December 31, 2006

Hope you all are having a blesséd holiday and if that is your practice -- holy day season.

Today, New Years Eve day my grandmother was admitted to hospital sufffering from disorientation. Her oxygen saturation levels in the blood are low as is her blood count. Evidence of internal damage. She's receiving a blood transfusion and massive numbers of tests.

She's 91. She's resisted the nursing home option for some time now but it looks like the choice will finally be made and not by her.

2007 is starting off with a flare.

according to mark 4:1-20


The story of the sower

4:1-8 Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water's edge. He taught them a great deal in parables, and in the course of his teaching he said, "Listen! A man once went out to sow his seed and as he sowed, some seed fell by the roadside and the birds came and gobbled it up. Some of the seed fell among the rocks where there was not much soil, and sprang up very quickly because there was no depth of earth. But when the sun rose it was scorched, and because it had no root, it withered away. And some of the seed fell among thorn-bushes and the thorns grew up and choked the life out of it, and it bore no crop. And there was some seed which fell on good soil, and when it grew, produced a crop which yielded thirty or sixty or even a hundred times as much as the seed."

4:9 Then he added, "Every man who has ears should use them!"

4:10-12 Then when they were by themselves, his close followers and the twelve asked him about the parables, and he told them. "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those who do not know the secret, everything remains in parables, so that, 'seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them'".

4:13-20 Then he continued, "Do you really not understand this parable? Then how are you going to understand all the other parables? The man who sows, sows the message. As for those who are by the roadside where the message is sown, as soon as they hear it Satan comes at once and takes away what has been sown in their minds. Similarly, the seed sown among the rocks represents those who hear the message without hesitation and accept it joyfully. But they have no real roots and do not last - when trouble or persecution arises because of the message, they give up their faith at once. Then there are the seeds which were sown among thorn-bushes. These are the people who hear the message, but the worries of this world and the false glamour of riches and all sorts of other ambitions creep in and choke the life out of what they have heard, and it produces no crop in their lives. As for the seed sown on good soil, this means the men who hear the message and accept it and do produce a crop - thirty, sixty, even a hundred times as much as they received."

December 28, 2006

according to mark 3:20-35

Jesus exposes an absurd accusation

3:20-21 Then he went indoors, but again such a crowd collected that it was impossible for them even to eat a meal. When his relatives heard of this, they set out to take charge of him, for people were saying, "He must be mad!"

3:22-27 The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem were saying that he was possessed by Beelzebub, and that he drove out devils because he was in league with the prince of devils. So Jesus called them to him and spoke to them in a parable - "How can Satan be the one who drives out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot last either. And if Satan leads a rebellion against Satan - his days are certainly numbered. No one can break into a strong man's house and steal his property, without first tying up the strong man hand and foot. But if he did that, he could ransack the whole house.

3:28-29 "Believe me, all men's sins can be forgiven and their blasphemies. But there can never be any forgiveness for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That is an eternal sin."

3:30 He said this because they were saying, "He is in the power of an evil spirit."

The new relationships in the kingdom

3:31-32 Then his mother and his brothers arrived. They stood outside the house and sent a message asking him to come out to them. There was a crowd sitting round him when the message was brought telling him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you."

3:33 Jesus replied, "And who are really my mother and my brothers?"

3:34 And he looked round at the faces of those sitting in a circle about him.

3:35 "Look!" he said, "my mother and my brothers are here. Anyone who does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me."

December 25, 2006

according to mark 3:13-19

Jesus chooses the twelve apostles

3:13-19 Later he went up on to the hill-side and summoned the men whom he wanted, and they went up to him. He appointed a band of twelve to be his companions, whom he could send out to preach, with power to drive out evil spirits. These were the twelve he appointed: Peter (which was the new name he gave Simon), James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother (He gave them the name of Boanerges, which means the "Thunderers".) Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew,Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Patriot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

December 23, 2006

secrets and exorcisms/david

So with this passage we run aground on two issues.

First we meet with what scholarly commentators on Mark call the Messianic Secret. Jesus, as depicted in Mark deliberately conceals who he is, that is to say, goes forth performing all manner of miracles, and yet deliberately forbids disciples (and exorcised demons) from publishing his status as the Christ. There are a number of attempts by scholars to explain this behaviour and generally the historical critical scholars attribute this to Mark's narrative strategies and not to Jesus himself.

If they are right, then we have a Messiah, whose divinity was hidden not only from the people he came to reach but possibly also from himself. I find this theologically interesting. If Jesus was/is the Christ but didn't know it until very late in his ministry (if ever) then he becomes a powerful role model of acting on our leadings and best judgments even in the absence of certainty or complete knowledge. It also explains Gethsemane. Because if Jesus knew in an absolute omniscient sense that he was divinity incarnate, destined to be resurrected and glorified, then the whole passion narrative, from sweating blood in Gethsemane to his cry of pain on the cross -- makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.

And so I hold to a doctrine of incarnation that makes Jesus fully divine, but in becoming fully human, he emptied himself of the royal perogatives, including knowledge of his own divinity.

The second issue that messes with our (post) modern minds is exorcism. Can't help but see exorcism through the lens of Hollywood horror flicks with their pea soup and SFX.

If we see exorcism as narrative strategy then Jesus is mucking about exercising the very authority he's denying. If my Jesus, unaware of his divinity, that makes exorcism a social and religious practice -- something that we could expect ourselves a his disciples to be called upon to do as well.

So how to understand this? For me the notion that these folks just didn't get mental illness, and that exorcism is just another kind of physical healing -- but of brain events instead of body maladies -- doesn't work for me. I think these healings are seen as different in kind and degree to healing dropsy or blindness.

My way in is the powers and principalities theology taught by Berkhof, Stringfellow and Wink (among others). John Dominic Crossan also goes there to an extent. Exorcism then becomes a kind of emotional healing for those whose symptoms are caused by internalizing the social and political oppression in their society. It is both healing and psycho-drama and a witness to the established order that its rule is about to come to an end.

That model appeals to me. Partly as I have worked in a few workplaces that could use a good exorcist in that sense. Indeed. I know a few churches that could use a good exorcist. But that takes us back to Revelation. And we're reading Mark.

December 21, 2006

according to mark 3:7-12

Jesus' enormous popularity

3:7-11 Jesus now retired to the lake-side with his disciples. A huge crowd of people followed him, not only from Galilee, but from Judea, Jerusalem and Idumea, some from the district beyond the Jordan and from the neighbourhood of Tyre and Sidon. This vast crowd came to him because they had heard about the sort of things he was doing. So Jesus told his disciples to have a small boat kept in readiness for him, in case the people should crowd him too closely. For he healed so many people that all those who were in pain kept pressing forward to touch him with their hands. Evil spirits, as soon as they saw him, acknowledged his authority and screamed, "You are the Son of God!"

3:12 But he warned them repeatedly that they must not make him known.

December 18, 2006

gospel according to mark 2:23-3:6

Jesus rebukes the sabbatarians

2:23-24 One day he happened to be going through the cornfields on the Sabbath day. And his disciples, as they made their way along, began to pick the ears of corn. The Pharisees said to him, "Look at that! Why should they do what is forbidden on the Sabbath day?"

2:25-28 Then he spoke to them. "Have you never read what David did, when he and his companions were hungry? Haven't you read how he went into the house of God when Abiathar was High Priest, and ate the presentation loaves, which nobody is allowed to eat, except the priests - and gave some of the bread to his companions? The Sabbath," he continued, "was made for man's sake; man was not made for the sake of the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath."


3:1-3 On another occasion when he went into the synagogue, there was a man there whose hand was shrivelled, and they were watching Jesus closely to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath day, so that they might bring a charge against him. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, "Stand up and come out here in front!"

3:4 Then he said to them, "Is it right to do good on the Sabbath day, or to do harm? Is it right to save life or to kill?"

3:5-6 There was a dead silence. Then Jesus, deeply hurt as he sensed their inhumanity, looked round in anger at the faces surrounding him, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand!" And he stretched it out, and the hand was restored as sound as the other one. The Pharisees walked straight out and discussed with Herod's party how they could have Jesus put out of the way.

December 16, 2006


With the conversation evolving on spiritual disciplines and discipleship I would like to share that I have started to read a niftazoid little bit of scholarship called Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament by Richard Longenecker. He's actually the editor. Its a collection of essays on discipleship as found in the New Testament writings. Chapter one is on Mark which I'm about to read and will share with you as I feel led. But I'm not reading these things in order.

I'm an undisciplined disciple.

I bought it in part as I'm interested in the topic and in part because I have read other scholarship by Longenecker and have been impressed. He wrote an amazing (to me) survey of how the New Testament authors exegete the Hebrew scriptures which completely blew me away. It was called Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period and I believe its out of print.

new wine/david

2:21-22 "Nobody," he continued, "sews a patch of unshrunken cloth on to an old coat. If he does, the new patch tears away from the old and the hole is worse than ever. And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine bursts the skins, the wine is spilt and the skins are ruined. No, new wine must go into new wineskins."

New wine in new wineskins. Fresh winds of the Spirit needs to distance itself from old church structures. It reminds me of manages concern about starting a new church/meeting/thingie. I imagine in the early days of Jesusianity when persecution flowed from the resistant synagogues and not the jackboots of the Roman Empire, these words were comforting. We are new wine. We need new wineskins.

For me, who tends to view doctrine functionally rather than propositionally, the question is always: how do we apply this? Do we use this to murder or create? And if create, then create what?

And I had never linking this wineskins trope to the fasting injunction. Fasting is for mourning. For folks who do not feel God's Spirit to bribe God, get God's attention by some symbolic act of sacrifice. Fasting is for dead souls who want to live not for living souls moved by the Spirit.

I cannot help but apply this to the whole emerging church thingie. And I am one foot in each world, liking some of what I see in this emerging church but also seeing a serious lack of charity and a refusal to acknowledge the accumulated wisdom of the previous generation. I especially see a rejection of the social gospel in emerging church circles. I see a deep longing for community and inclusion and empowerment in emerging church. A longing that needs to be fed. But I also feel a narrowness of spirit. And a confusion of packaging with depth.

Perhaps I see something to be recommended in old wine.

December 14, 2006

gospel according to mark

The question of fasting

2:18 The disciples of John and those of the Pharisees were fasting. They came and said to Jesus, "Why do those who follow John or the Pharisees keep fasts but your disciples do nothing of the kind?"

2:19-20 Jesus told them, "Can you expect wedding-guest to fast in the bridegroom's presence? Fasting is out of the question as long as they have the bridegroom with them. But the day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them - that will be the time for them to fast.

2:21-22 "Nobody," he continued, "sews a patch of unshrunken cloth on to an old coat. If he does, the new patch tears away from the old and the hole is worse than ever. And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine bursts the skins, the wine is spilt and the skins are ruined. No, new wine must go into new wineskins."

December 13, 2006


I'm noticing a slowing of comments (in myself and in others). I know I can commit to posting a bible passage twice a week right through to the New Year. But my time and energy levels are such that reflective comments are going to be less than nada until at least the week between Great Arrival of the Fat Guy in the Red Suit and when Times Square drops the ball.

Can I suggest we drop this study group down to social chatter and season's best wishes until twenty-nought-seven?

December 11, 2006

Mark 2:14-17

I saw a page at Crieghton University's site on praying with our imaginations, or Ignatian contemplation - Contemplating the Call of Matthew ...

“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus saw Matthew, sitting at his customs table, Jesus must have seen how the people despised this tax collector. Jesus had to sense that this kind of resentment and rejection did things to a tax collector. He had to immediately feel compassion on Matthew and what it had done to him. Had it made him defensive and thick skinned? Had he become gruff and insensitive to others? Did he bark and push others away?

I imagine that the first thing Matthew noticed was how Jesus was looking at him. Could it have been that the first experience Matthew had of Jesus was that Jesus was simply looking at him in a way no one had ever looked at him? When their eyes met, Matthew must have seen love and compassion, not blame and judgment. Jesus did not look on him with hate and contempt. Jesus simply looked at him with care.

As I picture the scene, Matthew immediately sensed that Jesus somehow understood the predicament he was in. He got himself into this and he'd not been an attractive character at all. He played the role people had put him in. But, Jesus didn't fix him in that role somehow. Before he uttered a word, Jesus' eyes must have said to Matthew, "I know this isn't really you. I understand how much playing this role is distorting you, souring you, hardening you." It was as though Jesus' face, and the sadness it revealed, reflected the sadness in Matthew's heart.

"Follow me." The words must have made their ways straight to Matthew's heart. Never had his heart been so opened by such understanding, compassion and loving acceptance. For a moment, he must have thought, "Me? I'm just a ... I can't change ... I'm stuck here ... And, what'll they say about ..." But, those protests surely were replaced with something responding from deep inside that welcomed this call, this liberation, this vote of confidence more than anything in the world. Without a word, with their eyes still locked in that communication of intimacy, Matthew's heart said, "Yes! Amen! I'm yours!" Nothing else had a hold on him. There were no excuses, doubts or fears. Matthew had been healed as he had been called. His yes was his surrender to being loved.

Can we look up from our own custom table today and see Jesus looking at us with compassion and love? He knows and understands whatever has us locked into roles, images, patterns that aren't very attractive and that we don't really like about ourselves. Can we let ourselves experience and feel his love? On the other side of that loving acceptance, there's a freedom to imagine him calling us today, in our situation, and say "Follow me."

December 10, 2006

including the out caste

Gandhi -- it is said -- liked Jesus very much but found Christians a bit hard to deal with at times. The Jesus of the synoptic traditions -- Mark and Q -- builds his ragtag army out of the rabble that good clean folks would rather not associate with. He also seems to go out of his way to touch lepers and others that would contaminate him from a cultic perspective. I imagine that's what Gandhi found so endearing about him.

So, how do we, people of faith, cope with this witness today?

A minority of self-identified Christians (of which I am NOT one) have committed themselves to direct contact and interaction with the poorest of the poor. Mother Teresa and Oscar Romero are only two prominent names that most might recognize. But there are thousands of others who do not make the cultural radar including many whose motivations are ideological rather than faith-based, such as the Food Not Bombs networks.

But while these folks are legion they remain a minority. Christianity has become a quiet middle-class church rather than a ratty social movement. We deal with the poor and the sinners with social programs that alleviate the suffering but don't particularly include the out castes into our social circles.

Jesus did not feed the poor. He didn't create social programs, food banks, counselling centres. He hung out with folks, when to street parties, taverns and likely brothels.
When you give food to the hungry, they call you a saint. But when you ask why the hungry have no food, they call you a communist.

Dom Helder Camera

December 09, 2006

Gospel According to Mark 2:14-17

2:14 As Jesus went on his way, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at his desk in the tax office and he said to him, "Follow me!"

2:15-16 Levi got up and followed him. Later, when Jesus was sitting at dinner in Levi's house, a large number of tax-collectors and disreputable folk came in and joined him and his disciples. For there were many such people among his followers. When the scribes and Pharisees saw him eating in the company of tax-collectors and outsiders, they remarked to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?"

2:17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "It is not the fit and flourishing who need the doctor, but those who are ill. I did not come to invite the 'righteous', but the 'sinners'.

December 04, 2006

gospel according to mark 2:1-13

Faith at Capernaum

2:1-5 When he re-entered Capernaum some days later, a rumour spread that he was in somebody's house. Such a large crowd collected that while he was giving them his message it was impossible even to get near the doorway. Meanwhile, a group of people arrived to see him, bringing with them a paralytic whom four of them were carrying. And when they found it was impossible to get near him because of the crowd, they removed the tiles from the roof over Jesus' head and let down the paralytic's bed through the opening. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man on the bed, "My son, your sins are forgiven."

2:6-7 But some of the scribes were sitting there silently asking themselves, "Why does this man talk such blasphemy? Who can possibly forgive sins but God?"

2:8-11 Jesus realised instantly what they were thinking, and said to them, "why must you argue like this in your minds? Which do you suppose is easier - to say to a paralysed man, 'Your sins are forgiven', or 'Get up, pick up your bed and walk'? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has full authority to forgive sins on earth, I say to you," - and here he spoke to the paralytic - "Get up, pick up your bed and go home."

2:12 At once the man sprang to his feet, picked up his bed and walked off in full view of them all. Everyone was amazed, praised God, and said, "We have never seen anything like this before."

2:13 Then Jesus went out again by the lake-side and the whole crowd came to him, and he continued to teach them.

December 01, 2006

Mark 1:40-41

A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean."

Two interesting things about this reading ... one is that there's some question about the Greek word used to describe Jesus' emotion when he heals the leper ... the other is that Jesus touched the leper, when doing so would have made him "unclean" as well.

Here's some of a Sermonwriter article ...

V. 41 presents us with a difficult translation problem. Most manuscripts say that Jesus was filled with pity or compassion (Greek: splanchistheis), but others say that he was angry (Greek: orgistheis). Compassion makes more sense in this context, and some good manuscripts use splanchistheis. However, there are also reasons to read anger (orgistheis) here .... Jesus is trying to maintain a proper balance between teaching and healing, the two primary forms of his ministry in the first half of this Gospel. For the most part, people are drawn to him by his healing miracles, and often fail to see his deeper spiritual dimension .... The leper's plea forces him to choose between mission and compassion − to compromise one or the other ...

And ...

If Jesus can heal the man by touch, presumably he could also heal him without touching him. His touch seems reckless, because touching the leper should contaminate Jesus (both medically and spiritually). However, in this case, it is not the leper who is contagious, but Jesus. The leper does not transmit his uncleanness to Jesus, but Jesus transmits his wholeness and holiness to the leper and makes him clean (medically, spiritually, and socially) .... In this Gospel, we will read about Jesus touching or associating with other people in ways that would potentially defile him − tombs and swine (5:1-20); a hemorrhaging woman (5:25-27); a corpse (5:41); Gentiles and unclean spirits (7:24-26). In each instance, he transmits his wholeness and holiness rather than the other way around ...