Lent Day 26: Mark 9:30-50

Mark 9:30-50

Why are you fighting?

Immediately after Jesus tells them (a second time) that he knows this mission of his will end in death (more than that, in new life), his disciples begin fighting over who’s the best. It sounds a like a parent talking to his children, the way Jesus handles the situation.

“What were you fighting about?” Jesus asks. “Nothing” seems to be the reply. So Jesus stops what he’s doing, sits down, and has a chat.
-Look this kingdom that I’ve started doesn’t work like the kingdom in this world, Jesus seems to say. It comes about by serving instead.
-You see this child, that’s what the kingdom is about.
A little while later Jesus notes “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
That’s a far cry from the world’s mentality of ‘if you’re not for us you’re against us.’ Jesus is all about including as many as possible. So why are you fighting?

competition dispute goats
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Lent 2019 Day 25: Mark 9:14-29

Mark 9:14-29

If you can

Jesus arrives at a big fight going down. His rebuke, then, is not about the father seeking relief for his son. Instead it is about those bickering rather than showing love and compassion to the ones being victimized. Jesus, then, will demonstrate true compassion and asks to see the boy.

The boy’s father asks Jesus to help “if you can.” Jesus takes exception at that.  He’s God. There is no “if you can.” Of course he can. The man’s response is the prayer of all of us who see now through a glass dimly: Lord I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.

Doubt is not a sin. Struggle in your faith is not to be overlooked. In the midst of your own dark night of the soul cry out: Lord I believe, help my unbelief


Lent 2019 Day 24: Mark 9:2-13

Mark 9:2-13

Mountain Top Experience

Jesus is transfigured. What does that mean? We don’t know exactly how he was changed, but we are told that his clothes become whiter than seems possible, and that Elijah (the one whom Malachi predicted would come) and Moses (the only prophet to speak with God face to face) come together with him.

Something radical and different and end-of-the-world is happening with Jesus. Peter’s response is woefully inadequate. His is the human response to such paradigm shaking, radical change. When God does something new, we feel a need to do something, but it never makes sense. Still God reveals his radical self to us. Those three, on a mountain, catching a glimpse of the infinity of love.

In case they are confused, having just seen Elijah and speaking about him, Jesus removes all doubt: Elijah has come. This is the end of days. Just like all other prophets before him wee abused, so Jesus expects the same. The glorified Lord, awaiting the attack from those he came to rescue.

foggy mountains at sunset
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Lent 2019 Day 23: Mark 8:27-9:1

Mark 8:27-9:1

Ups and Downs

Peter, the brash disciple, does it again. When Jesus asks who the disciples think he is, Peter responds that He is the Messiah (the redeemer King). Continuing the theme of the secret, Jesus asks them not to say anything yet. Immediately afterward, Jesus predicts that he will die and it is Peter who declares that this will not be so (earning a rebuke).

The Kingdom of God, you see, doesn’t come about by might or sword or any means of humans. This King redeems not through a traditional war, but through one much greater. His battle is not with flesh and blood, but with Death itself, and so he must meet it. Jesus intends to invade Death’s territory to redeem us from it.

Count the Cost

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” so begins Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship. Here Jesus is giving that call. To take up the cross is not merely to carry a burden, it is a cross that leads somewhere. There is only one place a cross may lead, and that is to the place of the skull. Come, and die.

In the process of so doing, though, Jesus encourages that some alive now will “see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Jesus has begun its coming and this transformation is sealed by his later resurrection. The Kingdom Come in power. Both here and being built. [selah]

brown wooden cross
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2019 Lent Day 22: Mark 8:14-26

Mark 8:14-26

Come on!

At the start of today’s passage, Jesus is trying to warn his disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees;” the idea that a little bit of bad teaching gradually works its way through everything. Instead, the disciples hear “yeast” and immediately think with their stomachs. Jesus can scarcely believe it. Why would they be worried about food? Jesus has demonstrated his ability to not only meet, but exceed their physical needs. But they can’t get past it.

An incomplete healing

The next passage has an interesting bit. From a surface reading, it looks like Jesus heals, and it doesn’t take initially (they people “look like trees”), and so must be done again. Instead of wondering in this way. Is it possible, that this is exactly what Jesus meant to do? Wat kind of conversation, not here recorded, might Jesus and the blind man have had. By healing him over a process, instead of instantaneously, this man had a different and unique experience (only this Gospel records it). Perhaps, in our own life, there is some greater reason that, when we request a healing, it comes slowly, if it all.

bread on basket
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2019 Lent Day 21: Mark 8: 1-13

Mark 8:1-13

I can’t get no…

In today’s reading, we see the feeding of the four thousand. Similar to the previous miracle of this sort, Jesus is reluctant to send people away, and this time he gives us a more explicit reason. The people (4000+) are fed and satisfied as a result of Jesus’ miracle.

Contrast that to the Pharisees. After all of the miracles and the teaching of Jesus, they demand a sign. They are completely unsatisfied. Perhaps the problem with dissatisfaction has nothing to do with Jesus and more to do with them. Perhaps we find ourselves in the same role.

2019 Lent Day 20: Mark 7:24-37

Mark 7:24-37

The Secret Spreads

The passage today opens with yet another reference to the “secret” of God’s Kingdom as the Gospel of Mark tells it. Yet this time, the secret is spreading to the foreigner. And we have a somewhat troubling passage in the Gospel.

The question here is, what is going on with the Syrophoenician woman? As an interpreter, you have to decide: is Jesus testing her or is Jesus being convinced by her? Given the general tone of Mark’s gospel, and of Scripture as a whole, option one seems unlikely. Instead, we get the gospel idea that while Jesus has come to all nations, it is to Israel first. He responds “First”, indicating there will be a second.

Is Jesus calling her a dog? That seems a bit rude. Perhaps. Yet, I think that we misunderstand the rhetoric. It seems that Jesus is drawing on a relevant example of how mealtime works. He is both bread and father, and at a Jewish meal (as in any household) the family is fed before anyone else. Israel has always been called God’s son, and Christ is noting that, at least right now, those outside Israel are not yet God’s children in the same way.

The woman’s response presses the metaphor beyond what Jesus intended (i.e. his intent was not to insult her). However, she is right that the Kingdom may be able to spill over as it is breaking through. He did, after all, come to her village. So Jesus’ compassion toward her breaks through and her daughter is healed and kingdom spreads.

Be opened

In direct contrast to the nation of Israel that are incapable of hearing the message of the Kingdom, Jesus encounters a physically deaf man. His response is quick and to the point “Be opened” and it is so. The language is creative in nature (“Let it be opened” as in “Let there light”) indicating a connection with restoration. And so the “secret” gets around all the more.

white and black english bulldog stands in front of crackers on bowl at daytime
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2019 Lent Day 19: Mark 7:1-23

Mark 7:1-23

Authentic Living

Again Jesus is asked a question about the behavior of him and his disciples, and Jesus cannot contain himself. It’s as though Jesus responds with:

-Are you serious? This is what you’re going to after? I’m trying to build a new kingdom. I’m confronting the ills that you have helped bring about. Rather than acknowledge your own shortcoming, you’re going to start a debate about meaningless minutiae.

That’s exactly what they are going to do. So Jesus cites Isaiah 29.

They are living in a dream. Acting as though they are in reality. They are acting as though the know what they are talking about. They have these rules and the rules need to be followed. It’s how there is stability and order. How else will we know what to do if we don’t follow these rules?

And Jesus can’t let it slide. Rather than focusing on God who has asked to meet them in the law, they have so focused on the law that they miss the one who spoke it into being. In so doing, they’ve missed the point, they are unable to even read the word of God. The same Word of God who is standing before them.

It’s not about the external. It’s not about the rules. It’s about the type of person you are. That’s what determines holiness. And God in Christ is declaring that He will make you holy, if you but open your blind eyes.

2019 Lent Day 18: Mark 6:45-56

Mark 6:45-56

Take Courage

Imagine being a disciple on that boat. In the midst of the storm, unable to make any progress. And here comes Jesus. Just strolling along.

It. was. terrifying.

The part that was terrifying though, wasn’t the storm. It was Jesus coming in the midst of the storm. Like the Demoniac who first asked not to be helped before Jesus had compassion and did so anyway, so the disciples see the person of their rescue and are terrified.

“Take courage” declares Jesus. He’s coming. Terror and all.



2019 Lent Day 17: Mark 6:30-44

Mark 6:30-44

Give them something to Eat

Again there is a reference to this sort of “Markan Secret,” which we’ve discussed before. It’s a bit indirect, but the idea is that Jesus and the disciples, having come back together following the death of John the Baptist after they had been sent out, attempt to go off together to have a remote meeting.

Wherever they go, though, the people follow. Rather than send them away, though, Jesus tells his disciples to give them food. The story Jesus is telling is too good for the people to run away, and Jesus is not the sort of person to send them off to fend for themselves. So he asks for the disciples to feed them.

Clearly they were not prepared, but the words hang in the air “Give them something to eat.” Jesus knows the disciples cannot provide such a thing, but that’s part of the point. At the risk of overspiritualizing what I truly believe was a physical miracle, let’s look at today’s churches.

How many pastors are the central figure in their church? How many go to hear this particular pastor or speaker or whomever?

“How do you like that church?” someone asks.
“Oh the pastor is great” we reply. Or “I just didn’t like the sermon today.” or “I really loved the music.”
This is not to say that every pastor about whom this is said is seeking to build some sort of cult of personality. It is to say, though, that humans will naturally create one, and we must, all of us, be on guard.

The disciples have just returned from spreading the Kingdom message. Jesus wants to guard them against the accolades they may have received from other people as a result of their short term mission. “You give them something to eat” Jesus earnestly requests.

Yet is Jesus who takes the meager meal and allows the people to be satisfied. It is Christ who satisfies, not us. Let us, as worshippers, leaders, teachers and musicians remember that. Nothing else will satisfy, nor should we, apart from Christ, seek to provide such satisfaction.

sliced bread on white surface
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