A 10-Week study based upon A Journey With Mark, ed. Marek T. Zabriskie
(Forward Movement, 2015)
September 23-29 Ch. 1 & 2
September 30- October 6 Ch. 3 & 4
October 7-13 Ch. 5 & 6
October 14-20 Ch. 7
October 21-27 Ch. 8 & 9
October 28-November 3 Ch. 10
November 4-10 Ch. 11 & 12
November 11-17 Ch. 13 & 14
November 18-24 Ch. 15
10.November 25-30 Ch. 16
Our reading is guided by A Journey With Mark, ed. Marek P Zabriskie [Forward Movement, 2015), and some of the meditations are drawn from that book. This is one of a series in "the 50 Day Bible Challenge," founded by Marek Zabriskie, designed to encourage the daily reading of Scripture.
The Gospel of Mark is the earliest gospel, and it also the shortest. Scholars generally agree that it was probably written before 70 CE - just a generation after the ministry of Jesus. Scholars agree that the writers of the gospels of Matthew and Luke drew upon it. These three gospels are called the "Synoptic Gospels" based on the Greek meaning "able to be seen together.” [The Gospel of John, of course, takes a very different approach to the "good news" of Jesus' ministry.]
Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark begins not with the birth of Jesus, but with his baptism. The opening line sets the tone and theme for this Gospel: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The central theme of this gospel is that Jesus’ ministry demonstrates the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah who would initiate the kingdom God: It marks the beginning of the realm of justice, compassion, and peace. The unique opening of this gospel points to this theme: it calls attention to the ministry rather than to the person of Jesus. There is also a singular sense of urgency in this gospel: the word for immediately occurs over 40 times: Paradoxically, the long-awaited “good news of Jesus Christ” arrives abruptly, recognized only by those who have patiently prepared themselves but disrupting all their plans and expectations.
The central argument of Mark’s gospel is a response to the question of Jesus’ identity: If Jesus was the Messiah, why was he not more famous? Why didn’t everyone recognize him when he was alive? In our reading of the gospel, we will focus on three ways in which Mark responds to this question:
The “messianic secret” – In Mark’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly commands people not to tell about the healings they have experienced or witnessed. At the same time, the people who do recognize Jesus are the poor and marginalized who live outside the religious and political center in Jerusalem. On the one hand, Jesus makes it clear that he wants people to see God at work through him, not to call attention to himself; on the other hand, those who do intuitively recognize him do not have the authority to be credible witnesses.
The disciples are portrayed in this gospel as less insightful or reliable than in the other gospels. They repeatedly show that they do not understand the meaning of Jesus’ teachings. As a result, on the one hand they would not have been credible narrators, and on the other hand the “messianic secret” is a narrative device through which the reader knows more than they do. The implicit message is that, as the Kingdom of God grows, our own understanding deepens. From that perspective, it makes sense that they would not understand what Jesus was teaching.
Because its purpose is to portray the realm of God emerging through the ministry of Jesus, this gospel lends itself to political interpretations perhaps more readily than do the other gospels. The episodes of healing can be seen as acts of political rebellion, and Jesus’ teachings point toward an alternative socio-political order. Indeed, the fact that his first public act is to heal a man possessed by a demon in the synagogue at Capernaum, on the Sabbath, (1:21-28), signifies the institutional implications of his ministry. The story of Jesus according to Mark is the story of institutional transformation, not just of personal enlightenment and healing. Jesus may not look like the king that the people expected, but his ministry reveals the Rule of God. The Kingdom is here, albeit unfinished.
At the very center of this gospel is the question to which we return over and over again: Who do you say that I am? (8:29) Jesus has many different titles in this gospel, and despite its brevity we see him through a multitude of shifting, contrasting perspectives. Our own answer to this question changes as we ourselves grow and change. My own response to this question has been guided by Albert Schweitzer, who ends his book The Historical Jesus as follows:
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
Week One: Chapters 1 & 2 Passages for Reflection
1.1: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
1.9-11: In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
1:13: He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
1:23-27: Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him." And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? I new teaching -with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.
2:16-17: When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
2:21-22: “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise; the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Week One Meditations:
"Baptism is . . . a commitment to walk in solidarity and compassion with others, sharing their hopes, tears, joy and pain." - Christopher Duraisingh, quoted by The Rt. Rev. Fred Hiltz (A Journey With Mark, p. 3)
As Christians we can be imprisoned by our religion, and Jesus seeks to free us from it. Jesus offers us unbounded love, free from the shackles of an inherited religion that says that you are not good enough to belong because you haven't earned God's love. We as a community must be freed and unbound from the ties that bind us. You and I both know our own hearts. We know how hard it is to welcome others freely. Jesus invites us to reach that part of our heart that believes in God's unfailing love. He invites us to be welcoming and accepting of others with abandon. We are invited to live lives in communities where the Holy One of God is present and alive and proclaimed. Most of all we are invited to proclaim with our lives the unbounded love of Jesus. We are invited to unbind one another from our self-made religious shackles and follow Jesus. - The Rev. Andrew Doyle (A Journey With Mark, p. 10)
O Father of us and of all time, be merciful as we struggle to be Church even as Church is changing and shifting around us, and even as there seems to be no cohesion among us. Show us the way, Father, to understand Christ as Lord of the sabbath every day of our lives. Amen. - Phyllis Tickle (A Journey Through Mark, p. 20)
The Gospel of Mark
Weeks 3: Chapters 5 & 6
These two chapters describe miracles that could not be explained as the practices of a wonder-worker (the healing of the Gennaseret demoniac, the woman with a hemorrhage, Jairus’ daughter, the feeding of 5,000, and walking on water). And these episodes alternate with scenes of opposition and danger (the rejection in Nazareth and news of the death of John the Baptizer). We must keep in mind the apocalyptic context for the narrative: These miracles and intensified opposition are signs of the imminence of the day of judgement, the ultimate coming of the kingdom. They are presented as signs of God’s presence in the world. The narrative suggests that faith is not a doctrinal statement but a way of life: In the words of Abraham Herschel: Authentic faith is more than an echo of a tradition. It is a creative situation, an event. For God is not always silent, and man is not always blind. In every man’s life there are moments when there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a sigh of the eternal . . . .each of us has at least once in his life experienced the momentous reality of God. . . . But such experiences or inspirations are rare events. To some people they are like shooting stars, passing and unremembered. In others they kindle a light that is never quenched. . . . The remembrance of that experience and the loyalty to the response of that moment are the forces that sustain our faith. In this sense, ‘faith is faithfulness,’ loyalty to an event, loyalty to our response. [quoted in Joy, ed. Christian Wiman, Yale University Press, 2018, p. 43]
Passages for Reflection
5:3-5 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had
often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him.
5:18-19 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him
that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
6:6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. [in his hometown]
6:11-13 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, and as you leave, shake off the
dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
6:34: As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were
like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Week 3 Meditations
Demons and swine. This is not the stuff of our daily lives, yet this story is not as foreign to us as we might wish. . . . Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee intending to begin a mission of healing and teaching; he leaves having healed only this one man. The townspeople, the man’s neighbors, want Jesus gone. Jesus’ work of healing disrupts the local economy (all those pigs) and disturbs the peace they have made with sin and pain in their midst. Yet new life for this one man was clearly worth the journey. . . . The life of this man will be a powerful lesson to all he meets about the grace and mercy of God.
The Rev. Brenda G. Husson [A Journey With Mark, p. 43]
What Jesus commends is the longing for healing and renewal that makes us seek him out. It may be born of desperation, but if it helps us push through the clutter, the crowds, or the naysayers to reach him, then that is faith enough. How and when healing comes is up to God. In our asking, we declare our faith in God’s promise of new life.
The Rev. Brenda G. Husson [A Journey With Mark, p. 47]
This story [the death of John the Baptist] is one of ultimate contrast between Herod the successful and John the significant. If ever we needed an example of success at any price, this episode of Herod’s unrestrained ambition gives it to us. In comparison, John was a man of significant faith who lived his life to the very end faithful to the God who had called him.
Though the contrast between success and significance is easily overstated, nevertheless it is a contrast which followers of Christ Jesus will be well served to remember and hold in tension.
The Rt. Rev. James B. Magness [A Journey With Mark, p. 54]
Similar to the disciples, we are called by Jesus away from the busyness of our lives and into prayer. And similar to the disciples, we can be left anxious and even angry as the demands of our lives can crash into these times. Thanks be to God that in the silence and busyness, God meets us where we are and offers compassion and love.
The Rev. Jennifer Strawbridge [A Journey With Mark, p. 57]
Dear Lord, sometimes I’m afraid that I don’t have enough faith. Help me to remember that my desire for you is faith enough, then kindle that desire within me that I might daily call upon your name and look to you for my life and my salvation. Amen.
The Rev. Brenda G. Husson [ A Journey With Mark], p. 47
The Gospel of Mark
Week Four: Chapter 7
Chapter 7 describes Jesus crossing several different boundaries to reveal the universality of the Realm of God. He crosses the boundaries of religious authority when he exhorts the religious leaders to remember that human rituals are designed open our hearts to God’s grace, not to substitute for God’s commands. He crosses geographical and ideological boundaries when he heals the Syro-Phoenician woman and the deaf mute man in the region of Decapolis. He crosses the boundary of the purity codes by touching the man’s ears and tongue and spitting. These stories may make us uncomfortable in different ways: They may repulse us in showing an earthiness-- even a vulgarity--about Jesus that we do not often see. They may stir up resentment in us and we may ask: If these stories are true, why could God not heal the person I love? Why could God not heal me? They may remind us of our own vulnerability. How many of us have been told, over and over again: You do not belong? You come last? You are not worthy. Simply because of where we have been born, because of gender, age, or race. How many of us have lived in a prison of silence, unable to speak or to hear the words that will restore and guide us?
Jesus’ words to the deaf mute pierce us:
Be opened! Trust more deeply and resolutely than you ever have!
Be opened! Speak up! Listen!
Be opened! Confront your own biases! Don’t listen to words of rejection!
Be opened! If Jesus can learn, so can you.
Passages for Reflection:
7:6-8 Jesus said to them: "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandments of God and hold to human tradition."
7:20-21 And Jesus said: "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.
7:25-30 A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.' Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go--the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, and found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
7:32-35 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He too him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ear, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him "Ephphatha", that is "Be opened." And immediately his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
Week Four Meditations
What to make of Jesus' less-than-gentle engagement of the Pharisees? . . . Consider carefully his critique. The Pharisees are not Jewish enough, in effect. They have forgotten the prophetic instructions of Isaiah. They have allowed their hearts to wander, being too impressed with human teaching. They have taken their eyes off God. . . . Amazingly, the Word of God propounds God's holy word For this reason, the Christian Church treasures these same sacred scriptures. Continuity with the past is our rule, propounded by Jesus himself, who incarnates fulfillment.
Christopher Wells [ A Journey With Mark, p. 63]
Whenever we endeavor to follow the Spirit, we will come up against resistance. And the Syrophoenician woman reminds us that resistance is the great validator. The naysaying voices actually have a positive effect in assuring us we are onto something--for nothing good is every easy. This is discipleship. This is the way of Jesus.
The Rev. Chris Yaw [A Journey With Mark, p. 69]
If you're like me, you may suspect that you spend your days far more blind and deaf than you care to admit. Each day brings mysterious newness filled with far more questions than answers. Yet each day also offers insight and understanding. These revelations come from above, and they come from a God who wants us to be whole. When Jesus chooses to heal this blind and deaf man, he witnesses to God's desire for us to be healed--to be constantly awakened to what's around us. God wants our eyes and ears opened. God wants us to be able to see that each day offers us a new revelation, a new insight, a path from blindness to sight, from deafness to hearing. It is in deeper awareness that we more fully partake of our God-given humanity. It's the most common way Jesus heals us today.
The Rev. Chris Yaw [A Journey With Mark, p.72]
O God of healing power, whose desire is always to bring wholeness: Grant us insight into all that is around us that we may observe your healing power; and equip us to go out into the world as your agents of restoration. Use us to bring healing and wholeness to others. All this we ask in the name of our healer, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Chris Yaw [A Journey With Mark, p.73]
Week Five: Chapters 8 & 9
Chapter 8 and 9 form the very center of Mark’s Gospel, and at the center of this center is the question of the Gospel: Who do you say that I am? In these two chapters alone, we see the contrasts that have made this question so difficult to answer and made Jesus’ teachings so compelling and so challenging for believers. On the one hand, he performs acts more inspiring than the feats of any other wonder workers: he feeds thousands of people with just a few loaves (and for the second time, this time in Gentile territory); he heals a blind man, he exorcizes demons who proclaim his divine power, and on a mountaintop he is revealed to be the Son of God and a companion of Moses and Elijah. At the same time, he twice predicts that he will be betrayed to suffer a shameful death, he makes it clear that following him leads not to worldly glory and power but to suffering and humility, he welcomes Gentiles, rival exorcists, and unbelievers, and he demonstrates particular care for children—who are the least of the least. Like a call-and-response, three key passages provide the organizing principle of this section, and of the Gospel itself:
8:27 the voice of Jesus: Who do you say that I am?
9:7 the voice of God: This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!
9:24 the father of a child possessed by a demon: I believe; help my unbelief!
In these three lines, each of us finds an opening to speak, to listen, and to accept mercy. In the dizzying richness of this gospel’s center, we discover that Jesus is the compassionate, healing, and clarifying Word of God.
This prayer by Edna Hong expresses it well:
Jesus, you wasted no time agonizing over
the great wound of pain and suffering in creation,
or in asking who dealt this wound.
You simply accepted it as the mystery of existence
and then devoted your life to healing it.
The crowd read in your eyes God’s love
for them in their miserable condition
and flocked to you.
The crowd laid bare its painful, suffering wound,
and you touched the wound with your hand,
your most personal human hand—
and healed it.
No gospel of suffering in the Gospels, then—
just you—God’s Yes to a suffering world.
No illumination of pain and suffering in the Gospels—
just you, God’s I Am Love,
radiantly and utterly illuminated.
(All Will be Well, ed. Lyn Klug, Augsburg Press, 1998), p.17.
· 8:1-6-9 Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.
· 8:22-25 Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking. Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
· 8:27 Who do you say that I am?
· 8:34-35 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life with lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.
· 9:2-3 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
· 9:24 Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
· 9:27-29 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast [the demon] out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”
· 9:35-37 “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.
In the story of the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus transforms seven loaves of bread and a few small fish into a meal for the multitude. It is not only enough but even more than the people can consume. Although in this case Jesus performs a miracle, elsewhere in the bible he teaches us . . . that we, too, are called upon to take what we have, even if it is a little, and transform it into abundance for God’s kingdom.
Mary Kate Wold [A Journey With Mark, p. 75]
Jesus himself took the blind man by the hand. He himself led the man out of the city, presumably to a place of relative quiet, comfort, and privacy. Jesus used his own saliva, very possibly to avoid irritating the man’s dull eyes when he touched them. Like a careful and exacting ophthalmologist, Jesus adjusted, tested, and then perfected the man’s vision. In these actions, without requiring any deeper analysis, Jesus provided us with a model of tenderness, patience, and compassion. He coupled good works with a caring, human touch, treating another person as truly beloved.
Mary Kate Wold [A Journey With Mark, p. 78]
A cloud overshadows them, and God speaks. So often when dark clouds overshadow us, God speaks most clearly. When the world around us seems darkest, we must trust that God is doing something extraordinary in our lives.
The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie [A Journey With Mark, p. 85]
Each of us, regardless of our role or position, has the opportunity to use our gifts each day to serve others just as Jesus modeled for us. That, in the end, is the real privilege.
The Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior [[A Journey With Mark, p. 94]
Gracious God, you love us throughout our Christian journey, where our faith ebbs and flows like the ocean tides. Help us to strengthen and deepen our sense of faith so that we might serve you faithfully as you invite us to walk beside you on the road to Jerusalem.
The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie [A Journey With Mark, p. 83]
Chapters 10, 11, & 12
The central theme of these chapters is the question of power and authority. Religious authorities try to trick Jesus into teaching that there is an irreconcilable conflict between political and religious authority, while same time Jesus points to the ways in which religious institutions have been corrupted by embracing secular definitions of power. We witness Jesus in very different encounters in these chapters: with the children, the rich young man, the blind beggar Bartimaeus, different groups of religious authorities, legal experts, a widow. In each of these encounters, Jesus redefines power to be the ability to recognize and respond to unspoken needs. It is significant that this part of the Gospels begins with his blessing of the children and ends with his praise for the impoverished widow: In these framing episodes, Jesus holds up the powerless as the model citizens of the Realm of God; importantly, he shows them to be undamaged by the harsh and demeaning treatment to which they have been subjected. In Jesus we witness true power expressed in the capacity to see, to bless, and to give: These are the most effective acts of resistance against injustice.
Although Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, is recounted at the beginning of Chapter 11, his inexorable journey toward death and resurrection starts with the Pharisees’ question about divorce at the beginning of Chapter 10. With this question, the Pharisees try to trick Jesus into saying something that could be interpreted as treasonous. In response, Jesus reframes the question from being legalistic to being moral: Implicitly, we are called back to the two great commandments: Love God with all your heart and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. These shape Mark’s redefinition of power and authority in this gospel’s story of the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection.
John O’Donohue’s “Blessing for One Who Holds Power” is a fitting expression of this vision [To Bless the Space Between Us [New York, Doubleday, 2008; pp.147-48]:
May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.
As high as over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.
When the way is flat and dull in times of gray endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons. . . .
· 10:14-15 “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
· 10:21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
· 10:50-52 So throwing off his cloak [the blind beggar Bartimaeus] sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
· 11:7-9 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
· 11:24-26 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
· 11:27-28 Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”
· 12:15-17 Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
· 12:28-31 Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall 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, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’
· 12:43-44 “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
[In response to Bartimaeus] we hear Jesus ask the wonderfully penetrating question: What do you want me to do for you? This isn’t Jesus promising to be all-powerful. He doesn’t claim to be able to deliver what is demanded. Indeed with James and John he specifically says he can’t meet their flawed expectations. Yet by asking this powerful question he invites hungry disciples and a desperate Bartimaeus to look beyond their ambition or neediness to what they truly long for God to do for them. Become great is not on offer. He tells them that the sign of a Christian is not success but sacrifice and brokenness, a shocking or foolish thought to both their contemporaries and ours. Yet what results if we trust in the power of God is the healing of body, heart, and spirit, even on the most difficult of roads.
The Very Rev. June Osborne [A Journey with Mark, p. 105]
Jesus’ purpose was to give the people an image they would not forget. It challenged those who comfortably inhabited the seats of power and those who wished to renegotiate that power by means of force. Jesus wishes to change our mind. Giving us a parable in action, he shows that the ultimate courage is to love deeply and to surrender all we are to what we believe. . . . This man on a donkey changed how the world was seen and understood.
The Very Rev. June Osborne [A Journey with Mark, p. 108]
Jesus was inviting his disciples to pray with the same unbending faith he had manifested when he cleansed the temple . . . Verse 24 points to God’s faithfulness in the presence of deep-seated opposition to the reign of God. If the temple is not immune to God’s judgment, then God can be trusted to judge any center of power.
The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr. [A Journey with Mark, p. 105]
The purpose of these stories is to bring us to the end of our rope, to show us that we aren’t up to the task, and to ground us in the life of grace: We look at the world and wonder how we’re going to stay together as a human family. Are we going to make it, given our tendency to violence, betrayal, and selfishness? . . . We are faced with our inability or unwillingness to see the difference between Caesar and God and thereby to discern the true source of life.
The Very Rev. Alan Jones [A Journey with Mark, p. 118]
Many of us look at life as a problem to be solved rather than a mystery to be lived. We want clear answers so that questions are finally settled and we can take comfort in knowing that we are right. We also like to know who’s in and who’s out. The trouble is that we often canoot tell the difference between mere cleverness and true wisdom. We are uncomfortable with the unknown and the unknowable, and we’d rather have a slick answer than live with a probing question. We like to be in the know and be in control . . . In Jesus we see the adventure of being human is centered on love. . . . Love trumps everything, especially trick questions about the meaning of life.
The Very Rev. Alan Jones [A Journey with Mark, p. 122]
Loving Mystery in whom we live and move and have our being, we give thanks that you continually open our minds with ever-deepening questions and open our hearts to ever greater depths. Help us see in your “deep but dazzling darkness” the love that sustains all things and give us courage to let go of our lust for certainty and embrace the risk of trust.
The Very Rev. Alan Jones [A Journey with M
Chapters 13 & 14
Mark 13 is often called “the Markan apocalypse.” Mark’s audience has already experienced the destruction of the Temple and subsequent chaos that is described here, events that would have been unimaginable to Jesus’ disciples because they still envisioned the coming of the kingdom in images of secular power. So Jesus offers hope and assurance that we might not otherwise recognize. To his disciples, his teaching is a warning to “stay awake” to signs of danger; to the gospel’s first readers, it is an exhortation to “stay awake” to signs of new life.
This double vision—the awareness that signs of danger may also be signs of hope—requires a wakefulness that we don’t often practice. It is the lens through which to read the story of the Passion that begins in Chapter 14. For It is only when we “keep awake” that we will notice the extraordinary strength and vulnerability of the woman who anoints Jesus, or the longing in Peter’s wrong-headed self-assessment, or the naivete of the sleeping disciples in Gethsemane, or the true nature of the power that Jesus displays before the religious authorities and political authorities. Only when we “keep awake” will we live without fear; only when we “keep awake” will we be fully alive. Only when we “keep awake” will we enter into the fullness of the peace promised by Jesus.
In my own reflections on these chapters, I have been guided by this meditation by David Lose:
Whether his disciples – then or now – notice, or are grateful, or understand, or appreciate, let alone deserve it, Jesus continues his lonely walk to the cross. He dies. He is raised again. And the world that barely notices will never be the same again. Disciples that deserted him are recommissioned. Criminals who jeered him are pardoned. Authorities that crucified him are forgiven. Whether or not they notice or care. Yet what a difference it makes to notice! To know that we are beloved of God. To perceive the lengths and depths to which God will go to prove God’s love for us. To recognize the worth and value we hold in God’s eyes. To appreciate, finally, that God loves us – all of us – and to have the numbness induced by living in a world of outrageous spectacle pierced by genuine regard, compassion, and sacrificial love. . . . [E]ven as we marvel at things that just don’t matter and miss the ordinary and extraordinary sacrifices around us, yet God still comes… to us… always in love… always to save.
13:10 And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.
13:24-27 But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, and from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
13:28 From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
13:27 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.
14:6-9 Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
14:22-24 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
14:37 Could you not keep awake one hour?
The tree’s leaves are not a very precise indicator of time. They tell you summer is coming, but not that summer will be here in 13,497 minutes. . . . We learn from the fig tree that “near” is as near as we are going to get. This brings with it two dangers: We might be deceived by people saying “It’s here” when it’s not, and we might “fall asleep,” acting as if it will never happen.
The Rev. Jeremy Duff (A Journey With Mark, p. 134)
What does it mean for you to keep awake today?
The Rev. Jeremy Duff (A Journey With Mark, p. 135)
When the woman broke the jar of pure nard over Jesus’ head, the common moment suddenly because extraordinary. The same thing happens when you and I extend ourselves beyond the polite moment by pouring a unique word of love or affection on another. Unlike this biblical woman, we tend to hold back, hesitate, and resist the very urge to move beyond our comfort zones of expressed affection. When we do extend ourselves, it will be remembered as was the nard.
The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Matthews (A Journey With Mark, p. 137)
At the Last Supper, Jesus held a common cup shared by each disciple. It was the ultimate “we” gesture. I am my brother’s keeper despite the noise of our dominant culture to the contrary. When we break the bread and share the common cup, we remember and make present that first Eucharist and the daily challenge to be at one with our neighbor.
The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Matthews (A Journey With Mark, p. 141)
The very name Judas has become a byword for treachery. We all like a good scapegoat. The truth of the matter is that all of Jesus’ disciples betrayed him. They ran away, they hid behind closed doors, they denied that they had anything to do with him. The unnamed young man who would rather run naked through the streets than stand by Jesus is a symbol of all of Jesus’ disciples, then and now. , , , Not one of us is innocent. Not one of us is outside the invitation to forgiveness. All of us have betrayed him. Call us Judas, call us Peter, call us a young man running through the streets in naked fear.
Jane Williams (A Journey With Mark, p. 149)
God of hope, give us, in the midst of our trials, a sense of your purpose and a readiness to follow, that your good news may be proclaimed, through Christ our Lord. Amen
The Rev. William L. Sachs (A Journey With Mark, p. 129)
Chapters 15 & 16
Mark’s account of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus is more spare than the accounts in the other gospels, and scholars disagree as to how explicitly Mark represents the political and institutional significance of these events. Mark’s narrative strategy is to represent in concrete terms the real and visible emergence of God’s kingdom. This required images of political and social change. For Mark, the central theme throughout these chapters is the mystery and authenticity of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, the Messiah whose vision is antithetical to that of the Roman empire and to contemporary religious authorities. The taunting of Jesus dominates this account of the crucifixion: Jesus is taunted by the soldiers, by the crowds, even by the thieves who are crucified with him. It is only the centurion who recognizes him in the moment of his dying, a sign that the transformation of the world has begun.
There are two endings to Mark’s gospel. Although some scholars propose that the original ending of Mark’s gospel was lost, what most scholars agree is the earliest version of the gospel ends with the women fleeing the empty tomb “in terror and amazement.” The longer version, which includes an account of Jesus’ appearance to the apostles and commissioning them, was written much later and seems to be based upon accounts in Matthew and Luke. The utter silence, of the “shorter ending” is consistent with this gospel’s justification for the “messianic secret”, for the gradual revelation of God’s promise, and for the evolution of human understanding. Mark’s gospel retains to the very end an exquisite tension between knowledge and faith, between terror and wonder, between hearing and listening, between sight and vision. It does not leave us with the image of an idealized figure who transcends human experience. It ends by opening the way for us to become witnesses to a divine promise fulfilled, guides in the uncharted territory of a redeemed world.
Jan Richardson captures this meaning in her poem “Seen” (Circle of Grace [Wanton Gospeller Press, 2015] pp.154-5)
You had not imagined / that something so empty /could fill you /to overflowing.
And now you carry /the knowledge /like an awful treasure /or like a child
that curls itself within your heart:
how the emptiness /will bear forth/a new world/you cannot fathom/but on whose edge/you stand.
So why do you linger?/You have seen,/and so you are /already blessed.
You have been seen,/and so you are the blessing.
There is no other word/you need./There is simply /to go and tell.