This is Why I Came

Reflections on the Lectionary Gospel Reading for Feb 8, 2015: Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Unlike what scholars once thought about Mark’s arrangement of materials, Mark is actually highly organized as the following outline illustrates for Mark 1:16–2:14.

1.16-20 Jesus Calls the Four Fishermen
1.21-28 Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Man
1.29-32 Jesus Heals Peter’s Mother-in-Law
1.32-34 Summary of Jesus’s Healings
1.35-39 JESUS PRAYS, IDENTIFIES HIS MISSION: TO PREACH
1.40-45 Jesus Heals a Leper
2.1-12 Jesus Heals the Paralytic
2.13, 14 Jesus Calls Levi

Verses 35–39 is what I call a centerpiece text. Notice that at each extreme we have the calling of disciples, the calling of the four fishers and the calling of Levi. Between these calling stories, we have a series of healing stories, balanced with two on each side of the centerpiece. The centerpiece texts serve to orient the texts around them. One could get the impression without the centerpiece that Jesus was primary a healer, a miracle worker. However, with the centerpiece, we are pushed to see that Jesus was up to something more, something deeper.

In the text selected above, the first paragraph tells the story of Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law. Once healed, she “ministers to” or “serves” them. In Mark’s use of minister/serve words (διακονέω and related words) more may be implied than just she went about her domestic duties. This notion first occurs earlier when throughout the temptation of Jesus, angels “were serving” him. The comment about serving occurs as the final thought in each story. That angels and Peter’s mother-in-law both participate in the act of service suggesting that service is highly valued in the Kingdom of God. This becomes clearer in Mark 10:43–45, where Jesus makes “service” a prominent trait of what it means to be his disciple.

… but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

A summary statement of Jesus’ ministry follows this story. Another will occur in Mark 3:7–12. These summaries allow Mark to compress the story, yet fill it out. This compression allows him to keep the story moving at breakneck speed.

At the end of this paragraph Mark notes that Jesus “would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” Rather than being some kind of Messianic Secret motif, as earlier scholars theorized, Mark is cleverly showing that those from the “other world” clearly know who Jesus is. On the other hand, throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ own disciples seem not to know him at all. In his literary strategy, then, Mark is asking his readers if they know who Jesus is.

In the centerpiece text (vv.35–39), Mark carefully paints the scene: very early, still dark, deserted place, Jesus prays. This all sounds a bit like the ending of the story. Very early in the morning the women came to the tomb. And it is very dark when Jesus prayed in the Garden alone.

When Simon and the others find Jesus, they say,

Everyone is searching for you.

To which Jesus gives the unexpected reply,

Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do

Simon and the others supposed their need should set the agenda for Jesus’ ministry. However, Jesus’ kingdom vision was much bigger than their desires. This is not unlike what we find in churches today. Too easily churches become organizations that consume energy, talent, and finance for their own self-preservation. Jesus, rather, has an outward focus. Who else might benefit from the presence of the kingdom of God?

More central to this text, though, is that Jesus makes a purpose statement: I have come to proclaim the message! Though this centerpiece text is surround by miraculous healing stories, this text focuses Jesus’ central ministry task: preaching. More important than the healings is the Message. Jesus states clearly that he came to preach! It is in the message that the power of God is released. Said another way, the story of Jesus has the power to change lives. The story of Jesus is what invites us to participate in the kingdom of God.

Our text closes with a comment on how Jesus moved forward. He continued to do powerful works showing that the kingdom was here, but Mark notes that Jesus did what he said he came to do: proclaim the message.

As we seek to do good in the name of Jesus, let us to remember the centrality of proclaiming the message and not be afraid to do it somewhere else.

Advertisements

When the Resurrection is Assumed (Hebrews)

The resurrection of Jesus is largely missing in Hebrews. Have you noticed?

So how could a preacher so committed to making sure his listeners understand what Jesus did for them say nothing about Jesus’ resurrection? For sure, the Hebrews writer believes Jesus is big stuff. This Jesus, the Son, co-created the world and is the very image of God. He is the cosmic glue that holds the world together and he is the one who made it possible the forgiveness of our sins and now sits at the right hand of God (Heb 1:3-4). So where is the resurrection?

Jesus is greater than angels, greater than Moses, and greater than Joshua. He is our great high priest who can both sympathize with our weaknesses on earth and intercede on our behalf in heaven. This high priest is of a higher order than the levitical priesthood, compared with the mysterious Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God. So, again, where is the resurrection?

Jesus’ high priesthood ushers in a new covenant—a new and living way (Heb 10:20). Even more, this High Priest, the Son, offers a better sacrifice than the blood of bulls and goats, he offers his own blood—yet not as a dead victim but as a willing and living sacrifice. Wait a moment… Did you see it?

A dead victim now a living high priest! That sounds like a resurrection had to have happened. Yes, and nearly everything said about Jesus in Hebrews assumes the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the necessary assumption that makes what the Hebrews writer says about Jesus makes sense. In other words, there is no high priest without the resurrection of Jesus

What would a life be like that accepted the resurrection of Jesus as a given—as the necessary event that makes sense of our world?

Finally at the end of Hebrews, the writer offers this prayer for his reader:

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21)

Jesus: A Different Kind of Priest (Hebrews 6.13-7.28)

The writer of Hebrews has a big problem. He needs to show how Jesus is our great high priest; however, everyone in his audience would know that high priests come only from the tribe of Levi. He finds a solution to this problem in Psa 110.4:

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

This psalm originally celebrated God’s support of the king of Israel while also noting the king’s priestly role (see 1 Chr 15.27 where King David does priestly things). Furthermore, this psalm connects the king’s priesthood with another kind of priest, the mysterious Melchizedek.

Outside of Hebrews and Psa 110, the only other reference to Melchizedek is Genesis 14.18-20.

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High,
and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14.18–20 NIV)

Three verses—that’s it. And those three verses are plopped in the middle of a story about how Abraham defeated five tribal chiefs to rescue his nephew Lot. Thus, just as these verses seem to come out of nowhere, so does Melchizedek.

Melchizedek (whose name is King + Righteousness in Hebrew) the king of Salem (the word for Peace) is a priest of El Elyon (God Most High) who for no reason mentioned blesses Abraham. After the blessing, Abraham gives Melchizedek a tenth of his spoils from the tribal chiefs. Then, just as suddenly, Melchizedek disappears from the Bible until Psa 110.

The preacher of Hebrews follows this logic: Since Jesus is not of the tribe of Levi he should not be able to be a priest of any kind. However, the priest Melchizedek predates the Levitical priesthood. That he blessed Abraham, the great-grandfather of Levi, shows that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham who further confirms this by giving a tenth to Melchizedek. In this way, Levi—who has not been born yet—gave a tenth to Melchizedek. Therefore, Melchizedek is greater than Levi. Consequently the Melchizedekian priesthood is greater than the Levitical priesthood.

Ok, it may not be our logic, but you can still follow it.

The point: Jesus’ priesthood is superior to that of the tribe of Levi.

Matthew’s Christmas: For the Sake of the World

Imagine that we had a chance to hear the old tax collector-turned apostle Matthew tell his story.

As we knocked on the door, we would have waited as the old man moved his fragile body to the door. We would have been warmly received, as Matthew was well known for giving the best parties back in the day.

As we entered the house, we would have noticed the pictures hanging in the entryway. These pictures honored the ancestors who had paved the way for God’s mission to the world. Among the pictures were those of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David, Solomon, Zerubbabel, and lesser-known personalities, like Akim, Matthan, and finally a Joseph.

The few women among the pictures were somehow out-of-place: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and then one picture simply read: “Formerly Uriah’s wife.” Next to the picture of Joseph was that of very young woman named “Mary.” Had we the courage to ask Matthew about this very small but odd collection of women, Matthew might have reminded us that in God’s story there is always room for the outsider.

Once we finally entered Matthew’s living room and after he stoked the fire to make sure we were all comfortable, he would begin his tale. Unexpectedly, we would be jarred by the Christmas story beginning in a bit of a scandal. Joseph actually wanted to divorce Mary because she was pregnant—maybe the women in the collection have more in common than previously thought.

Matthew would regale us with the story of the “magi,” stargazers from a far away land who came to worship Jesus. Again Matthew reminds us, there is always room for outsiders. Against the backdrop of this story, Matthew would tell us about Herod’s deceitful plan to “worship” Jesus and how Herod’s envy set in motion the incident in Bethlehem.

Matthew himself is visibly shaken as he recalls the events the day Herod sent troops to exterminate the baby boys of Bethlehem to ensure there would be no contenders for his throne, not now, not ever. Not exactly what one expects to hear as part of the Christmas story.

Now we are visibly shaken—not understanding why God would let this happen and why God did not intervene. Matthew responds to our uneasiness. “Don’t you see God entered our world just as it is.”

* If you found this take on Matthew’s version of the nativity intriguing, you might enjoy this: http://www.wineskins.org/filter.asp?SID=2&co_key=1962.

Jesus: On a Mission from God

After Jesus’ baptism and temptation, according to the Gospel of Luke (4:14-30), he returned to his hometown Nazareth “in the power of the Spirit.” As a Torah (law) observant Jew, he customarily attended synagogue services and even took part in the services. One day the synagogue attendant handed the scroll of Isaiah to him and he unrolled it to the place we today call Isaiah 61:1-2 which reads:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
(as cited in Luke)

After returning the scroll to the attendant and then sitting down, he announced, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” At first the audience was amazed by Jesus’ gracious words, but then they begin to think out the implications.

Wait a minute! Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Did he just apply that scripture to himself? We know this boy’s family. Who does he think he is? Now worked up, Jesus’ own friends and family are ready to throw him over a cliff.

Jesus understood that it was hard to do ministry in one’s hometown, so he reminded the people of their story. Back in the days of Elijah and Elisha, it was not the people of Israel who were blessed by the ministry of these two hometown boys, but a Phoenician widow and a Syrian commander, both foreigners.

Jesus understood the mission of God to be a mission for the sake of others, the outsiders, those marginalized and who do not belong. When Jesus wanted to highlight his mission, he chose the text from Isaiah.

Therefore, as Jesus’ followers, it would seem that the Isaiah text could point us in the right direction regarding the mission of God. The mission, based on this text, begins with God’s empowerment: the Spirit of the Lord is on us.

However, the presence of the Spirit is not primarily to fill the spiritual emptiness within us, but to send us to bless others, namely, the poor, prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. To these we announce that now is the year of the Lord’s favor. We are faithful to the mission of God when we do this.