Tuesday, November 28, 2017

I Want to See Jesus

for the most part, mark 6 is a continuation of recounting the miracles of jesus.  the chapter opens with jesus visiting his home town of nazareth.  here is resented by the people of the town.  they think he is putting on airs, that he has forgotten his roots.  they remember him as a carpenter, a member of a local family, some of whom are still there.  mark says that jesus "could do no deed of power there" except for curing a few sick people, because the townspeople "took offense at him."  several questions arise from this: what other deeds of power might he have performed there?  the principal "deeds of power" that mark has mentioned so far in his gospel is healing the sick.  the only other such acts that mark has described to this point in the narrative is the quieting of the storm in mark 4 and the resurrection of jairus' daughter in mark 5.  if jesus is God incarnate, why would his ability to perform miracles be dependent on his acceptance by the people of nazareth?  when jarius' daughter was raised from her deathbed, the house was filled with doubters and that didn't prevent jesus from acting.  when he stilled the storm, the disciples lacked faith in his ability.

leaving nazareth, jesus sends his discples out in pairs to heal and proclaim the people's need to repent.  he tells them "to to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts,  but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics." additionally he instructs them that "wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.  if any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”  there is no explanation of jesus' intentions in sending the disciples out in this way, nor does mark explain the negative tone of jesus' instructions regarding those who will not welcome or listen to the message of jesus' disciples.  does jesus feel no compassion for those who are wary of these itinerant preachers who come to them as beggars?  didn't his earlier parable of the sower suggest that the seed of his message needed time to take root in order to flourish?

when the disciples return from their preaching/healing mission, jesus suggests that they "come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  crowds anticipate their arrival as the disciples and jesus come ashore from their boat, and they flock to jesus.  seeing that the people "were like sheep without a shepherd," jesus teaches them "many things."  the disciples are concerned that the people are far from home and need food, so they encourage jesus to send them away to seek food in the surrounding villages.  jesus says to the disciples, "you give them something to eat.”  the disciples ask where they are going to find the money to feed such a large crowd, and jesus asks, "how many loaves have you" and tells the to "go and see."  only five loaves of bread and two fish are found, but, after jesus blesses the food, there is enough to feed everyone with twelve baskets left over.  mark says that "five thousand men" were fed.  how could jesus address that many people at once?  how could all have heard him?  why weren't the people awestruck as they watched a few loads of bread and a couple of fish multiply before their eyes?  mark mentions no reaction from the crowd at such a miracle.  did the twelve baskets for the remaining food just appear when they were needed?

at the end of the day, jesus sends his disciples away in the boat.  as the disciples row the boat against the wind, they see a figure walking towards them on the water and are terrified, believing that they are seeing a ghost.  jesus says, "take heart, it is i; do not be afraid.”  to the astonishment of the disciples, jesus climbs into the boat and continues on with them.  if the doubt of others prevents jesus from performing miracles in nazareth, how is this miracle possible?  mark refers back to the miracle of the loaves, saying that the hearts of the disciples "were hardened," thereby preventing their understanding of the earlier miracle.  what does jesus walking on the sea have to do with the feeding of the five thousand?  what is mark suggesting by saying the disciples' hearts were hardened?  are they great doubters like the people of nazareth?

the chapter closes with jesus and the disciples landing at gennesaret, where they are mobbed by people seeking cures from jesus.  as jesus continues traveling from village to village, people bring the sick, and, mark says that all who as much as touched the fringe of jesus' garments are healed, as the woman in mark 5 was healed earlier.

the continuing descriptions of the miracles of jesus give us few clues about the man behind these miracles.  for the most part, one sees a compassionate man who is regarded more highly for his healing than his teaching.  jesus shows concern for the disciples, as he encourages them to come with him to rest after their mission of teaching and healing, and as he reassures them after they are frightened when he walks to them on the sea.  he feels concern for the people who come to him, despite his desire for time to rest with his disciples, and he never turns away anyone who comes to him for healing.

mark's emphasis on the miracles may have been intended to bolster the belief that jesus was more than a mortal man, that he deserves to be worshiped as a god.  i wish that mark had spent as many words telling his readers what jesus taught the crowd of "five thousand men" as he did recounting the miracle of the loaves and fish.  if compassion for them prompted him to teach them, did he encourage them to show others the same compassion?  did he tell them that even their enemies and oppressors were people deserving their love?

may we continue to seek the whole man that jesus was, not just the miracle worker.  may we take the miracles for what they were, attempts to transform a charismatic roving teacher into a god.  may we, like jesus, have compassion for those around us.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Jesus, Thou Art All Compassion

in the fifth chapter of mark, we are told of three more miracles.  first, jesus heals a demon-possessed man in the region of the decapolis, sending the demons from the man into a swineherd.  the 2,000 or so pigs rush into the sea and drown after the "unclean spirits" enter them.  the man asks to go with jesus when he departs, but jesus tells the man to go and tell his friends "how much the lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.  mark says that when the man "began to proclaim in the decapolis how much jesus had done for him everyone was amazed."

next jesus returns to the other side of the sea of galilee, and a man named jairus, "one of the leaders of the synagogue," begs jesus to cure his daughter who is "at the point of death."  on the way to the man's house, "a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years" approaches jesus from behind and touches his cloak, believing that just making contact with jesus' clothes will cure her.  the gospel says that she was immediately cured.  jesus, sensing that some power has gone out from him, asks "who touched my clothes?"  the disciples are incredulous, since jesus is surrounded by a large crowd, and in all likelihood many people have touched him in the crush.  the woman admits that she was the one who touched him seeking a cure, and jesus tells her, "daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

as this encounter is taking place, word comes that the daughter of jairus has died, so they believe jesus can do nothing for her.  jesus tells jairus not to fear, but instead to believe.  taking peter, james, and john with him, jesus goes to jarius' home, where the girl is being mourned.  jesus asks, "why do you make a commotion and weep?"  when jesus tells the mourners that "the child is not dead but sleeping" they laugh at him.  taking the only the girl's parents and his three disciples with him, jesus goes to the room where the girls is.  he takes her by the hand and says, "little girl, get up!"  the twelve-year-old girl arises and begins to walk around the house.  those present are amazed, but jesus tells them to keep what has happened secret and orders them to give the child something to eat.

mark paints a picture of a man with great power, curing a man in great mental distress, healing a woman when she has only touched his clothing, and raising a child from the dead.  in the first two miracles, jesus wants others to know of what has transpired, as he tells the man to go tell his friends about his cure and calls the woman out of the crowd to tell those around him of her cure.  yet he wants this final miracle to be kept secret, perhaps because thousands of others will come to him wanting loved ones resurrected, thus increasing the demands on him.

maybe the writer is attempting to show jesus as one who brought hope to those who were hopeless, making those who were at the mercy of the occupying romans and their native allies see something beyond their desperate plight.  were these miracles exaggerations to give greater credibility to the claims that jesus was a man-god?  did the evangelist feel it necessary to portray jesus as the equal to other god figures in the roman world?  whatever the case, i long to hear more of what jesus taught, more that would show what jesus was like.  surely, there was more to jesus that attracted others to him than the working of miracles.  would the disciples have dropped everything to follow him if that was all there was?

may we seek the man behind the miracles.  may the teachings that caused others to abandon their settled lives to follow him emerge from the little we know of jesus from the gospels.  may we find the same hope that those early followers found.  may the compassion that jesus showed for others be manifest in our lives.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I Am Not Skilled to Understand

in mark 4, jesus tells a series of parables.  he uses tasks and objects that are a part of the everyday lives of his listeners: the planting of crops, an oil lamp, a mustard seed.  these parables challenge those who hear them to figure out their meaning, and jesus seems to be trying to provoke them to think for themselves.  his disciples don't understand the first of these parables, the parable of the sower, and so jesus must explain the symbols in the story.  he tells the disciples that they have "been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables."  it seems that jesus will make the meaning of his teachings explicit to these close followers, but others must figure them out for themselves.

i am puzzled by jesus' statement.  why would he wish to obscure his teachings to the larger audience, while explaining them privately to his disciples?  perhaps he hoped that those among his hearers who wished to entrap him in what they considered false teachings would find little to accuse him of if he spoke in this way, leaving the interpretation of his parables to be figured out with no public explanation.  maybe the explanation is in the first parable in the gospel, in which only those who are "seeds [that] fell into good soil"  can understand, while all others are seeds that fell into rocky ground or among thorns.

the chapter concludes with one more miracle.  jesus and his discples sail toward the opposite shore of the sea of galilee, and, as they are crossing, a storm comes up.  the disciples are frightened since the boat is being swamped by the waves and ask the sleeping jesus to awaken and protect them.  jesus says, "peace! be still!" and the storm subsides.  then he rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith.  it is as if mark cannot describe the work of jesus without throwing in a miracle.  this is the first chapter of the gospel that is devoted for the most part to the teachings of jesus, but in the end, there has to be a miracle.  it is as if the series of teachings presented in mark 4 are taken from another source of "sayings of jesus;" one parable follows the other in a way that seems unnatural as a pattern for imparting jesus' teachings, with only an explanation of the meaning of the first of the parables.  maybe the writer thought, "i'm leaving the impression that all jesus did was walk around performing miracles.  i'd better throw in some teachings to demonstrate the jesus did more than that."

as i read the gospel of mark, i find this chapter to be puzzling, leaving me with more questions than answers.  i suppose i am one of those without ears of whom jesus is speaking when he says, "let anyone with ears to hear listen!”  after more time to digest it, i'll have to come back and try to ferret out each parable individually to make sense of them.

may each of us seek the truth, not looking for simple answers to complex questions, but taking the time to think for ourselves so that we "have ears to hear."  may we look beneath the surface to discover the beauty of what lies underneath.  may we be mindful of the miracle of life as it presents itself to us.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Scenes by the Wayside

in the third chapter of mark, the conflict between jesus and the religious establishment continues.  in the act of jesus healing the withered hand of a man on the sabbath, jesus deliberately provokes them, asking, "is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?”  when the devout around him remain silent, jesus is angry that keeping the sabbath rules is more important to them than aiding the man with the injured hand and proceeds to heal him.

jesus continues around the countryside teaching, healing, and calling more disciples before returning home, one supposes to capernaum, but perhaps he is in or near nazareth since his family is nearby.  here, he is confronted by his family and by "scribes who came down from jerusalem."  these scribes accuse him of using the power of "beelzebul" and "the ruler of demons" to heal and cast out demons.   jesus asks why these dark powers would wish to attack their own minions, in effect dividing their house or kingdom against itself.   he goes on to suggest that the scribes are committing an "eternal sin" by attacking the work of the holy spirit that resides in jesus.

when he is told that his mother and brothers are outside the home wishing to see him, he asks, "who are my mother and my brothers?”  continuing, he indicates that those seated around him "are my mother and my brothers!  whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  earlier, mark says that the members of jesus' family wishes to "restrain him" because people are saying that "he has gone out of his mind.”  perhaps jesus is offended that the members of his own family are more concerned with gossip rather than they are with supporting the work jesus is doing.

it seems that jesus is making it clear that he has no use for the opinions of the devout proponents of the religious laws and that he will not be hampered by the seeming embarrassment of his family who are concerned about their own reputation.  the attraction to jesus continues to center around his ability to heal the broken in body and spirit, with people coming not only from the immediate vicinity but also from "judea, jerusalem, idumea, beyond the jordan, and the region around tyre and sidon."  by stating the widespread fame of jesus, mark lets his readers know that the final conflict with the religious powers is inevitable.  jesus refuses to back away from his questioning of their oppressive laws or to modify his work among the people so as not to offend, though it is clear he knows that the more people are attracted to him the less secure the power of the religious leaders over the people becomes.

may we, like jesus, be fearless in "speaking truth to power."  may our compassion be greater than our love for standing in the community.  may we not be passive conformists in order to get along.  may we act and speak wisely, living skillfully, embracing our common humanity.  may we follow the path that does the most good and the least harm.  shalom.