowing what had happened to her, she fell down in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth. 34 He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.”
35 While Jesus was still speaking with her, messengers came from the synagogue leader’s house, saying to Jairus, “Your daughter has died. Why bother the teacher any longer?”
36 But Jesus overheard their report and said to the synagogue leader, “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.” 37 He didn’t allow anyone to follow him except Peter, James, and John, James’ brother. 38 They came to the synagogue leader’s house, and he saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “What’s all this commotion and crying about? The child isn’t dead. She’s only sleeping.”40 They laughed at him, but he threw them all out. Then, taking the child’s parents and his disciples with him, he went to the room where the child was. 41 Taking her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Young woman, get up.” 42 Suddenly the young woman got up and began to walk around. She was 12 years old. They were shocked!43 He gave them strict orders that no one should know what had happened. Then he told them to give her something to eat.
It has always seemed odd to me that in this particular set of verses, Mark injects one story within another. He starts telling one story about Jarius and his dying daughter and then cuts away to tell the story of the hemorrhaging woman’s healing. These seem like different stories, yet they are told together. And not just together but intertwined and layered within each other.
Why? Why would Mark do this? What is he playing at by starting one story, telling another, and then going back to the first after it’s too late to save Jarius’ daughter?
We obviously cannot ask Mark why he did this, but we can pay attention to a few things about this passage and see if it helps us understand better.
- The healing of the hemorrhaging woman happens as Jesus is on the way help Jarius’ daughter. She who is unclean and likely outcasted by her family, friends, and community because of her bleeding does not choose to interrupt and ask Jesus to heal her. She does it discretely and without “bothering” Jesus. My guess is that she had been shunted for so long by people that it affected the way she thought about her own self-worth. She didn’t want attention drawn to her. She just wanted to be well. So, she was discrete until Jesus points her out. Jesus feels and sees her even when others do not or cannot.
- This woman had been well-enough off financially to have paid for doctors along the way to find cures, but to no avail. Because of this, she has not only lost her identity but also her status. She might have at one time been known by name among the crowds like Jarius was, but now she is not. How important is her lack of a name to this story’s meaning?
- The timing of the woman’s healing matters. In stopping and speaking to the woman and the people about her belief, it delayed Jesus enough to where he did not make it to Jarius’ house before his daughter died.
- In the despair of the situation, is there the possibility of a lesson here about timing with Jesus? Maybe when we seek after Jesus for our needs but can’t seem to find him, he is healing or curing someone else on his way. How quick are we to become hopeless in our desire to have our own needs met first? Do we begrudge the person who received help on Jesus’ way to us?
- This all happened in an afternoon, but perhaps it is as the adage says, “all in God’s timing.” It is often easy to see things going right in other people’s lives when our own feel like they’re falling apart—social media is good for showing us this. However, what if those people are just those who have been “healed along the way” and we need to remain hopeful that Jesus will satisfy our needs too?
- The outcome we receive from Jesus may not look how we think it will, but it didn’t for Jarius and his family either and everything turned out alright.
I wonder if part of the reason these two stories are intermingled is to help us see that our own needs, no matter how dire, are not the only needs in the world and that Jesus can be with and for all of us. What do you think?
WEEK 3 / DAY 5 - Oct 11
6 Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. 2 On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.
4 Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.”5 He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 He was appalled by their disbelief.
Sending out the disciples
Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.
7 He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. 8 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. 9 He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts.10 He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 11 If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives.13 They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.
Why is Jesus the least effective in serving his own hometown? Why are they so quick to discount him and not believe in him?
They question his roots. They question his family. They question his actions. And they come up with disbelief.
It’s strange that for many people, this is a familiar tale and not far-fetched at all. There are lots of people in the world who feel like they cannot be their truest selves around their own families or in the place where they grew up. I often hear stories, especially as I have done so many years of youth ministry, where I hear young people say that they are either afraid to tell their parents something about themselves, or are afraid to let their friends know something personal, because they fear the reaction. Will they be rejected or accepted? Will they be laughed at or seen differently? Even if they are exceptional qualities, like a healthy prayer life or an incredible artistic skill, people are afraid to put themselves out there—young or old, male or female, at home, at work, or at play. People are afraid.
More often than not, I think this has to do with expectation.
Each of us expects things of the people around us. We want them to be successful, kind, generous, accepting, happy, motivated, resourceful, empathetic, sympathetic—and the list goes on. We also have expectations about how we think others should interact with us. We expect to be respected for what makes us unique, trusted, valued, considered intelligent and thoughtful, accepted, forgiven, and encouraged. We want to think highly of others and want others to think highly of us.
What happens, though, when the people we love the most, or the people who have been a part of our lives forever, don’t respond to us the way we expect? Or don’t think we are who we say we are? Or don’t value us for who God created us to be? What do we do with that?
Jesus doesn’t seem to take it personally. He is “appalled by them,” but doesn’t seem surprised, nor phased. But…he’s Jesus. And we aren’t. Neither are the disciples. It is much harder for us mere mortals to just “shake the dust off of [our] feet” and move on.
In fact, I would say that rather than it being easier to dismiss negative criticism from those closest to us, it is often much harder.
- Why is it harder to hear criticism from those we love than from people we don’t know?
- When have you expected to get one reaction out of your family or friends but instead got another? What it a big deal to you? How did it impact your relationship with that person?
- What is something you love about yourself or something you love to do, but aren’t sure if it would be received well by others? Is there an aspect of who you are that you are self-conscious about? What is it and why?
God created us to exceed in different and specific ways. We are gifted. We are called. We are equipped. And we are put in community. Even when that community fails us, our job is to create and be in communities who do accept us. Just as Jesus sends the disciples out to find where they can be beneficial to others and accepted by others for the message and actions they bring, we are also sent out to find our place in the world and serve it well, letting the nay-sayers and non-believers fall to the wayside.
WEEK 4 / DAY 1 - Oct 14
14 Herod the king heard about these things, because the name of Jesus had become well-known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and this is why miraculous powers are at work through him.” 15 Others were saying, “He is Elijah.” Still others were saying, “He is a prophet like one of the ancient prophets.” 16 But when Herod heard these rumors, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised to life.”
17 He said this because Herod himself had arranged to have John arrested and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip. Herod had married her, 18 but John told Herod, “It’s against the law for you to marry your brother’s wife!” 19 So Herodias had it in for John. She wanted to kill him, but she couldn’t. 20 This was because Herod respected John. He regarded him as a righteous and holy person, so he protected him. John’s words greatly confused Herod, yet he enjoyed listening to him.
21 Finally, the time was right. It was on one of Herod’s birthdays, when he had prepared a feast for his high-ranking officials and military officers and Galilee’s leading residents. 22 Herod’s daughter Herodias[a] came in and danced, thrilling Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the young woman, “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.”23 Then he swore to her, “Whatever you ask I will give to you, even as much as half of my kingdom.”
24 She left the banquet hall and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”
“John the Baptist’s head,” Herodias replied.
25 Hurrying back to the ruler, she made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.” 26 Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests, he didn’t want to refuse her. 27 So he ordered a guard to bring John’s head. The guard went to the prison, cut off John’s head, 28 brought his head on a plate, and gave it to the young woman, and she gave it to her mother.29 When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came and took his dead body and laid it in a tomb.
Alright, show of hands: who was reading carefully enough to notice that there are two different characters in this story with the same name? Anybody?
For those of you who found it, good eye! For those of you who missed it, read the story again. For many years, I totally misread this passage as Herodias being one person, not two. I thought that the king’s daughter wanted John the Baptizer’s head on a platter, not that her mother, with the same name, was the one who suggested the desired “gift” to her daughter. It seems that the daughter is a little naïve and persuadable and that the mother is a little vindictive about John’s condemnation of the erroneous affair she had with her husband, Phillip’s brother, Herod.
I can’t imagine why he would condemn such a thing! (*note the sarcasm*)
What I didn’t catch was whether the daughter Herodias was Herod’s daughter or his brother’s daughter, making her Herod’s niece/step-daughter…
The amoral undertone in this story is a doozy!
Okay, so back on track. We see yet again a passage where a transition is happening between John and Jesus. Jesus is transforming into a more influential leader and it seems that in order for him to have the prestige and space to spread his message, John needs to be out of the way, once and for all. He has prepared the way. He continues to do so even in Herod’s house through his death.
So, Jesus is cleared for take-off, and people are more confused than ever about who he really is. They ask if he is a reincarnated John the Baptizer, if he is Elijah (an incredibly influential Old Testament prophet), or like another of the “prophets of old.” They don’t really know what to make of Jesus and the power and authority he wields.
There is still some confusion about how to define Jesus. We know him to be fully human and fully God, but often wonder how that is possible. How can he be 100% of two different things?
- In what ways are you comforted by Jesus as fully God?
- In what ways are you comforted by Jesus as fully human?
- How do you justify who Jesus is as both fully human and fully God?
- How would you describe it to someone else?
This is a strange story. I hope you followed it, saw the absurdities in it, and learned something interesting!
WEEK 4 / DAY 2 - Oct 15
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught.
31 Many people were coming and going, so there was no time to eat. He said to the apostles, “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.” 32 They departed in a boat by themselves for a deserted place.33 Many people saw them leaving and recognized them, so they ran ahead from all the cities and arrived before them. 34 When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then he began to teach them many things.35 Late in the day, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place, and it’s already late in the day. 36 Send them away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something to eat for themselves.”37 He replied, “You give them something to eat.”But they said to him, “Should we go off and buy bread worth almost eight months’ pay[b] and give it to them to eat?”38 He said to them, “How much bread do you have? Take a look.”After checking, they said, “Five loaves of bread and two fish.”39 He directed the disciples to seat all the people in groups as though they were having a banquet on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 Everyone ate until they were full. 43 They filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of bread and fish. 44 About five thousand had eaten.God does amazing things.
A few years ago I saw this story take place in real life during worship at one of the churches I have served. It was such an amazing moment and I am still humbled by how it happened. Let me tell you about it. I was pastoring at a church that was going through a significant time of conflict and heartache in its life as a congregation. Members were taking sides in the ongoing argument, no one seemed to agree on anything, and worship was a tense affair. Each week, people would be there though—sitting in their pews, passing the peace, being God’s family no matter what. Then one Sunday, it the midst of this turmoil, we had communion. To say that communion unites all people, no matter their differences nor differences of opinion, is a work of holiness that exceeds my understanding, that’s for sure. This particular day, I looked out on the congregation and saw to my surprise that the pews were fuller than what we’d seen lately. It only took me a moment to see that what we had prepared on the communion table would not be enough. Yet, I carried on with the service, hoping that someone in the back was noticing the same thing I was and that we had more bread somewhere. As the communion elements were blessed and broken and people began moving forward to partake, we started getting lower and lower in our bread. But somehow, as the procession toward the front continued, bread just kept appearing. We didn’t normally keep a stock of reserve bread in the back, so I don’t know where the extra bread came from, but every time I thought we were going to run out, more bread appeared.
I know that this story may seem like a small, insignificant incident, but in that moment in time for that particular congregation, there was a very clear message being sent that all would be fed at the table of God—brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, next door neighbors, long time friends and long time rivals, charter members and new members, those who adamantly stood on one side of the conflict and those who stood on the other. Whether they recognized it or not, I could feel that in that moment, the Holy Spirit began healing that church. The story about Jesus feeding the five thousand is not just about filling empty bellies. It’s also about filling a person up with the things of God. It’s about healing, wholeness, and forgiveness. It’s about acceptance, truth, and love.
Instead of resting when he and the disciples needed rest, God in Jesus acted and people were nourished from the inside out in an extravagantly abundant way. Everyone had been made full, and God’s feast had leftovers.When is a time you needed to be fed or healed or made whole and you saw God act abundantly for you?
WEEK 4 / DAY 3 - Oct 16
WEEK 4 / DAY 4 - Oct 17
The Pharisees and some legal experts from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus. 2 They saw some of his disciples eating food with unclean hands. (They were eating without first ritually purifying their hands through washing. 3 The Pharisees and all the Jews don’t eat without first washing their hands carefully. This is a way of observing the rules handed down by the elders. 4 Upon returning from the marketplace, they don’t eat without first immersing themselves. They observe many other rules that have been handed down, such as the washing of cups, jugs, pans, and sleeping mats.) 5 So the Pharisees and legal experts asked Jesus, “Why are your disciples not living according to the rules handed down by the elders but instead eat food with ritually unclean hands?”6 He replied, “Isaiah really knew what he was talking about when he prophesied about you hypocrites. He wrote,This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. 7 Their worship of me is empty since they teach instructions that are human words.[a]8 You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.” 9 Jesus continued, “Clearly, you are experts at rejecting God’s commandment in order to establish these rules. 10 Moses said, Honor your father and your mother,[b] and the person who speaks against father or mother will certainly be put to death.[c] 11 But you say, ‘If you tell your father or mother, “everything I’m expected to contribute to you is corban (that is, a gift i’m giving to God),” 12 then you are no longer required to care for your father or mother.’ 13 In this way you do away with God’s word in favor of the rules handed down to you, which you pass on to others. And you do a lot of other things just like that.”14 Then Jesus called the crowd again and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. 15 Nothing outside of a person can enter and contaminate a person in God’s sight; rather, the things that come out of a person contaminate the person.”[d]17 After leaving the crowd, he entered a house where his disciples asked him about that riddle. 18 He said to them, “Don’t you understand either? Don’t you know that nothing from the outside that enters a person has the power to contaminate? 19 That’s because it doesn’t enter into the heart but into the stomach, and it goes out into the sewer.” By saying this, Jesus declared that no food could contaminate a person in God’s sight. 20 “It’s what comes out of a person that contaminates someone in God’s sight,” he said. 21 “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual sins, thefts, murders, 22 adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from the inside and contaminate a person in God’s sight.”Isn’t this the truth!As people, we often act like we know better than God.
We think we can judge what is right and wrong according to what we believe are God’s laws. We often misconstrue ritual and tradition as the only way to be truly holy instead of finding God and the holy in all things and in unexpected places.However, when the things we value as sacred and holy—the distinct, immovable “sacred cows” of our faith or churches or traditional ways of knowing God—get in the way of actually knowing God or put layers of apathy between the people and their God, then we become like the Pharisees from this story.An important question we need to ask, then, is if religion and rite and ritual stand between us and God or if they enhance our relationship and connectedness with God.To discern on this topic more deeply, there are some studies done about how we are Pharisees in our own right in this day and age. The thought is that our worship orders or patterns or Christian pomp and circumstance may be making a true relationship with God more difficult and inaccessible than we realize. They are seeking out whether we are standing in our own way with our relationship with God as we try to preserve what is comfortable and self-gratifying about our faith and religion. These studies, both denominationally-based and individually researched, are assessing our traditions and seeing how they serve the church now. They’re look at everything from worship times to our liturgies, from the programs and events of a church to the evangelistic and disciple-making efforts being employed. All of this research is to assess whether we are more tuned into going through the motions or focused clearly on a true, honest, relationship-based faith and ministry to our communities. In this passage from Mark, we see that Jesus is bucking familiar, comfortable traditions in order to show people what a true relationship with God looks like. He is taking the world (and its churches) and turning it upside down to demonstrate what God wants for the kingdom coming to us in the future.One of the other pieces worth paying attention to is that our reluctance or inability to stray from what is familiar may be named in the list of evil things that contaminate our souls from within that are in verses 21 and 22. Maybe it’s arrogance? Maybe it’s just plain foolishness? Maybe it’s ignorance or a lack of willingness... Any way you slice it, we’re missing the mark. So, in my discernment of this passage and this perspective, I have asked myself this: how am I standing in the way of God’s call? Or how am I misunderstanding the day in and day out of our current patterns of faith causing me to miss out on something new and holy that God is doing?How is God trying to do something new and I am standing in the way? When was the last time you asked these questions of yourself, too? What did you discover? Perhaps a good goal for all of us it to start acknowledging the Pharisee in each of us so that we can find the places where Jesus is calling us to look past what is known and familiar and do something courageous.
WEEK 4 / DAY 5 - Oct 18
24 Jesus left that place and went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. 25 In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”28 But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”29 “Good answer!” He said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” 30 When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.
Wow. What is this passage about and why do we have it? What are we supposed to learn here?For many, I think this passage makes sense to them fairly readily. That is not the case for me. I have always struggled with this passage for a number of reasons. First, I get why Jesus wants to be alone for a while. As an introvert myself, I can be in crowds a lot, but need to recharge alone afterward. So far, we haven’t heard of much “recharge” time for Jesus. He is constantly with people, always satisfying their needs, teaching, healing, proclaiming good news. He never gets a chance to catch his breath and rest. So I get that part. But when rest is denied him by persistent people, we seem to judge him for being “grumpy” toward this Syrophoenecian woman. Granted, grumpy is my word, but I think his reaction stems from exhaustion, not a statement of those who are “in” and those who are “out.” Some who read this passage, though, use this piece of scripture as a case study about Jesus’ humanity and his inability to always have the right response or answer to every person, all the time. And others use this passage as a way to say that even Jesus judged and excluded. I don’t like it. I don’t like those kinds of statements because we know too much about Jesus and his mission to believe that he was prejudice. And yet he basically calls this woman a dog. Yuck. It makes me feel yucky and I’m glad she pushes back. Maybe she is who we’re supposed to be paying attention to here. She stands up for what she knows is right no matter what. Her inner Mama Bear has risen above her pride and she calls out Jesus for giving his best to others and refusing her daughter care. Jesus is immediately put in his place, knows it, and heals her daughter in an instant. Huh. Humbling Jesus. This woman has guts. In the face of an exhausted grump who perhaps simply speaks without thinking because he’s tired, gets a slap in the face of sorts by this woman and takes it gracefully. This passage is layered and I’ve spent many hours in seminary and collegial conversation about it, and it still doesn’t sit with me with any clarity. I still wonder:
- Who is this woman in today’s society?
- What is she saying to us?
- Who is she seeking help from? If she is reaching out to Jesus, and we’re called to be the hands and feet and face and body of Jesus Christ in the world, then is she calling us out?
- Where is her community? What other things are going on in this story that we aren’t told?
- Where does grace abide?I’ll get there someday with this passage, I’m sure. But for now, it’s still a passage that prompts more questions and confusion than answers for me.
WEEK 5 / DAY 1 - Oct 21
31 After leaving the region of Tyre, Jesus went through Sidon toward the Galilee Sea through the region of the Ten Cities. 32 Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly speak, and they begged him to place his hand on the man for healing. 33 Jesus took him away from the crowd by himself and put his fingers in the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 Looking into heaven, Jesus sighed deeply and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Open up.” 35 At once, his ears opened, his twisted tongue was released, and he began to speak clearly.
36 Jesus gave the people strict orders not to tell anyone. But the more he tried to silence them, the more eagerly they shared the news. 37 People were overcome with wonder, saying, “He does everything well! He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who can’t speak.”
Sometimes, when I think about how we function as Christians today, it appears that we might be more like this deaf man than the believing crowd. Don’t get me wrong, I think we all claim and want to be the knowing crowd, but don’t give ourselves enough credit to speak and hear things about Jesus.
I was recently at a week of continuing education in which we as church leaders talked about the vitality of congregations around the nation. There were people from all over and many shared the same story of dying congregations and exhaustion on their part in trying to keep everything afloat and energetic in their churches. The more we all talked, the more we felt each other’s desire to watch the church be alive again—filled with and led by the power of the Holy Spirit, living into the excitement of new things God is doing in our midst, and learning how to be more like Jesus to each other and to the world.
In the last session meeting of the week, the Presbyterian Mission Agency representatives for the Vital Congregations movement/ministry posed a scripture to us to consider. It’s from Isaiah 43, verses 15-21.
It says: 15 I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wildernessand rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert,to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
They asked us to consider this passage and look for things that stood out to us. At the end of a conference about newness and freshness in the church, many people including myself pointed out verse 19 and talked about different ways we can watch for and know that God is doing new things. I said that I really like how it says that “I [God] am (present tense) about to (future tense) do a new thing.” In other words, this phrase tells us that God is constantly getting ready to do new things. In all times and places and spaces and, yes, even dying churches, God is about to do a new thing.
I was proud of my assessment—and believe it to be true.
But then the presenters said something that stopped all of us in our tracks. They said that instead of focusing on the first half of verse 19, their mission and focus in this passage is on the latter half of verse 19, the part that says, “do you not perceive it?” They asked us all to think about whether we can hear and see and speak to the new things that God is doing. Are we discerning well? Are we dreaming big enough? Are we trying to accommodate church culture and tradition to the detriment of being able to see where God might be calling us to go?
This is why I say we might be more like the deaf and mute man rather than the believing crowd.
If we were to listen with new ears, and be able to speak in an unbridled way, what would we say? What would we be able to share?
What is the thing that twists our tongue into not being able to speak or our makes our ears unable to hear?
As we dream about where God is calling us as individuals and as a church, I pray that we dream big enough to be able to discern and ‘perceive’ the new things God is doing.
WEEK 5 / DAY 2 - Oct 22
In those days there was another large crowd with nothing to eat. Jesus called his disciples and told them, 2 “I feel sorry for the crowd because they have been with me for three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them away hungry to their homes, they won’t have enough strength to travel, for some have come a long distance.”
4 His disciples responded, “How can anyone get enough food in this wilderness to satisfy these people?”
5 Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”
They said, “Seven loaves.”
6 He told the crowd to sit on the ground. He took the seven loaves, gave thanks, broke them apart, and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they gave the bread to the crowd. 7 They also had a few fish. He said a blessing over them, then gave them to the disciples to hand out also. 8 They ate until they were full. They collected seven baskets full of leftovers. 9 This was a crowd of about four thousand people! Jesus sent them away, 10 then got into a boat with his disciples and went over to the region of Dalmanutha.
11 The Pharisees showed up and began to argue with Jesus. To test him, they asked for a sign from heaven. 12 With an impatient sigh, Jesus said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I assure you that no sign will be given to it.” 13 Leaving them, he got back in the boat and crossed to the other side of the lake.
14 Jesus’ disciples had forgotten to bring any bread, so they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 He gave them strict orders: “Watch out and be on your guard for the yeast of the Pharisees as well as the yeast of Herod.”
16 The disciples discussed this among themselves, “He said this because we have no bread.”
17 Jesus knew what they were discussing and said, “Why are you talking about the fact that you don’t have any bread? Don’t you grasp what has happened? Don’t you understand? Are your hearts so resistant to what God is doing? 18 Don’t you have eyes? Why can’t you see? Don’t you have ears? Why can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? 19 When I broke five loaves of bread for those five thousand people, how many baskets full of leftovers did you gather?”
They answered, “Twelve.”
20 “And when I broke seven loaves of bread for those four thousand people, how many baskets full of leftovers did you gather?”
They answered, “Seven.”
21 Jesus said to them, “And you still don’t understand?”
I feel like if I were to title this section it would read, “Jesus Continues to Confound.” In these few chapters and these particular verses of the Gospel story, we hear a repeat story about how Jesus uses a specific miracle/act to try and both prove his authority in God and teach a new way of living together in faith. He invites the disciples, crowds, Pharisees, and readers in to the story and explains everything clearly only to be misunderstood again.
In past conversations I have had about this passage, a few items worth noting come up again and again.
The first is that Jesus notices that the crowd is hungry. He cannot send them away without giving them something to eat. Stating this shows that Jesus cares for basic needs as well as ethereal fulfillment. We see his humanity and we see that we cannot fill a person and make them spiritually whole when he or she is distracted by hunger. It’s the argument that we cannot teach a child in school who hasn’t been fed. Science now reinforces the idea that our brains and bodies, our ability to reason and think and respond appropriately are hindered when they’ve experienced malnutrition.
Jesus is not commenting on something dramatic here when he notices and feeds the hungry people. He is stating the obvious, finding a solution, and handling it.
- How significant is it then that God gave us eyes to see, brains to problem solve, and the resources to do something about the needs we perceive? Jesus is showing us that we are capable of doing just what he did—see a problem, find a solution, and help resolve it. It isn’t that difficult or dramatic, but it does take the belief that we are capable of responding to need the way Jesus did. After all, we are all disciples, right?
The second thing that often comes up is whether the 4000 people who are fed consist of men, women, and children or just men. While this may seem like a silly distinction, it matters for a couple of significant reasons. For one thing, if they are just counting men, then this 4000 number could actually be much, much higher. A bigger and more significant impact from this feeding. If it does include women and children, it is a little out of the social norm to notice and account for women and children. For a single, male, adult leader in a community as Jesus was, it would be odd to not just count the heads of households, but the whole family.
This shows that Jesus sees all of the people and not just the family unit as consisting of “adult male plus extras.” The women and children take on individual identities with Jesus. Jesus then loves the little children—all the children of the world and demonstrates the importance of valuing each person present.
These are small items to point out, perhaps, but they are significant to the conversation about this miracle. People are valued for being just that—people. We all hunger; we all have worth; we all deserve to be fed by the bread of God and life of Christ. And as the humans that we are, we are often too much like the disciples and just plainly don’t understand our role, our authority, or our ability to act in such bold and simple ways.
WEEK 5 / DAY 3 - Oct 23
Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him. 23 Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”
24 The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.”
25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly. 26 Then Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village!”
Ah, and here we are. Again, if you have missed Jesus’ message in the past several sections, he lays it out clearly here once more. We have only seen in part and will soon see in full.
We have begun transitioning to the latter stages of Jesus’ life. Our march toward the familiar Holy Week stories of a triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, his arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection are just around the corner. Perhaps this is the place where we just stop for a moment and remember.
Mark’s Gospel has told us about John’s preparation for Jesus’ way and in a couple of transitions has stepped out so Jesus can step in. The disciples have jumped onto the bandwagon of Jesus’ teachings without hesitation and seem to observe the situation as Jesus works to teach, instruct, heal, and answer to the crowd and Pharisees. Then the disciples begin asking more. This is where I believe they are like this blind man. They can see, but it looks abstract and out of context. What they see cannot be real but might have hints of recognizable aspects to them. Now, we are moving into this phase where Jesus begins talking about the end.
We will see more clearly. Soon enough. We will see more clearly.
Where are the places you wish faith were clearer? What aspects of faith do you wish you had solid answers on? How can being here, at the end of October, getting ready to head into the hubbub and rush of the holiday season, be a familiar moment of seeing but not really seeing? Noticing but not taking the time to know?
Life is often made up of moments where we see in part but don’t understand in full until we are looking back on it. I hope that since we are a people who know the story of Jesus from the backside, that we can see more fully what Jesus is doing and offering to the disciples and to us in these transitioning passages.
WEEK 5 / DAY 4 - Oct 24
Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
28 They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.”
29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30 Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One[a] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
34 After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 35 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. 36 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? 37 What will people give in exchange for their lives? 38 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One[b] will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.” 9 1 Jesus continued, “I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see God’s kingdom arrive in power.”
This passage is one that can be understood in three different parts: Jesus being defined by the disciples, Jesus telling of his death and Peter’s rebuke, and then Jesus’ cryptic explanation of how one ‘acquires’ the kingdom of God.
The disciples are definitely still figuring out who Jesus is. I wonder if they feel like Jesus is putting them on the spot or asking them a trick question when he asks who people say that he is. They answer with what I call ‘Sunday school’ answers—John the Baptizer, Elijah, other prophets. These are names and the roles of people who have gone before Jesus who challenged, fought for, and changed the peoples’ minds about our relationship with God. They help give language where the disciples’ language falls short. However, we know he cannot be John the Baptizer because John was alive and around clear into Jesus’ adulthood. We don’t know that he couldn’t be Elijah, but in many ways, he is a prophet. So, not all of the names they are using are wrong, necessarily. But they are incomplete. Peter is the only one who gets it right and he calls Jesus “Messiah.” As soon as he does, though, Jesus forbids him to tell what he knows. I feel like this should be an indicator to Peter that he is right, even if he doesn’t fully understand how that will play out.
Maybe that’s why Peter rebukes Jesus so heartily when Jesus tells them about his death and resurrection…he does understand, but only in part. Peter is quick to give the “Sunday school” answer in verse 29, but then just plainly misses the whole mark in verse 32. Jesus calls Peter out for his shortsightedness and his human thinking versus God thinking. But I’d say many of our faiths look like Peter’s. Perhaps that’s why he is my favorite disciple.
Peter is not afraid to lay it all out there. He puts himself in positions where he gets it right and gets it wrong. He is willing to try and struggles to figure it out. His tenacity is worth regarding and paying attention to.
- What things are you willing to try at even if you get it wrong?
- Would you consider yourself and your faith like that of Peter’s or of the other disciples—they’ll quietly and cautiously attempt to figure it out, but are not bold in their proclamations?
- How do you deal with the end of this passage where Jesus is trying to explain what it takes to get into heaven or give yourself truly over to God? Is this easy for you or hard? What amount of effort does it require?
WEEK 5 / DAY 5 - Oct 25
Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, 3 and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. 4 Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.
Ah, the Transfiguration. That one time where Jesus and three disciples went up a mountain, weird stuff happened, they saw old, dead guys, and heard a booming voice. Then, Peter interjected inappropriately because he’s the awkward guy in the room and when it was over and they were heading back down the mountain, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone what they saw.
This seems like one of those super odd stories where none of the pieces make sense, and the whole makes even less sense. Why did Jesus even take them if he didn’t want them to know what happened up there? Why is he okay with them knowing but just not telling? Doesn’t he know that once the words leave your mouth, you can’t control what other people do with what they’ve heard, or in this case seen?
Well…he said don’t tell until the Human One has risen from the dead. The Common English Bible translation uses this term “Human One” instead of saying “Son of Man,” but throughout the stories, I think it adds confusion rather than providing a sense of inclusivity. It also confuses things because as readers, we know that Jesus is talking about himself here. The third person naming of the Human One makes it sound as if Jesus isn’t talking about himself though. So, is he or isn’t he?
And then Jesus does something he hasn’t done for a little while, he refers to the scriptures as our authority for knowing about God and God’s plan. He says that we have to wait for Elijah to come first to restore all things as the ‘legal experts’ say, but then tells us that Elijah has come and “they did with him whatever they wanted.” And the passage is over. So, were they still waiting for Elijah? Was Elijah present in or with John the Baptizer, maybe? How has Elijah restored things to make ready for the Human One?
A lot is going on in this passage and most of it is pretty vague. If you were to imagine explanations for these holes in the story, how would it read to you? How would you fill in the gaps?
WEEK 6 / DAY 1 - Oct 28
When Jesus, Peter, James, and John approached the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them and legal experts arguing with them. 15 Suddenly the whole crowd caught sight of Jesus. They ran to greet him, overcome with excitement. 16 Jesus asked them, “What are you arguing about?”
17 Someone from the crowd responded, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, since he has a spirit that doesn’t allow him to speak. 18 Wherever it overpowers him, it throws him into a fit. He foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and stiffens up. So, I spoke to your disciples to see if they could throw it out, but they couldn’t.”
19 Jesus answered them, “You faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I put up with you? Bring him to me.”
20 They brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a fit. He fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been going on?”
He said, “Since he was a child. 22 It has often thrown him into a fire or into water trying to kill him. If you can do anything, help us! Show us compassion!”
23 Jesus said to him, “‘If you can do anything’? All things are possible for the one who has faith.”
24 At that the boy’s father cried out, “I have faith; help my lack of faith!”
25 Noticing that the crowd had surged together, Jesus spoke harshly to the unclean spirit, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 After screaming and shaking the boy horribly, the spirit came out. The boy seemed to be dead; in fact, several people said that he had died. 27 But Jesus took his hand, lifted him up, and he arose.
28 After Jesus went into a house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we throw this spirit out?”
29 Jesus answered, “Throwing this kind of spirit out requires prayer.”
What a perfect scripture for the start of Halloween week—a horror tale about a powerful demon possession that only Jesus can exorcise. Is this Emily Rose, perhaps?
Every year at this point in the Fall, people flock to stories like this as entertainment. For some reason, though, I doubt this father thought his son’s condition was at all entertaining.
In fact, I am pretty sure this father felt as if he were in a horror film every time his son had one of his fits. Nowadays, we would likely call what his son had a seizure. And I am sure that even now, parents who have a child with seizures often feel like their life is terrifying and hard. Cures are hard to find. No matter what we do, much like the disciples, there are not easy solutions for this kind of disorder. We’re still learning so much about the brain and have some medicines that help, but the lifestyle is hard and the side effects can be gruesome.
So, what do we do with this passage? Is it really a question of having “enough” prayer or being faithful enough? For some people, they believe that yes, it does have to do with strong enough prayer. For some people, yes, it does have to do with ‘good enough’ prayer.
For us good Presbyterians, we believe that our good deeds and our efforts don’t affect whether or not God loves us. We don’t earn or lose God’s favor. We just receive it because God is good and faithful and just. God chose us through covenant with Abraham and continues fulfilling that promise for all of time.
In fact, that’s what I think Jesus is trying to convey here. Jesus’ exasperation seems to come from the fact that people still don’t understand that he will always be there when they need him. He will step in to save us from all worries and fears, all hardships life brings, all genuine heartache and desperate pleas. However, he expects us to believe that fact and live into it. He knew he wasn’t going to be physically present forever and so he expected that the disciples would know enough now to start acting as though they understood. And they don’t. Perhaps Jesus’ comment about having enough faith was not directed at the father of this seizing child, but to the disciples who know and yet still don’t trust it to be true.
How is it that we’re supposed to act, then? We know—we have seen, we have heard. We have experienced Jesus’ presence throughout scripture and history and story. Yet, we often don’t trust that Jesus really will come through for us. We doubt the power of prayer. We are skeptical of the power of our own call to act. We are skeptical and resistant to call ourselves disciples, too.
But isn’t that what we’ve undertaken in our baptism? We promise to learn and grow in the knowledge and life and mission of Jesus Christ. We promise to share the Good News with others. We promise to respond to God’s love toward us with an outpouring of love for neighbor.
In this passage, we are reminded that we need to trust in Jesus and trust that we have the power to act in his name. This is the Word of God and we are called to know it, own it, trust it, and live it.
WEEK 6 / DAY 2 - October 29
From there Jesus and his followers went through Galilee, but he didn’t want anyone to know it. 31 This was because he was teaching his disciples, “The Human One[a] will be delivered into human hands. They will kill him. Three days after he is killed he will rise up.” 32 But they didn’t understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him.
33 They entered Capernaum. When they had come into a house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about during the journey?” 34 They didn’t respond, since on the way they had been debating with each other about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.” 36 Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then he said, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”
38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”
39 Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. 40 Whoever isn’t against us is for us. 41 I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.
42 “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and to be thrown into the lake. 43 If your hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter into life crippled than to go away with two hands into the fire of hell, which can’t be put out.[b] 45 If your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter life lame than to be thrown into hell with two feet.[c] 47 If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out. It’s better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to be thrown into hell with two. 48 That’s a place where worms don’t die and the fire never goes out.[d] 49 Everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? Maintain salt among yourselves and keep peace with each other.”
What on earth is Jesus trying to tell us? There are so many things going on here that this passage almost feels like Jesus is trying to move between topics, not necessarily that he is teaching one, specific lesson.
So, what Mark is covering here is this:
- We get a context change. Jesus is traveling but in a smaller group. He’s also teaching but just to the disciples. They have moved locations but aren’t telling anyone where they are or what they’re doing.
- The disciples are trying to figure out who is the most worthy or most right of the Twelve. Spoiler Alert: Jesus says who ever is last is first and whoever is first is last. Basically, he tells them to stop arguing the way any parent does—if you complain, you’ll be last. If you try to put yourself above someone else, you’ll get to go last.
- While Jesus says that to welcome a child is best, it also seems as if the disciples are acting out all the childish behaviors that make people misunderstand Jesus’ message about how good and pure and wholesome children really are. In this small passage, we see the disciples tattling about others’ sins and failures but not acknowledging their own, trying to elevate themselves above others, being afraid (or too proud?) to ask questions, etc. What Jesus points to with the children though is their ability to believe and not question, to revel in mystery and love it rather than challenge it. How beautiful and innocent.
- Lastly, Jesus goes into a big explanation about how a person should rid themselves of whatever prevents them from believing wholeheartedly in him. He says to cut off the foot if it causes you to sin because it’s better to have one foot all the way in than to be halfheartedly sure. Take away anything that keeps you from knowing or believing. Devote your entire self to God’s work through Jesus.
This is a lot to process in a few short verses, but it seems to be important information to have as we continue moving through the Jesus story. It points to the humanness of the disciples and the honesty with which we should regard ourselves.
It’s a tough message to hear!
WEEK 6 / DAY 3 - October 30
Jesus left that place and went beyond the Jordan and into the region of Judea. Crowds gathered around him again and, as usual, he taught them. 2 Some Pharisees came and, trying to test him, they asked, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?”
3 Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?”
4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a divorce certificate and to divorce his wife.”
5 Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your unyielding hearts. 6 At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.[a] 7 Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, 8 and the two will be one flesh.[b] So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.”
10 Inside the house, the disciples asked him again about this. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if a wife divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
A lot of people have pointed to this passage throughout the years as a way to distinguish right from wrong when it comes to divorce. It’s been a way for denominations to outlaw divorce, like the Roman Catholic church, but also has even affected how the British royal family has dealt with divorce and remarriage after divorce. (See https://www.history.com/news/royal-family-divorce-remarry-meghan-markle-wallis-simpson)
But there are a lot of people who divorce for very good reasons—abuse, addiction, adultery, etc—and worry that this passage condemns them in the eyes of God. Sometimes it’s their own reading of the scriptures that makes them feel condemned. Other times, their church has told them that Jesus himself will judge and persecute them if they divorce.
Additionally, the Roman Catholic church deems marriage a sacrament, so in breaking the covenant of marriage, they are breaking a promise with God. How difficult for some people to navigate!
Now, while I say all of this, and believe that in some cases divorce is admissible, it should not be taken lightly. And while I believe Jesus is serious and literal here in many ways, I think there is more to this particular statement that he is making.
Remember, context matters.
Jesus is teaching to people who could ruin another person’s life if they divorced. If a man dismissed or divorced his wife, she could very quickly and easily become destitute and lose everything. She wouldn’t have a home or income and could quickly and easily be thrown out onto the streets. If there are children involved, it becomes even messier. (It seems that this fact really hasn’t changed.)
So, taking all of this into consideration, I believe that what Jesus is really pointing to here is about relationship. Our relationships with one another are important and sanctified by God. It is our job to preserve and not break relationship with one another because we are always left scarred in one way or another when they break. Don’t get me wrong, scars are not all bad. Sometimes they tell of hard things we’ve survived. Other times they leave lasting impressions on who we become, inside and out. Either way, scars are something that must go through a healing process, and we must go through that process too when our relationships scar us.
I think in some regard, Jesus is telling us here not to scar one another, to avoid it at all costs. Relationships come from God, and when healthy and balanced (the two individuals choose to become one), they are a testament of God’s love for us. So, yes, I do believe this passage is literal in that we are called to lift up and make holy the sanctified relationships we choose to be part of. But I think this passage speaks of things bigger than just marriage. I believe it includes all types of relationships—even with strangers.
What relationships that you have witnessed this week lift up God’s covenanted love for us as people? Have you seen some that show the brokenness and scars?
WEEK 6 / DAY 4 - October 31
People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. 15 I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he hugged the children and blessed them.
These disciples don’t sound like the present-day church at all…
How many times have you heard someone complain about children in church? How about the times you have heard from a parent that their child embarrassed them in church for being loud or laying on the floor or saying something inappropriate during Children’s Time as they try to figure out what they are learning? And how about the times when worship is scheduled during the middle of nap time or during dinner time on Christmas Eve and we expect children to comply?
In so many ways, we the church love the vibrancy of children in our church families but don’t want the person God made them to be in worship with us. Sometimes they are adorable and expected to participate during only parts of the service or on specific Sundays and otherwise are expected to be seen and not heard.
It’s so hard! I understand the perspective of the people who expect worship to be penitent and holy—a time where we bow before God with reverence and solemnity. I also understand the perspective of the people who want children to be welcomed for their joy, their noisiness, their wiggles, and even their distress.
Aren’t we taught for our whole lives that the church is the place where the things that make us imperfect and tarnished transform us into glory and praise for God? Where the person who God created us to be shines through all else?
Yes. We are. And we get to be that kind of church for others. When the world turns us away as the disciples did with these children, God ushers us in and welcomes us and helps us see the truest vision of the Kingdom of God.
Thanks be to God for the gift of being chosen as children and expected to act like it.
WEEK 6 / DAY 5 - November 1
As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”
18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19 You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”[a]
20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.
23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25 It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”
26 They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”
28 Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”
29 Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30 will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”
I think Jesus has missed the point of the Prosperity Gospel with this conversation. You know, the one that says if you love God enough you will be prosperous. Jesus seems to be telling us the opposite—that the only way to enter God’s kingdom is to sell all of our possessions and give the money to the poor.
Does Jesus have it backward or do we?
It seems that wealth is a very difficult thing to talk about for many people. We know the adages of “hearses don’t have luggage racks,” but we also want to prepare for and provide for those whom we leave behind. So, what do we do with this passage from Jesus? How do we balance the necessities of life with the giving attitude and practice that Jesus is requiring of us here?
We remember that through grace alone we make it through the needle of the eye. Our job is to give. Our job is to care for others. Our job is to trust that through God we can expect the unexpected. Most of us are like the wealthy man who doesn’t want to give up his possessions and so we hear this passage with trepidation and fear. But to respond to Peter’s question, we get to God and gain the kingdom of heaven through grace and faith.
The end of this passage reminds me of the children’s song, “Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away…Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.” How much more would all of us have, perhaps not in possessions or money or esteem, if we gave all that we had away?