Posts Tagged ‘Gospel of Mark’
[08MAR2012] Lent 2012: Day 16—Reflection and Meditation
♦ Psalms 70:1, 4-5
♦ Gospel - Mark 4:21-34
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
23 ”Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” 24 Then he added, ”Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. 25 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” (Mark 4:23-25)
These words, spoken by Jesus, have been some of the most haunting words I have ever read. Maybe it’s just me or maybe others haven’t noticed the gravity of Jesus’ statements in this passage, but they still cause me to shudder when I read them. When I look around at the people who profess to be followers of Christ, but there is little difference in their attitudes or way of living that is different from people who profess no religious beliefs… I wonder about these words of Jesus. How are we listening? Are we receiving additional understanding from Jesus into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God… or has the little understanding we had been taken away?
Am I paying attention to how I listen? Am I obedient to what I hear?
1 Please, God, rescue me!
Come quickly, LORD, and help me.
4 But may all who search for you
be filled with joy and gladness in you.
May those who love your salvation
repeatedly shout, “God is great!”
5 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
please hurry to my aid, O God.
You are my helper and my savior;
O LORD, do not delay. (Psalm 70:1,, 4-5)
[05MAR2012] Lent 2012: Day 13—Reflection and Meditation
♦ Gospel - Mark 9:2-10
“Lord God, for forty days Jesus prayed before preaching the word that gives life. Accept our fast and prayers, and listen as we say: Lord, save your people.”
I consider two very stark and very different views of Jesus today. The first view comes to me from Isaiah 53:1-9 and depicts a view of Jesus that is very lowly—
2 There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. 3 He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.
The second view of Jesus comes from Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9:2-10) and reads very differently than Isaiah’s portrayal of the Messiah—
2 As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”
I like Mark’s portrayal of Jesus far more than I do Isaiah’s. I think most people do. I believe that many people, myself included, often imagine Jesus as a handsome, fit, charismatic, and wildly popular fellow… maybe we add super-intelligent, all-powerful, omniscient, and other godly attributes to the mix too. After all, Jesus was/is God too. I don’t think I’m the only one who wrestles with the paradox presented to us in the person of Jesus, who is God and man. I think my problem is that I subconsciously will more often think of Jesus as God than I do of him being man. This is where I think the problem of my characterization of Jesus becomes detrimental. If I think of him with more God-like qualities focusing on his perfection and divinity, I push him outside of the possibility of becoming a real-world role model for me. I will invariably think, “I can’t follow Jesus fully; he’s God…and I certainly cannot be like God.” The end result is me setting my standard for following Jesus lower than what God has intended for me.
I think I should spend more time focusing on Isaiah’s portrait of the Christ. Here I will not only come face-to-face with the humanity of Jesus, but I will have a more accurate understanding of who he was as he walked the earth opposing my contemporary idealization of Jesus. Isaiah’s characterization also reveals a more accurate view of who I am in relation to Christ. Considering what I know about myself, it is likely I would have been one who despised and rejected Jesus too. As much as I hate to admit that about myself, reading the account from Isaiah keeps me grounded with an examination of my own heart.
Both views are important for me regardless of my preference. I need to remember the human side—the common and even unattractive side of Jesus. I also need to be reminded of his “divine” side. Most of all about his divine nature is the understanding that while on earth, it was fueled by the Holy Spirit and the prayerful relationship Jesus had with God the Father…both of which are available to me and why my personal bar is always to have Jesus as my model as I learn to walk as he walked.
God be in my head and in my understanding. God be in mine eyes and in my looking. God be in my mouth and in my speaking. God be in my heart and in my thinking. God be in my end and in my departing. -Sarum Primer, 1527
O LORD, I give my life to you. I trust in you my God! Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. -Psalm 25:1-5
You Don’t Know the Scriptures…
“Your mistake is that you don’t know the scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God… You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:24, 34)
I’ve read this passage in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 12:1-35) many times; the account itself actually appears in three of the four gospels and each time I’ve read it I’ve had a few “soul shivers.” There is some pretty bizarre stuff going on in this incident as Jesus teaches through parable and launches indictments against those teachers of the law, Pharisees, Sadducees. By this time in Jesus’ ministry those who wielded power amongst and over the Jews had begun to take notice of Jesus and most of them didn’t like what they noticed. Jesus caused them problems and posed a serious threat to their power base and their lifestyle. Many of these power brokers had witnessed personally or heard of the miracles of Jesus. They had heard the murmurs of people referring to Jesus as the Christ. They had reason to fear. [Shiver #1] They began to seriously plot ways to silence and kill Jesus. As much as we are familiar with the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ it is understandable that we overlook aspects of that momentous act, but I cannot imagine (from where I sit now) being one of the people plotting the death of God.
Now, these people who were plotting against Jesus and those who Jesus was effectively calling out, they weren’t ignorant people. These were the people who knew the Scriptures; they made their life and business by being experts in the Torah. They knew the writings of the Prophets, the Psalms, and multiple interpretations from the greatest Rabbis in the history of Israel. These groups that Jesus was calling out weren’t pretenders or wannabes, they were sharp when it came to God’s word and the history of the Jews. The interesting thing about this fact is the audacity of the men who would have known about the power and authority of the coming Messiah. Even if they didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah, he was being recognized as prophet with power like that of Elijah… capable of miracles over nature, miracles healing disease, miracles of raising the dead. [Shiver #2] Yet, they were going to try to trick him (Jesus) with the Law of God…the Law of God of which Jesus knew even more intimately than they did.
As the story unfolds Jesus amazes the Pharisees and Teachers with his wisdom and his unflinching, perfect responses to their trick questions. [Shiver #3] Crazy as it sounds, they don’t stop with their plotting attempts to trick him and come at Jesus again with a convoluted question about resurrection and marriage. In fact, the trick question is so convoluted that it is based on incorrect understanding of God’s Kingdom and Rule. Jesus calls them on it and tells them unequivocally; “You Don’t Know the Scriptures…” Oh my. [Shiver #4]
The absurdity doesn’t stop here and neither do my “soul shivers.” Jesus’ audience remains clueless as he tells them they do not know the Scriptures; not only are they unfazed, but their audacity and ignorance knows no limit. [Shiver #5] One of the teachers of the law thinking Jesus’ “You don’t know the Scriptures” comment is pretty sharp and undoubtedly not realizing that Jesus was probably including him in the “You don’t know” group, approaches him with another trick question and asks him what the greatest of all the commandments is. We’re familiar with what happens next, but I’ll include the passage with Jesus’ response as it follows the teacher’s question:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Mark 12:29-33
The man says to Jesus; “Well said, teacher” or “Good one, Jesus!” I don’t know if this epitomizes ignorance or arrogance, but it has to go on record as one of the most public displays of one of them, if not both. [Shiver #6] Then comes the biggest soul shiver of them all for me… The account reads that Jesus notices the man, the teacher of the law, has answered him wisely. Jesus recognizes the man has wisdom about God’s word…this implies that he not only knows God’s word, but he knows how to use it. Then [Shiver #7] Jesus tells him; “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Not far from the Kingdom of God. He knows God’s word. He knows how to use it. Jesus, God, Savior, Messiah gives recognition and affirmation to this man’s knowledge and wisdom about God’s Rule, but tells him; “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” The implication is that the man is not in or part of the kingdom of God…yet. We don’t know if he makes it into the kingdom or not, but at this juncture…he’s not far from it. The scene ends with these words; “And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions” (Mark 12:34). I wonder why no one dared ask any more questions.
I can’t shake the shivers this Gospel account brings to me. I think it is too easy for us to look upon this short narrative and keep it at arm’s length. We’ll look at this story and think things like; “How dumb can those Pharisees be?” “How arrogant those teachers of the law are…” “Wow, those Sadducees are really stupid!” All the while we commit the same errors on an even grander scale. So many of us, I know I have been guilty, usurp and modify God’s precepts to fit our personal desires and lifestyles. Truth be known, if we truly knew the Scriptures and the Power of the God who gave them to us, we would not be making the same arrogant mistakes those teachers and religious leaders did. My greatest fear, and why my soul shivers remain, is that we arrogantly and presumptuously think we know the Scriptures. The men Jesus told they did not know it… well, they had the entire Old Testament memorized and most of the rabbinical commentaries that went with it. I wonder how many of us can say the same. Then, even recognizing the wisdom of at least one teacher, Jesus still told him he wasn’t in the kingdom yet… “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
There is a lot more that can be said about the details of this Markian account, the more I examine my own heart the more I am driven to humble myself and ask the Spirit to guide my understanding. I don’t want to assume or presume anything. I desire to walk humbly, submissive, obedient, and willing to say “yes” to whatever is asked of me by my Lord. At the end of the day, I don’t want to be recognized for my wisdom and how far I am from the Kingdom. The words I want to hear are the words spoken to a servant; “Well done, good and faithful servant; come and share your Master’s happiness.”
Table Scrap Faith
A question has been on my mind for most of the day: “How much do we think we need from God?” This one question has developed into a lot more questions as the day has progressed and now winds down to evening… I wonder what motivates my desires and how I quantify what will meet my needs. At first glance, if I were asked this “How much do you think you need from God?” question, without thinking I’d probably answer something to the effect, “As much as I can possibly get!” Or maybe, I’d answer something cute (and falsely humble) like, “more than I’ve got…” I wonder though; is this right thinking? Of course we need God, but how do we need Him? What is right thinking for this need and filling of this need?
I’m not considering that we need less of God in our lives. I’m not considering compromise. I’m not considering that we are any sort of “good” that we don’t need an overflowing amount of God in our lives. I wonder what an overflowing amount of God is though. I wonder if we have any comprehension of the vastness of God and what would take place in our lives if we even had a mustard seed portion of God in our life. This leads me to ask the question if I suffer (okay, if we suffer…) from spiritual delusions or maybe better asked, if we suffer from spiritual greed.
I started asking this question this morning after considering the Syrophoenician woman that Mark’s Gospel teaches about in Mark 7:24-30. There are quite a few observations and interpretations of this narrative, but I’ve never given this particular line of thought that my questions raise before today. We find that for this woman and her daughter, the “left-over table scraps” were more than enough, uber-sufficient portions of the Lord for the both of them. More than this, Jesus commends her faith because of the sufficiency of her belief that the “breadcrumbs of Christ” on the floor were more than enough to meet her needs and bring healing to her family…removing the demons from their life.
All this makes me wonder…about my faith and our faith. How much of Christ will it take before we will be transformed? How much Christ is needed to remove the demons that plague us? Do we need a feast of Christ, or will the table scraps and breadcrumbs suffice? Jesus said a mustard seed was enough; the Syrophoenician woman proved it could be done with table scraps. What will it take for us?