Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘gospel of mark’

Each of the Gospels takes us to the cemetery on Sunday morning. A scene of some confusion and surprise. The Gospels bring us to this place so we know how much things have changed. In case there were doubts before, what happened in the Jerusalem cemetery suggests the world is different now.

In Mark’s Gospel we arrive at the scene alongside women who intend to perform a ritual for dead bodies. Perhaps it is noteworthy Mark has told us all along how difficult it is to be a disciple. Though readers are told from the start Jesus is the son of God, disciples still ask “Who is this?” One of them even offers Jesus advice on how kings should rule kingdoms. Of course, Jesus replies “Get behind me.” On this Sunday at the cemetery it seems they finally know what to expect from Jesus. After all, he is sealed in a tomb behind an extremely large stone.

Instead, Mark’s Gospel tells us that things have changed. Instead of dead Jesus we find a young man in a white robe and the women run away trembling, astonished, and afraid. Just the day before they thought they understood how things work. But on this Sunday morning we wake to discover the world is different now. And can never be the same again.

Read Full Post »

“My God, My God…” (Matthew 27.46; Mark 15.34)

The only words Matthew and Mark report to us from the cross are “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Both report them in Aramaic so we cannot miss them. The fact they come to us in Jesus’ native language may suggest some emotion. Jesus is not the first to know about being forsaken, he is quoting a psalm. Surely this is not a coincidence; the psalms are part of a collection of songs and prayers that travel a long journey of presence and absence. Just as Good Friday happens as part of a larger story, this “word” occurs as part of the practice of singing and praying the psalms. Old Israel knew about feeling abandoned by God. Some still feel it.

The cross is not for safe religion. In fact, pop religion will try to convince us that a scene like this is not possible. The cross goes against the way we think the world is supposed to work. The cross leaves the holiness of God raw in the world. This is evidenced as the temple curtain is torn and as the Son of God hangs exposed on the cross. Here is a cry for the abandoned. It exposes a holy God whose plan is victory by weakness.

The Gospel writers do not report the crucifixion in the same way. This reminds us there is more than one explanation for what happened on this day. For some of us, Good Friday and the place called skull is a good match for what we feel. It tells us the truth about suffering and the high cost that comes with the ways of God.

Mark writes after both Peter and Paul had been executed. He writes as other Christians were in danger of execution. It is difficult to know exactly how this would have affected Christians in Rome but we can be certain that they lived in fear.  They may have felt forsaken. In this context, Mark writes to help the church get through the suffering without losing hope for the future or forgetting the Jesus story.  This is a dark Gospel intended to help readers navigate dark days.  The Gospel wants us to know how far God is willing to go.

Raymond Brown talks about crucifixion as gruesome on account of the “screams of rage and pain, the wild curses and the outbreaks of nameless despair of the unhappy victims.”  Brown goes on, “Yet it was not in rage but in prayer that Jesus screamed his loud cry.”  Even though he feels forsaken, he cries out to “My God.”

During Lent we follow one who knows what it means to feel forsaken. We follow one who experienced unimaginable pain. We follow one who knows how to navigate dark days. We follow one who has traveled the paths of presence and absence. This is good news. We cannot go where he has not already been.

A prayer of response by Pastor Susan Vigliano: “Father in Heaven, when the time of suffering and darkness come to my life let my mouth speak your name just as Jesus did. Let my eyes be fixed on you and let my hope be in your perfect will, not my circumstance. Even if I feel forsaken let my obedience and your name on my lips be my guide. My feelings may fail me, but you, oh Lord, will never fail me. Even in suffering and humiliation, you will never fail. Place in me a steadfast heart that will obey.”

Read Full Post »

The Gospel of Mark makes it clear that disciples have been slow to understand who Jesus is and what He is up to.  When we get to chapter 8, they make their biggest step in understanding when Peter says “You are the Christ.”  We do not want to ignore the movement in the text as Jesus immediately begins to bring the cross into the conversation.  Mark says that he taught them plainly that He would suffer, be rejected, be killed, and then rise again.  Peter disagrees with this plan and may be suggesting that there are other ways to build a kingdom.  It is easy for us to point fingers at Peter from where we are.  Yet, the fact is, we are still not comfortable with a cross as part of the plan.

The posture of followers seems to matter in this text.  For example, Jesus turns around to see disciples behind Him.  Jesus then tells Peter to get behind Him (in rather strong language).  Jesus points out the difference between human plans and the plan of God.  For sure, trying to influence Jesus away from the cross does not fit under God’s plan.  Jesus says, “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”  The text leaves no question as to where disciples belong.  Disciples belong behind Jesus.  We are a collection of people in relationship to a crucified Jesus who are following behind Him.

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, there is a breathless effort to keep up with Jesus.  Disciples continue to find it difficult to follow Jesus.  Like Peter in chapter 8, I am reminded that my plan may not be God’s plan.  Instead, I simply must get behind him – and follow.  Whether we are able to catch our breath during our reading or not, one thing is for sure.  We know where we are to be: behind Jesus.  Where Peter belongs, where all disciples belong.  To be anywhere else, to offer Him any advice, is to be in league with Satan.

Leading up to this scene we find a series of questions, “What is this?”  “Who can do that?”  “Why does he do that?”  “Why do his followers do that?”  “Who is this?”  “Where did he learn this?”  But, after chapter eight the narrative changes dramatically.  As if Mark is suggesting that once you discover who Jesus is, then you may begin to understand the role of the cross.  From this point forward, we are reading a dangerous narrative.

It is risky to serve in another Kingdom where others may not take us seriously.  Others still have confidence in the empire that appears to have all the goodies, the power, and the answers.  Yet, we know that this way of life is temporary.  We do not have confidence in the strategies of this world.  Neither our best science nor our best social programs can fix it.  The established systems and the old certainties are no longer certain.  Still, we have a great hope.  We believe that another Kingdom is in play and we are called to utilize the strategies of this Kingdom.  A Kingdom that takes shape in out-of-the-way places, in unexpected ways, and through unexpected people.

We are an unexpected collection of people who will appear strange to the world at large.  We line up behind our King and embrace suffering and rejection.  Our desire to serve may take us on forays, rendezvous, and on reconnaissance into dangerous territory.  There, we participate in work that is good, work that builds the kingdom and glorifies the King.

A Look at the Cross reminds us that no matter how uncomfortable things become, our place is behind Jesus where we join others who follow a crucified King.

A prayer of response by Susan Vigliano,“Lord, with every longing in my heart I want to line up behind you and follow you in the Kingdom of God that has been established through Christ on earth.  I struggle with the selflessness, suffering, and forgiving, but I am willing.  I call upon your power to make me able to follow Christ for the sake of your glory.”

Read Full Post »

We are saturated with a message every day that says we can live independent of others, it tells us to protect our interests, it tells us to pursue greatness.  This not a new message.  For instance, in Mark’s Gospel at 10.35 we read these words from James and John to Jesus “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Perhaps the most unexpected thing about this is Jesus had just finished telling them that the “first will be last, and the last, first.”  Jesus had just told them that he would be condemned to death.  He just told them that he would be mocked, spit on, scourged and killed.  And their response is “do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Consider the conversation that Jesus has with James and John;

Jesus “I am going to die a humiliating death.”

James and John “Do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Jesus “What do you want me to do for you?”

James and John “Save for us the best seats in the kingdom.”

Jesus “You don’t know what you are asking for.”

James and John “Sure we do.”

The other disciples become indignant toward James and John.

Jesus “Greatness is not what it looks like and it is not what you have heard it is.  If you want to experience greatness, you should serve all others.”

While this conversation does not take place on Golgotha, it has everything to do with the cross.  It reveals our natural desire for greatness.  That seems to be what this episode is all about.  James and John are seeking what Jesus is seeking, they just have a different definition of what greatness is.  James and John think that this happens on kingdom thrones.  Jesus knows that kingdom comes on a cross.  These two cannot be further apart. They are literally at different ends of the line.  They are speaking a different language.  They are breathing a different spirit.

James and John know how the world works.  They know about greatness.  They often discussed with other disciples about how they wanted to be great people.  Great people sit in important seats.  They are the guests of honor at important functions.  James and John are expecting prominent positions to be coming open so they tried to make reservations for the seats to the right and left of the throne in the coming kingdom.

This episode began with a reference to the cross.  It is noteworthy that this episode ends with another reference to the cross.  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  This conversation about greatness is surrounded with two references to the cross.  Perhaps all of our ambitions, all of our definitions, all of our conversations should be surrounded by the cross.  In this kingdom, there is no need to seek greatness, our worth has already been determined by the cross.  The cross determines that those who desire greatness shall be your servant.  The cross defines our worth and determines who is first and who is last.

A Look at the Cross reminds us that our definitions, our ambitions, and even our conversations are influenced by the Jesus story that includes the cross.

A prayer of response by Susan Vigliano, “Father, there is a part of me that seeks the greatness that the world offers.  It can look life-giving and feel intoxicating at times.  Servant-leadership in my family, neighborhood, school, and workplace can feel thankless and even boring, yet it is what you model and offer as life-giving.  I am learning that the reward for servant hood is found in the glimpse I gain of who you really are.  I find you in servant leadership.  I am utterly dependent on your drawing power to continue to serve others from this low place on earth, but high place in heaven.  Help me, Lord.  Help me to find your heart and presence in servant leadership that follows the path of the Cross and the life of Jesus Christ, my Lord.”

Read Full Post »

The first century view of crucifixion makes John’s account somewhat surprising.  The Gospel of Mark includes darker and more disturbing parts about the death of Jesus.  Ben Witherington suggests that Mark’s gospel provides “gut wrenching feelings.”  Some of the things that provide such feelings include darkness at noon, earthquake, additional mocking, splitting the temple veil, and the cry “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  The Gospel of John includes none of these and Witherington concludes that John’s telling of the crucifixion as a moment of triumph is intended “to produce different emotions and reactions.”  I agree.

Such a victorious version of the crucifixion leads us to ask whether John is guilty of leading readers astray.  If crucifixion is the final chapter, then the answer is yes and Billy Joel’s sermon “Only the Good Die Young” is the one we should be singing.  But we have “the benefit of hindsight and insight.”  The crucifixion is followed by resurrection and in that context triumph and victory are in play.

John wants us to know that Jesus continues to make decisions even from the cross.  And here we have no small decision.  After this, John says that “all things had already been accomplished.”  The scene is simple.  Sympathetic viewers were at the cross.  Jesus saw his mother.  Jesus saw the disciple he loved.  He speaks to his mother.  He speaks to the disciple.  “From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.”  Here a new family is set in motion.

In the presence of the crucified Jesus, relationship changes.  Two individual followers become family.  When we gather together in our groups of two, three or more, we gather at the cross.  When we choose the way of the cross, we join others who are in relationship with Jesus.  We are not spectators, we are participants.  God comes near when we participate in His plan, even when we do not understand.

The two people identified at the cross are identified only by their relationship with Jesus.  As his mother and the disciple whom he loved lose Jesus physically, they find themselves a new family.  On account of what happened at the cross, we define ourselves differently.  Our identity is no longer determined by relationship with mother and father.  Instead we are defined according to our relationship with Jesus.  We are identified as part of a community that meets at the cross in relationship to a crucified King.

We participate in a community with other unlikely participants.  A tax collector, a fisherman, a farmer, a barista.  The guy who shakes your hand tightly, the girl who sings off-key, the family with the noisy children, the lady who wears too much perfume.  At the cross, we participate with a family that we do not choose.  We participate in a family where the only thing we have in common is relationship with a crucified Jesus.

John does not call us to the cross that we might feel pity for an innocent who died an undignified death.  John invites each of us to stand at the cross to witness the crucified King.  John wants us to know that Jesus remains in control.  Even on the cross, he is able to complete the work he was sent to accomplish.  Like adding the final pieces of a portfolio, he establishes a new family and fulfills scripture.  Only then does he submit his work to the Father “It is finished” and give up his spirit (it was not taken from him).

At the cross, Jesus joins us as a new family of disciples who will continue to follow together.  Following Jesus will now include interdependence on one another.  We are not isolated followers, we are not called to be.  Instead, we join others.  We join people who are not like us in any other way except that we gather at the cross of Christ.

A Look at the Cross reminds us that when we come into relationship with the crucified Jesus, we come into relationship with a collection of others who participate in that relationship with us.

A prayer of response by Susan Vigliano; “Lord, I invite you to shape and form my identity in such a way that I reflect your new order of family.  Who is my brother, mother, and sister in my new adopted family?  I have a natural God-given love for my natural family and close friends, but I need your agape love to love the unknown, different, sometimes unloveable people whom you now call my brother.  Help me, Lord, to love like you love.”

Read Full Post »

Both Peter and Paul had been executed.  Other Christians were in danger of being lit on fire to serve as living torches to light Nero’s night time games.  It is difficult to guess how devastating this would have been for Christians in Rome.  We can be certain that they lived in fear.  They probably felt forsaken.  In this context, Mark wrote his Gospel to help the church get through the suffering without losing hope for the future or forgetting the Jesus story.  This is a dark Gospel intended to help readers navigate dark days.  Mark wanted to be sure to write down the story of Jesus before all eyewitnesses were gone.  It is possible that Mark included stories he remembered when the church used to meet at his mother’s house in Jerusalem.

The Gospel is full of questions about Jesus.  Perhaps we can summarize them with one from the crowd, “what is this… He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”  One from the scribes, “why does this man speak this way… who can forgive sins but God alone?”  And another asked by disciples, “who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”  Reading Mark should prompt questions about Jesus.  Perhaps we should be asking, “Who is this on the cross?”

We learn that Jesus arrived at Golgotha in Mark 15.22, however he does not speak until v.34.  Jesus has been abandoned by disciples and mocked by those at the cross.  Darkness has covered the earth.  Raymond Brown says “There is nothing that shows God acting on Jesus’ side.”  Then Jesus speaks “My God, my God…”  These are the only words in Mark that Jesus speaks from the cross.

Then in v.37 he takes his last breath.  Jesus expires, seemingly vanquished by his enemies.  But then the Father acts, the God who appeared to not answer Jesus’ prayers and had forsaken him; and we learn that he was not absent at all.  In v.38 the veil of the temple is torn from top to bottom.  In v.39 a Roman centurion says “Truly this man was the Son of God.”  Roman citizens would not find crucifixion an honorable way to die, in fact, a crucified messiah would be an oxymoron.  This could be the reason that Mark included the public statement of the Roman centurion.  Could Mark be trying to tell readers that a Roman was the first to recognize Jesus as the Son of God?  Could Mark be implying that it is only at the cross where we are able to recognize who Jesus really is?

Crucifixion was gruesome on account of the “screams of rage and pain, the wild curses and the outbreaks of nameless despair of the unhappy victims.”  Brown goes on, “Yet it was not in rage but in prayer that Jesus screamed his loud cry.”  Even though he feels forsaken, he cries to “My God.”  Jesus prays on the cross, even in his last words (interestingly at 3:00pm, the hour for afternoon prayer).  Mark wants us to know that this silent God is not absent, because he rends the sanctuary veil and causes a pagan to publicly acknowledge the identity of Jesus.  Mark wants us to know who is being executed on this Friday afternoon.  It is none other than the Son of God.

Some may have been convinced that he was a failed messiah, a misunderstood prophet, or a guilty criminal.  No one was saying that maybe this was the Son of God.  But the words of the centurion cause us to rethink the reality of this situation.  Readers of Mark have been waiting for someone to speak these words for a long time.  We may come to the cross as a curious observer, as a heckler, or as a seeker.  We may come hoping to do something or to perform ritual.  And then, the words we have been waiting on.  It seems the Gospel has been leading to this moment from the start.  For those who thought that a criminal was crucified, here hangs the Son of God.

While the world goes about its business God continues to go about His.  People are going on with their lives, but the Gospel reveals the news we have been waiting for.  And then, God, who we thought was absent, who we thought had forsaken this place and our situation, God makes Himself known.

A Look at the Cross reminds us that we do not walk in pain, darkness, and feelings of forsakenness alone.  God has already been there.

A prayer by Pastor of Prayer Susan Vigliano; “‘My God, My God’ is the cry of my heart in times of struggle.  Lord, there is agony as I wrestle with the darkness in this world and in my own life.  I know that your faithfulness is there, and yet, I do not always perceive it.  Lord, open my spiritual eyes and ears this week to perceive you working in my life.  Let me experience the torn curtain that made a way for me to come into your presence.”

Read Full Post »

Matthew and Luke are interested in specifics about this birth we celebrate this time of year.  They want us to know that this specific birth occurred at a specific time in history.  They want us to know that Caesar Augustus was ruling the world and a census was being taken.  They want us to know details like Joseph considering a divorce and that Mary was a virgin.  They want to be sure that we are aware of other details as well.  Shepherds were working in the fields and Magi were watching the skies.  The baby was wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger.  King Herod was worried and asked priests and teachers to reread the prophecies.

Mark does not talk about the birth or infancy of Jesus but he asks a number of questions about Jesus along the way.  I am certain that if he shared a birth story it would have included the question “what child is this?”  John wants us to be aware that the one we celebrate and was born in this way has been there all along.  We celebrate Christmas as the time He entered the world that he created.  He is the Word who became flesh.

This has implications for all of us whether we choose to celebrate or not.  As history moves along and details continue to fill up our days.  As Caesar continues to believe he is in control.  As a host of activity continues to take up our time.  As we reread the prophecies.  As we become consumed with giving and receiving, baking and decorating, working and worrying – there was one born and laid in a manger.  During the course of the activities of our lives, the Word moved in among the very people he created.  This is the story of one who entered the history of our world.  This is not unfamiliar territory for the Gospel.  You and I can be grateful.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »