Archive for July, 2018

Reading Between the Lectionary Lines- July 16-22

July 18, 2018

Today the disciples return from their travels to share with Jesus all they have seen and done. And instead of being able to go off by themselves, as Jesus wants them to do, people are everywhere, crowds of people. And Jesus has compassion for them and begins to teach.

We are coming to the end of Part I of Mark, or what I’ve come to imagine as “Part I” as I’ve worked through Mark this summer. Mark is not a long book but it can be divided into sections, the first 6 chapters introducing John the Baptist and Jesus and establishing their roles. Mark is different than the other synoptic gospels because there is no birth narrative, only John, baptizing, and announcing the coming of another, more powerful person. The rest of the first 6 chapters are the story of the transition of power between John and Jesus and the consequences for them both. John, we know, has been a powerful critic of Rome as well as the religious leaders of the day; Jesus takes on this role and we see the ways he challenges the powers that be. We also see the compassion he has for the people and we see him healing and teaching and working to repair the brokenness of people’s lives.

Last week the periscope involved Jesus sending out the disciples in pairs, having given them the powers that he himself has. Then, of course, we read that Herod was worried about Jesus, that he was John the Baptist come back to life; Herod had reason to be anxious because he had been the one to have John killed. We hear the story of how this happened, which ended with John’s disciples coming to pick up his body for burial.

Now the disciples return from their travels and their work and Jesus invites them to go on retreat; there are so many people there that, once again, they can’t even eat or rest and Jesus invites them to go away. But the people see what they’re doing and they hurry to get there ahead of Jesus and his followers. So when they get where they’re going there is still no rest because Jesus has compassion on the people and begins to teach them. The phrase “they were like sheep without a shepherd” implies that they had no one leading them or caring for them. ‘Compassion’ in this context means ‘shared suffering’; in other words, Jesus felt their suffering and took action to help ease it.

The reading skips over two major passages here: the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water. The feeding happens because as Jesus has been teaching the day has grown late and people need to eat; some fish and bread is found, which Jesus breaks and blesses, and there is enough for everyone and then some. Is this a magical miracle, in which Jesus literally makes bread and fish multiply out of thin air? Or is this a case of the people, who actually had some food with them, broke it out and shared with each other so that there was plenty? Either way it illustrates the breathtaking abundance of God embodied in Jesus’ actions. Whether he magically made bread and fish appear or he was able to encourage the people to share what they already had, the abundant life of God is fully in evidence here.

Once everyone has eaten Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him across the sea of Galilee; and in the night he comes to them in the boat, walking on the water. It is the last of the major miracles in Part I of Mark and is a second example of Jesus’ mastery of the waters, hearkening back to the waters of creation. We end the chapter with Jesus and the disciples coming ashore at Gennesaret where again, everyone recognizes them and they are overwhelmed with people in need. Emphasis is on the power of Jesus to connect with people, to see them as they are and to heal their brokenness and sickness through that connection. A connection so strong that all people need is to touch his robe and they are healed.


What has Jesus healed you of in the past? What do you need healing for now?

How did Jesus connect with people? What can we learn from the way he connected with those around him?

If compassion means “suffering with”, what does that mean for ministries in our communities?



Reading between the Lectionary Lines- July 8-15

July 18, 2018

Ironically for this blog the last several weeks the passages from Mark that we’ve been reading have been consecutive, with very few skipped sections. As we follow the arc of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, we can see a pattern emerge of the growing power and authority of Jesus.

Last week we read the interior story of fourth of our Markan sandwiches. The outer layer begins with Jesus sending out the disciples in pairs into villages and towns in the area. Then the story jumps to Herod, who has heard about Jesus and is wondering who he is. Herod believes him to be John the Baptist, who is dead (as we read way back in Mark 1) but has come back to life. Then there is a flashback to the story of Herod’s betrayal of John and John’s death. We have a cast of characters here who are all culpable in some way: Herod, a minor king or tetrarch without the power he seems to crave; Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife, who has a grudge against John; Salome, who dances for Herod and is used by her mother to secure John’s death; the courtiers and other local gentry who are there for Herod’s birthday party. In the end, Herod must choose between keeping a promise to Salome “up to 1/2 of my kingdom is yours!” and continuing to protect John, who Herod is fascinated with and maybe a little fearful of. After this story we come back to the present, where Jesus’ disciples have returned, full of stories of the miracles and ministry they were a part of. This is the beginning of the pericope for Sunday, July 22.

If we imagine that the purpose of the filling of the Markan Sandwich is to interpret or enhance the meaning of the outer layers,  we want to understand how Herod’s understanding of who Jesus is gives us insight into the sending out of the disciples and their return. And why include the story of John’s murder?

It’s a transitional moment–a transfer of power from John to Jesus. It’s also a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death at the hands of the same powers that kill  John. Beyond that, it shows that the powers of the world will not have the last word; because even as Herod is remembering his sin that was the killing of John, Jesus’ power is growing; even as Herod is afraid that Jesus is John reborn, Jesus is the one who John was sent to bear witness to. Even as Jesus anoints his disciples with his own power they are sent out to expand the kingdom of God.






Reading Between the Lectionary Lines July 2-8

July 5, 2018

Again this week we have no extra, skipped text between last Sunday and this Sunday.  Last Sunday, as we recall, we had two healing stories, both of female characters– Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage. This Sunday we will hear about Jesus in Nazareth– how he is disrespected in his hometown and is unable to use his power; we will also hear that he sends out the disciples, empowering them to heal and drive out demons (which they do.)

The healing of the female characters, neither of which are named, points to the egalitarian nature of Jesus’ ministry. Jairus is a temple official, presumably well to do and important in local culture; yet he falls at Jesus’ feet begging Jesus to heal his daughter. As Jesus turns to go with him, he is interrupted by an unknown woman who has been sick for many years. She boldly touches his garment and he feels the power go out of him; he stops to find out who had done this and gives her a blessing. Then he goes on to Jairus’ house where the little girl has died; yet when he takes her hand she rises and is alive. Note that being touched by the sick woman and taking the hand of the dead girl were both acts that would render Jesus ritually unclean– a serious thing in Jewish religion and society, and yet he does not shy away from them.

We go from these displays of Jesus’ power to Nazareth, where Jesus can barely do anything at all. How do people in Nazareth respond to Jesus’ ministry? What do you think is keeping him from being able to use his power? In our ministries in our own communities where do we find resistance? What can we do to overcome that resistance?

Jesus then sends his disciples out two by two into the villages and towns where he will be going. Why do you think he does this? What effect do you think it has on the communities? What effect on the disciples?

Do you have any stories in your life that are similar to these stories? Of a time you took a risk for ministry? Of a time you were healed or helped heal someone else? Of a time you were disrespected by people close to you? Feel free to share you stories in the comments below.