March 4, 2010

Gospel of Mark: Chapters 2-4

Week two of our study through Mark's Gospel took place last night. It's tough to cover three chapters in an hour's time so I highlighted a few passages that jumped out to me as I spent time preparing. There was plenty of great discussion and even a question or two that came up, one of which surrounded a tricky passage I'll try to address. As always, feel free to share your questions and comments.

Chapter 2
Vs 1-12 - The phrase "your sins are forgiven" and the connection to the paralytic's healing implies a relationship between sin and sickness, which was not an uncommon Jewish thought though this is not Mark's intent in sharing this story. Rather, Mark is again showing that Jesus is the strong Son of God who not only has the power to heal but the power to forgive sins. Which seems to fit well with the phrase Jesus uses to describe himself as the "Son of Man", which in later Judaism was used for a superhuman being that comes on the clouds of heaven. Another way in which Jesus' authority is conveyed.

Vs 13-17 - Being reminded that Mark had Gentiles in mind when writing his Gospel, the word "sat" in Greek is literally "reclined" which describes a familiar eating style for the Gentiles. In this passage we read that Jesus was sharing a meal with sinners and the Pharisees take issue with this. Isn't this us in the church sometimes? We fail to see that this story is describing Jesus' willingness to interact with us, the "sick" and "sinner", by judging others based on who they hang out with or call their friends. Jesus said that it is the sick who need a doctor which makes me think the Church should look more like a hospital than a country club.

Chapter 3
Vs 31-35 - It can be easy to read different passages in the Gospels where Jesus interacts with his family or talks about family in general (Matthew 10:37-38) and get a little defensive or upset. Sometimes it seems that Jesus doesn't care very much about family, especially when we read passages like this which make it seem as though he is ignoring his mother and brothers. This is certainly not what Jesus is saying and reading it that way may mean we are reading it too literally. I think the point that Jesus is trying to make instead is that the idea of family is much broader than a physical relationship, it is spiritual. Not only this but the very best way to love your family and neighbors is to love God first.

Chapter 4
Vs 1-20 - A parable that many of us have read or heard before. The challenge for us is to think about how we are making our "soil" better. In what ways are we preparing our souls to receive the seeds that God wants to plant in order that they might grow and bear fruit "thirty and sixty and a hundredfold"?

Vs 26-29 - I particularly like vs 27 because the farmer doesn't always know how the seed grows, it just does. So often as Christians we "plant seeds" and either a) don't even know it or b) see someone's faith grow but we're not quite sure how it got there in the first place. Maybe the main reason I like this short parable is because it emphasizes the partnership with the Holy Spirit. I sometimes forget that the Holy Spirit is at work in people's lives and fall into the trap of thinking it's all up to me, when it's clearly not! And thank God that it doesn't depend on just you and me.

A Tricky Passage
Vs 4:10-12 - At first glance this passage seems to convey a sense of exclusiveness and even a level of unfairness to those on the outside. First, I think it is helpful to look at Matthew's account of this story (Matthew 13:10-17) for a more in-depth reading of the prophecy from Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10). Second, I think it's important to keep in mind that Jesus wanted to make the Truth easier to understand, not more confusing (Mark 4:21-25), hence the reason that he taught using parables. Third, I think often we want to read a tone of judgment into this passage. While there is a judgment that is being described, it should be noted that it is a judgment that one brings upon himself or herself through unbelief and even outright rejection of Christ's message. This is what Isaiah's prophecy speaks of and what Paul mentions in Romans 16:25-26. Lastly, we cannot miss the faith factor in all of this. What I mean by this is that the Gospel message, especially for early Gentile Christians, began with a faith relationship because without that as the foundation, the whole message would be foolishness. Paul also talks a lot about this in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:18-3:1). So, there's an attempt at it at least....