A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 40

Do We Need an Ending?

Read Mark 16:9-20

Contemplate: What is “your” word in this passage today?

Read also John 20, 1-18; Matth 28:16-20; Lk 24:13-39. What do you notice?

Look back at the 40 days of “finding Jesus” in Mark’s Gospel. What’s Jesus like? Did he surprise you? In what way?

How does this passage (Mk 16:9-20) “complete” the message about Mark’s Jesus as the “secrete” Messiah for you?

*******

Mark 16:9-20 is the Word of God for us, but it wasn’t written by Mark. According to all we have read, it is possible that Mark himself even intended to leave us with an open ending. After all, throughout, Mark portrays Jesus as the hidden one, who grows secretly in the hearts of the people who follow him. Often, the disciples are afraid of Jesus, and even more often, they are perplexed by him. Their “way” with Jesus is full of contradiction – or at least, this is what it looks like to the people who are watching to see, but miss Jesus’s point.

If we follow the disciples along Mark’s way to Jerusalem, we are constantly frustrated by the “incompleteness” of their of their faith, of their understanding, and of their dedication. We wished that at least once they would arrive, but they don’t. Instead – they run away (sometimes naked and in fear) from their dedication to Jesus! So, actually, ending his gospel at 16:8 Mark may have done just that again – left us “on the way” wondering! We hoped to come to a closure, but instead there are the three dots.

Study shows that the passage we read today (Mk 16:9-20) is a patchwork from the other gospels (and Acts). It tries to supply the reader with a proper closure. Early church history shows that from the start, people had a problem with Mark’s gospel. I guess, in our time, it would get a bad criticism on Amazon, and would be left alone to die.

But since Mark’s story was based on Peter’s story with Jesus, it could not be easily dismissed. So, an ending was supplied from the other traditions which Mark somehow missed: Mary Magdalene did inform the disciples, and they did not listen to her at first, but then Jesus appeared to the two too on the way and commissioned them all finally to continue his work of reconciliation in the world. Their word was mightily confirmed by miracles. Also, they were divinely protected in dangerous situations. Jesus, although now sitting “at the right hand of God” (Mk 16:19) continues his work and he was with the disciples and confirmed his word by miracles.

This gives us a sense of closure, but if we think about it, it does not erase the challenge of incompleteness from Mark 16:8. The Good News of Jesus Christ, the Resurrected, stays unfinished without people in each generation who will pick it up and faithfully run with it to the ends of the world, against all odds.

We have completed our meditation on Jesus in the Gospel of Mark today – on Palm Sunday. Somehow, the church made this a joyous event, where in fact, it is a challenge. Are we ready to follow Jesus on his Via Dolorosa? Can we stand by him through the suffering of our current uncertainty? Or even can we bear to see him resurrected and have our lives overhauled? We have his promise that he is going before us in all of this and also his promise that eventually, we will see him, the Resurrected One, in those new circumstances.

So, when today you sing or pray: “Hosanna!” are you ready to also embrace the way on which Jesus walks before you? Although it sometimes feels that way to the human eye, it’s not a way into senseless suffering and denial. It’s the way to victory, where life has conquered death.

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 40

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 39

Breaking the Fear

Read Mark 16:1-8

What speaks to you from this passage? Can you identify with the women?

Describe the women, who have come to the grave.

What do you think their Shabbat was like that week?

Compare with Matthew 28:1-10, Luke 24:1-12 and also John 20:1-18? Note the similarities and differences. What do you make of them?

*******

An accident happened, and we ended up with an incomplete ending to the gospel of Mark. If one goes to the sources of ancient manuscripts of the gospels, our most reliable and oldest sources for Mark’s gospel end with 16:8: “For they were afraid.” It seems though that the other evangelists who used Mark’s account before the tragic loss know and use also its ending. Their stories continue with accounts of the people who were told and did meet the resurrected Jesus just as he promised to them (comp. Mark 14:28).

As unfortunate as this loss may seem at first glance, it gives this weighty gospel a flair of a parable. If you remember, Mark started his gospel with: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” So here we have the end of that beginning, but it is open! What if the women really stayed fearful and said nothing? What would have happened to the good news? We know, of course, they were not, but what if?

It is natural that humans encountering God get petrified. We cannot help it, because God is so frightfully above anything we can imagine. One moment we are in a deadly impasse with no way out. In the next moment there is a highway built for us and a wide plain of possibility opens up full of life. We are petrified. We cannot move although we now could and we are expected to. The sight is too overwhelming. Emotions are running wild. It all needs to sink in: Jesus is alive!

The good news about Jesus that Mark has promised in the beginning is dependent on this end, on the witnesses that will carry it forward – after they have processed their impossible miracle; after they have embraced it and allowed themselves to fly with it. Specialists in the discipline of “textual analysis” believe that the other evangelists’ stories build on what they originally read in Mark before the manuscript was “cut.” Mark has so carefully presented Jesus’s female disciples as worthy witnesses of the resurrection, that it’s difficult to imagine that they never pulled themselves together and started sharing the good news.

But let’s sit for a while with the thought the unfinished ending generates. There is no good news, if those who are witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection sit in fear and keep quiet. The women were called to the (for them) unusual centre stage. They were called to step out of their social confinement of “help” into the freedom of a messenger with God’s word. They were called as those who stayed their ground in the hour of darkness. Now they are entrusted a message to the community of mourners and betrayers: “… go, tell his disciples” (Mk 16:7)!

If you don’t get out there with the message – chances are the Resurrected will not be known by those whom he needs to meet. There will be no good news for the people.

This, of course, is a message for all the disciples of Jesus. We can see this gospel historically as a charge to the petrified church in Rome, to whom Mark possibly wrote when Peter, their leader, had just been martyred by Nero. There was a need to both preserve Peter’s testimony of Jesus and to snap the community out of their fear. Good news, people! Jesus’s gospel doesn’t end with death! Jesus has risen! Hallelujah!

But interestingly, Mark features women in particular as witnesses of the gospel. He calls them out of their social seclusion to be courageous. It is a whole new subject to look at the women in Mark’s gospel. Let’s just stress one thing: The good news for both the frightened and for the traitors often starts with women leaving their “safe” harbours of fear and marginalisation (as their socially assigned place). It calls them out to stand up for the good news of God. Women in particular need to overcome the fear of hearing their voice of testimony. They must learn to overcome their inferiority complexes and stand for the good news of the Resurrected Jesus.

Are you ready to hear your voice of testimony? Or, on the other hand, are you ready to hear the voice of a marginalised disciple who has walked with Jesus all the way to the grave and witnessed his resurrection (Matth 28:1-8)? It may be that in these acts the good news can be recognized.

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 39

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 38

Invisible Hope

Read Mark 15:40-47

Contemplate on the passage. Identify “your” word.

Notice how the women are described in this section. Why do you think did we not see them much before? How was their social role of invisibility “beneficial” in this case?

Read also 19:38-42 (and John 3:1-12). How do the stories differ? Two Pharisees buried Jesus. What do you think of that? What motives do the Evangelists disclose? Do you see more possible motives?

Joseph had to be bold to request for Jesus’s dead body. Can you imagine why boldness was required? What does it say about “unanimity” in the Jewish council regarding the “conviction” of Jesus? What does it say about Joseph (and Nicodemus?)

*******

Suddenly, the women become visible. In three verses they pass by us like a ray of light against the darkness of a treacherous world. We haven’t heard of them before. And yet, Mark even names them. This means that everyone knew their names. He also notices that they had followed Jesus both in Galilee and all the way down to Jerusalem, which for Mark is a sign of true disciples.

The irony is intended (even in the fact that he names three women). No pretenders on the ministerial positions in the Jesus’s kingdom (Mk 10:34-45) were present but rather these servant women were. The “real” and visible disciples have been replaced by the “shadow” whom society deemed unworthy. Now and for a moment they shine. The last are about to become first.

In-between their short appearance, the burial of Jesus is sandwiched. More irony. Normally, the bodies were released only to family, but there was no family here. Not that they were not in Jerusalem. Chances are, they did go up to Jerusalem for that festival as well (comp. John 7:10). With no family and no disciples, Jesus would have ended up buried like a criminal. But instead he got the noble treatment by Council members!

What an irony! People who have just signed his death verdict are now burying him like one of theirs. Mark mentions only Joseph of Arimathea. But him, being a “a respected member of the council,” he would have not done the practicalities himself. The shortness of time suggests that Joseph had a army of servants preparing Jesus burial so it could be finished before the night fall and the beginning of the holy Shabbat. We don’t know what Joseph’s intentions were and whether he later became a Christian. He may well have become one.

But the irony of this moment is tragic and reminds of similar acts of betrayal. First the victim is stabbed to death, but then he is buried with style, by his enemies, like the best “of us.” To me, this ordeal of a burial looks more like a sign of relief for Joseph. (“He is dead! Finally! Now bury him, never mind the costs!”)

While the men work on death, the women observe. There is not much else they can do. There seems to be no logic in their hanging around. They should be doing whatever women do and leave the business to the men.

Mark leaves us with a deep feeling of senselessness at the rich tomb of Jesus. Door closed. Hopeless. Throughout Mark’s story he made us hope for vindication as proof in favour of Jesus messiahship mounted to unthinkable levels. And yet, there is no vindication. Jesus is a tragic figure. Why should one write down this story?

Unlike the many happy-end stories we know and love, the story of Jesus ticks off such well-known feelings of loss and despair like no other. When loss and betrayal hit us, we are pushed into this invisible, observing side role while questions buzz in our head: Why bother? Why hang in there? What is there to hope for in life? Why start over? There’s no sense in that…

On such days, like the women in Mark, we just need to hang about and observe. That’s called hope.

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 38

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 37

Forsaken

Read Mark 15:20-39

Let it sink in. What touches your heart?

How does Mark’s account of Jesus’s crucifixion compare to your traditions?

From the things described by Mark what do you think hurt Jesus the most? Why would you think so?

Commentators note that three “apocalyptic moments” in the gospel reveal Jesus’ identity (in the beginning at baptism (Mk 1:11) at transfiguration (Mk 9:7) and here. But this one is different (15:39). How do you think this is hopeful?

*******

There is only one sentence that Jesus speaks hanging on the cross in the Gospel of Mark:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34).

There is nothing divine about that cry. To the end, Mark is faithful to his goal – to present to us the man Jesus, even in this great agony. From a Son of God handed over to men, abandoned by all his disciples, he still held on to God. But here facing death, in utter despair Jesus undergoes the abandonment even of God.

Like foretold by Amos (8:9-10), at noon and in darkness, the earth mourns for the God forsaken Son of God.

Tradition sometimes steals this moment of a celestial despair from us as it concentrates on Jesus’s physical pain (and surely, Jesus was severely abused by the soldiers, so that he could not carry his own cross – Mk 15:21). But Jesus did not complain about the physical pain. He did not even complain about his false, back-stabbing friends. In the eye of death, the pain of the full experience of God-forsakenness breaks his human soul: “My God! My God!” The end.

If there is no God, there is no hope.

But as Jesus dies, things get into motion. Josephus, the Jewish-Roman historian, mentions that some 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem something extraordinary happened in the Temple. The evangelists say that God tore apart the curtains of the the Temple and practically walked out. A new era has dawned on the world. This is affirmed in the centurions confession: “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mk 15:39). Has this man participated in the abuse of Jesus, or even presided over it? We have no way of knowing what the confession meant for him personally.

But Mark’s account opens the heavens for us at the darkest moment in history where God dies for the people. Here he is finally recognized as he marches out of the Temple and into the whole world. And most mysteriously suddenly the “world” has developed “eyes to see” that this dead son of man is in fact, the Son of God.

Sometimes people ask why Jesus had to die? Could God have not found a less drastic way to save us? In Galatians the apostle Paul deals with this question maintaining, that nothing else worked! Had the Law worked for salvation, there would be no need for the Son to die. But it didn’t. And it doesn’t.

The fact is – death is the kind of filter that exposes our reality. The death of Jesus exposed the utter human forsakenness without God. But death also exposed the reality that God is greater than death. And when all was finished for Jesus the son of man – a new reality was revealed. The curtains tore. The far-away God came out of his secluded heavens to be again God-with-us.

So in whatever dire, dead-ended situation you have been, you may go forward in hope – because of Jesus’s death, a new reality of life is dawning on you.

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 37

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 36

Handed Over

Read Mark 15:1-20

Contemplate. Identify the word/phrase that moves you. Why?

Read Isa 53 and compare the passage to what is going on here. Identify the similarities. What do you think this means?

Compare Mark 14:60-62 and 15:2-5. What do you see? Who do you think, is responsible for Jesus’s conviction?

Jesus had to have a “fair” trial and all was done by the book in the court of the Chief Priest and in Pilate’s court. But fairness is not what this feels like? Can you find the clues?

Jesus stays quiet for his defence? What do you think about this?

If Mark’s community for whom he has written, is under attack by Cesar Nero, what do you think does Mark tell them about the “fairness” of the Roman court? Is this a comfort?

*******

Funnily, Peter did say the truth when he denied Jesus:. Indeed, he did not know him. Sometimes, I hear well meaning Christians say that “theology just makes you lose your faith.” But if it does, just like in the case of Peter, it has been an inadequate faith that deserves to be lost for the real thing. That is, it has been a faith in a nice image of Jesus and not in him. For Peter, there is no logic of going to death with Jesus. But in God’s plan, Jesus did not come to be a teacher (even one with a capital T). He came to be God’s Saviour.

It must have been frustrating for Peter listening in from afar into Jesus’s defence. They were unscrupulously accusing him, and he wasn’t saying a word?! Come on, Jesus, speak up!

But there are trials where nothing can be said and this was one of the kind. Jesus knew “that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over” (Mk 15:10) to Pilate to permanently get rid of him. Mark narrates the two fake trials in almost exactly the same way. Both times Jesus has nothing to say in his defence. Even when he replies to Pilate: “You say so” (Mk 15:2) his answer is vague, as it could have meant “that’s what you are saying.” Basically he hurls the question back at Pilate who clearly knows what is going on.

Jesus has been “handed over” to die. This may be particularly interesting from the perspective of Mark’s readers who too were facing the Roman court and the Roman death arena under Nero around 65AD. Does Mark teach them how to endure the martyrdom (Comp Mk 13:9)? Like Jesus some of them will be handed over to Cesar. Will they be like Peter and it will become evident they did not really know Jesus? Or will they lay down their lives and accept the preordained verdict in the unjust human trial and take the death?

At this moment – the silent Jesus does not make any sense. He is throwing away a thriving ministry. So many followers. So many miracles! But that is a human perspective. God’s perspective shines through the Barabbas incident: The one who deserved to die has gained his life as Jesus is handed over to death in his place. Isaiah 53:5 rings in our ears:

“But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.

Jesus accepted this death. He silently endured both the unfair trial and the beating that came with it as the violent mob of soldiers got their licence for what they thought was fun.

It does not happen often, but on occasion, we are like Peter or the first Christian martyrs in Rome called to walk with Jesus on the way of fixed and unfair courts set up jealous rulers to a certain death. And/or we are to stand quietly while we are being abused in the name of some human standard or just at will of bullies. From the Lenten side of Easter these situations are impossible to understand. Especially, it is difficult to know the God who allows them. We would like to shout from the mountain tops: “It’s unfair! It’s a lie!” But that of course is useless, as the verdict has been passed before the trial began.

The question is – can we silently and in faith “know Christ in his suffering” and believe that even in this our life is “hidden in God”?

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 36

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 35

The Mercy of Breaking Down

Read Mark 14:66-72

Contemplate on the passage re-reading also Mk 14:26-31. What does regret feel like?

What do you think – twice it is a woman who challenges Peter concerning his being “with the Nazarene, with this Jesus”. Would it made a difference had a man challenged him? Why?

Next, a group of men challenge Peter and “he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.'” (Mk 14:71). What was Peter’s motive?

Only Mark has the cock crow twice. Ancient sources remember that Mark retold Peter’s own story of Jesus. How does this double crowing contribute to Peter’s experience of betrayal?

*******

Have you noticed how the Gospel of Mark does not dwell on Judas Iscariot or his destiny (as the other gospels do). Mark just makes him disappear in 14:45 never to be heard of again. Peter we see again in the short resurrection story, but only in an by-line (Mk 16:7) and not as one present. Eventually, he will meet Jesus again.

Peter has not lived up to his promises to the Lord. He wasn’t paying attention. May be, he was even offended when Jesus challenged his courageous promise (Mk 14:29). But now Peter is confronted by a woman and he cannot stand his ground. The cock crows once to remind him of his promise and to warn him about where this was going. Peter gets another chance to repent, as the same women insists that she knows he belongs to “the Nazarene, that Jesus.” Like in the beginning of the gospel (Mk 1:9) and after all he has done and taught – they haven’t recognized Jesus’ mystery. He is still the lowly figure from the margins and Peter is behind enemy lines. It could be dangerous to admit to Jesus, so he is hissing silently: “Quiet, woman! You’ll blow my cover!”

God always puts warning signs on our journey – to warn us where things are going. But we tend to neglect them, especially if people whom we have downgraded as unimportant are God’s messengers. Twice this woman challenges Peter. And the cock crows once but Peter doesn’t hear. Remember the recurring theme in Mark: “who has ears to hear”? When Peter is finally challenged by people he recognizes as authority, he is ready “to curse, and he swear an oath,” maintaining: “I do not know this man you are talking about” (Mk 14:71). Not hearing God’s signs makes people pull all the stops in their betrayal.

This seems to teach us that we must be careful with what people say and claim – even in the church. It should also teach us to take seriously even the testimonies of women, mostly because they have a far better insight into the darkness of our institutions from the margins where they live. It also teaches us that when traitors curse and swear an oath even: “I have not done this!” they should not be believed easily.

Luckily, Peter finally heard the promised cock crow for the second time and remembered Jesus foretelling this exact situation. He found the strength to break down and admit the truth. It was not a general truth of the kind: “I am the greatest among sinners” (meaning: “I am not the only sinner here, so process me, you hypocrites!”). Peter admits to his concrete deed of treason. And it does not mean that immediately he is praised for his courageous act of repentance and re-installed as the leader. Rather (as John adds to his Gospel in John 21: 15-18), the Resurrected will have to rehabilitate him after enough time has passed and he has been able to process his betrayal. (We see him return to his old business at the margins in Galilee).

Where are you in this story about betrayal of Jesus: an unrepentant Judas? A deaf Peter or a broken Peter?

Or may be you are that lowly woman pointing out to the unpleasant truth and not being heard? Don’t get weary. The truth will reveal itself against false “curses and oaths.” Keep challenging betrayal when you see it, as this is the only way to repentance.

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 35

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 34

Blasphemy Against God

Read Mark 14:53-65

Contemplate. What moves you the most in this text?

How difficult, do you think, was it to find witnesses against Jesus at that point? Why?

Compare Mk 14:58, Mk 13:1-2 and John 2:18-22. What did Jesus really say? Who will destroy the temple?

What do you think about this trial? Where does it take place? What was the concern of the judges?

How does Jesus respond? When is Silence the best defense?

*******

So Jesus is taken away to trial. Unconventionally, it happens in the spacious house of the high priest. It happens in the middle of the night, but the whole Council is already there. The arrest was well planned. For the leaders of the land, it was a night well-spent. Finally, they have their hands on Jesus – at night, far away from the crowds.

It was a nuisance to fabricate two testimonies that would agree enough to prosecute Jesus, at this late hour and against the popularity Jesus enjoyed at that moment. Finally they came up with something that could make a case: He allegedly claimed  ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands’ (Mk 14:58). But there was no agreement about that either. In Mark 13:1-2 Jesus did prophecy about the destruction of the Temple. But Jesus did not claim that he will destroy the Temple but that God will do it. John, too, agrees that Jesus said something along those lines, but he meant his broken but resurrected body (John 2:18-22).

The Temple is the main concern of Jesus’s judges. It has become their business venture and Jesus unsettled their business. Have you noticed how skilfully the high priest avoids to speak God’s name and calls him “the Blessed One” instead? The whole thing happens under a careful flare of religious legality, a legality that they have set up to maintain their ideas. God forbid they would do something against God’s law! Except for a minor thing, they didn’t mind putting the Son of God, the Lord of their Temple on trial or condemning him to death. For the sake of their Temple and their business there.

When Jesus answers to the high priest’s question:

“I am /the Son of God/; and

‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

he addresses this problem: the Temple and the Temple business have become the object of worship, and not God. This is the classic “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Mk 3:28-30) – when you execute God for your own interests. There is only one response to that and it has been described by the prophets before. Jesus is not speaking of his second coming here, nor should we picture him hovering on the clouds. They very well understood the imagery of God’s judgment. Jesus is threatening them with God’s judgment in prophetic language:

The Lord says to my lord,
    “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

The Lord sends out from Zion
    your mighty scepter.
    Rule in the midst of your foes.

Ps 110: 1-2

And:

I saw one like a human being /Son of Man/
    coming with the clouds of heaven.

And he came to the Ancient One
    and was presented before him. 

To him was given dominion
    and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
    that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
    that shall never be destroyed.

Dan 7:13-14

They did not realize that God came to them to save them, and they put him on trial instead of recognizing his mercy. Now he can only come to judge them. When people assume the place of God, there simply is no mercy seat any more. God has to come as judge.

So, when the unjust human court is in session, words of defence have no value. Jesus stays silent. He knows the verdict has been passed long ago (comp. Mk 3:6). He can only only remind them that God is coming.

What a tragedy when people kill the only one who can save them and even more, when they kill him in the name of religion. As John aptly concluded in his Gospel: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The seat of mercy becomes for them the seat of judgment.

It is an eternal tragedy when people confuse the love for the church (or what they made of it) for the love of God.

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 34

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 33

Alone

Read Mark 14:43-51

Contemplate on the passage. Identify “your word”.

The main topic of this passage is betrayal. Can you trace all the elements of betrayal? Who betrays Jesus and in what way?

Why, do you think, was the arrest of Jesus done “at night”?

Read Zachariah 13:7-9. Is there a hope for those who betray Jesus?

*******

Alone! The dreaded feeling of abandonment in the night. Left alone by friends. Betrayed by those closest to your heart. There is no remorse. Drama is added for effect. Jesus, the one who was out in the open every day, who had nothing to hide, is treated like a common criminal and the worst kind of social debris. This is an archetype of all betrayal stories.

Each time I think about this I am shocked by Judas. Mark’s gospel only designates him as the traitor (comp. 3;19; 14:10). Imagine: he was a disciple, he preached the kingdom of God, and he even drove out demons. He heard Jesus teach. He even heard Jesus designate him as the traitor – and he still did it. For money. You cannot know the Judases from the outside. They look and act very spiritually. You can recognize them only by the “fruit” they bear. And that is only visible when surprise you at night with a mob with swords and bats to grab you, preferably far from the eyes of the public. Once the dirty work is done, the narrative has been altered and the public will be dealt with easily.

Only your “friends” watch but in their fear of Judas (I am sure they had their experiences with him already) they have only one agenda: To get away unharmed through your misfortune of being persecuted by Judas. This is not about them, after all. And so you stand in the midst of the mob and whatever you say or not say is used against you in the court of law. In the dark. Far away from the eyes of a public that has loved you and even yelled: Hosanna!

This is how Jesus must have felt. The injustice of the procedure cries to the sky. But see how Mark’s attention is not directed on the loneliness of Jesus. Jesus himself packs it away with a word from Scripture:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who is my associate,”
says the Lord of hosts.
Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered;
    I will turn my hand against the little ones.” Zah 13:7

Mark’s emphasis is – as usual in this Gospel – on the disciples and they run for their lives. Jesus’s hour has become their worst nightmare. They are looking how to hide in the night, in the shadows, behind the trees. Alone.

So, for Mark, Judas’s betrayal does not only introduce only the Passion of the Messiah. Mark highlights how the “sheep” are catapulted into a period of lonely temptation as they review their faith, their discipleship, their belonging to Jesus. Only one young man tries to follow Jesus but he too is forced to save his naked skin.

If we look at the book of Zachariah, this is exactly what we find. There is only one way to live through such hard times:

“They will call on my name, and I will answer them” (Zah 13:9b).

We have no idea how the disciples lived through this time of tribulation. The details are scarce. We see more denial and fear along the way and attempts to hide. But there is a hope in the prophet’s word:

I will say: “They are my people”; and they will say, “The Lord is our God.”

An involuntary loneliness – isolation if you want – on the way with God necessarily happens. Often it happens on account of the Judases in the churches. It’s a lonely time when we abandon Jesus in such times and let him stand alone in the trial before the world and guard our own safety. But the prophet warns that when it feels like our champion has lost, a time of purification has arrived for his followers. God will resume his power in the life of the faithful. There will be a resurrection.

This may have been an important lesson the Mark’s church, who were horrified by the tribulations introduced by Nero around 64 AD. According to tradition – both Peter and Paul were martyred.

Have you tried to follow Jesus on his way to human trials and felt you had to run off naked? God still promises to answer when you call on him. He will call you his own – again.

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 33

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 32

Death Needs to Be Feared (Or Grieving Corneliu’s Death)

Read Mark 14:26-42

What in this passage stands out for you?

Follow Peter in this passage and compare to Mk 8:29-33. What do you notice?

Look at Jesus. What does he say and do? Are you surprised? Why (or why not)?

What do you think of Peter, Jacob, and John and their performance? Can you think of such experiences with your friends? How did you feel? How did you react?

*******

We are told that Mark paints for us the earthly Jesus. He combines for us the after-Easter experience and proclamation of the church of Jesus the Exalted Son of God, with Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary. Jesus may have seemed a little “off” at times, but generally, we have seen him tired needing food and rest like any man. And that’s fine – after all, Jesus impersonated real humans, right? But seeing Jesus “in terror and anxiety” (Mk 14:32) is another story. How could he – God – be so upset, that he needed human support of close friends. Didn’t he know he will be resurrected?

In all of it, Peter surprises yet again. Shouldn’t he have learned by now? He was as fast promising the impossible as he was falling asleep and – also denying Jesus three times in one night! But the other disciples are not far behind. Have they already been “scandalized” by Jesus (Mk 14:27) and contemplating to leave him?

In his brave moments, Peter feels heroic – the need be, he will die for Jesus (Mk 14:30). But death needs to be feared.

For me, this has been a year of deaths and counting the Covid deaths – so it has been for many. We lost Đorđe Balašević, the outstanding Yugoslavian poet who managed to weave together the fragmentized soul of the Balkans even after the wars. With him, it’s like we buried the ties of friendship across the boarders. My dad died, and although his death seemed more gracious than his deteriorated life, I am still grieving his loss. I never expected it to be so hard. Two of my former students and later colleagues also died too early.

Corneliu Constantineanu died just two days ago. It’s impossible to mull it around in my head! I have missed our last online editor’s board meeting. I wished, I did not. I could have seen him. It doesn’t make sense! So many projects are left unfinished. From our perspective, he has only started on a productive theologian’s life! There is no way to understand these deaths. I wished I made it to that meeting! I could have seen him alive again … My mind is short-circuited.

It feels like I need a life time to come to terms with these deaths. Make sense of them. Don’t know how.

Death needs to be grieved. It is the annulation of the only existence we know. We need to sit and wake and grieve, because each time death “disrupts” our routine, God invites us to contemplate on the enormous outcomes of our sin: the utter loneliness and detachment at the end of our existence, which even the Son of God met with terror, when he walked among us.

As death approached him, Jesus felt the full load of the feelings of despair. Understanding that his time had come, he longed for friends to share at least a part of this dreadful journey with him. Yet, even Peter is too caught up in the routine of his own living to stay awake (Notice this against the background in Mk 13:36). The disciples won’t understand what they missed out on until they themselves will have to pass through the shadow of death.

There are Christians who would like us not to stop and feel anxious, fearful and frustrated at this time of many deaths. After all, death is not the end for Christians. They tell us to move on. But letting Mark describe Jesus’s terror and anxiety and sadness – God allows us – even more – he invites us to sit, fear, be sad and contemplate on the deaths as more and more people we know die.

Without the grief we do not notice that the experience of death is always also a window on God’s immense offer of life in Jesus, the Resurrected. He was left alone to die, but because of him, even in death, we are not alone. With God we belong to a life that does not end with death but is transformed into a life connected and eternal.

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 32

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 31

Surely, not I?

Read Mark 14:17-25

Contemplate on the passage. What’s the word/phrase that speaks to you today? Why?

Imagine yourself sitting/lying down (as they did) by Jesus at this dinner. What would you have felt and done?

Have you tried to imagine what Judas felt when Jesus announced: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me” (Mk 14:18)?

*******

A lot of discussion in commentaries is devoted to whether this was the Passover meal or not. Chances are that while the people ate their festive meals in their homes, Jesus was on his way of being sacrificed. So this event, and not the establishment of the Lord’s supper, should be seen central to Mark’s attention. We, of course, read our own context’s importance with the Eucharist as central.

It is likely that this meal was meant as the symbolic Passover meal, but set up a day early. Jesus intended it to mimic the Passover. But the point is this whole setting confused the disciples additional. Again, Mark paints this picture of the people watching closely but misunderstanding Jesus.

I cannot even start to picture this setting. Jesus telling them that one of them will “hand him over to his enemies.” “To betray” is too little here for the Greek “to hand over” as against e.g. as “being a deserter,” Mk 14:27 or “denying,” Mk 14:30. Not knowing what Judas had already done, everyone was in shock. Where did this subject come from? Why would Jesus say such a thing of people who have left everything for him (comp. Mk 10:28)? And how much good did Jesus do for us?! Who would do such a thing to him? “Surely not I!” “?!”

And then again Jesus elaborates on the same theme sitting down with them breaking the bread of suffering: “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.” Those lying down close to Jesus where probably the leaders of the Twelve, and the one dipping the bread into the bowl with Jesus would have been someone very close to him. Treasurers usually are.

What did Judas think as his hand went for the bowl with Jesus’s? Unfortunately, not much. His mind was already somewhere else and so was his conscience. He already sold him for silver. Now, it was all about him and his own plans. And nothing else mattered.

Judas may have been the worst, but he was not alone. Have you noticed how Jesus shared his heart with the disciples – as the extreme betrayal is about to happen to him – and they all make it about themselves: “Surely not I?” Why didn’t they ask what Jesus felt? Had they been able to think about the dreadful doom looming over his head – that his closest friends will betray and abandon him – things may have turned out differently. But, of course, then they could not. Jesus had to be sold out, betrayed, and crucified on behalf of them.

Today, however, and on account of Jesus’s shocking experience written down for us, something can be learned about betrayal. We continue to betray Jesus when our own agendas replace his. We betray him, when we deny and sell out people in our churches. We must bear in mind how easy it is to rationalize such betrayal thinking self-righteously: “Surely not me?” Things become clearer when we have the ability to see our actions from the perspective of those we have “sold out” and betrayed. Can we do this?

Do people have to die before we see that surely it was us who’ve betrayed them?

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 31

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 30

Love as an Intuition of Faith

Read Mark 14:1-16

Contemplate on the text. What word/s speaks to you?

The “frame” for the stories about the religious leaders, the woman, Judas Iscariot and the disciples is Mark’s emphasis that it was around Passover when the Passover lamb was sacrificed. How was this “important” to these characters?

If you look back at Jesus’s parable of the Sower in Mark 4 – what kind of “soil” do we have in these people?

It wasn’t easy following Jesus into Jerusalem those days. What is your way with God at the moment? What would you like it to be?

*******

Everything is ready and planned for the festival by Jesus. Sometimes, we read these preparation stories as if they were a certain intuition of Jesus. But chances are, Jesus knew what was coming at him and prepared in advance the donkey (Mk 11:2-6) and also the dinner here in 14:13-16. The disciples seem used to the fact that Jesus always had a plan (Mk 14:13).

It’s intriguing to observe how people react to Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem. The “chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest” him at this perfect moment (Mk 14:1). But killing him on the festival wasn’t, as they feared riots. That would back fire and cost them their political positions. It turns out, their urge to get rid of him was in the end bigger than their fear of riots. Hate cannot be careful. Notice also, how positions are involved.

Judas is the most tragic figure in this story and we are forever seeking to uncover his motives. Was he not among those who have watched Jesus teach and do miracles? Wasn’t he among those Jesus sent out to perform the same kind of miracles, and observe the power of God from the front seat? One of the Twelve? The fact though is that not much is needed to betray someone. The petty little ego is easily offended and side tracked. If we don’t pay attention – our ego grows with the position. John remembers (John 12:4-6) that it was Judas who objected “in anger” to the woman, because “this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” John also claims that Judas had a habit with stealing from Jesus.

And now, Jesus had overridden Judas’s authority and favoured this common woman! Jesus praised her and scolded him and in front of all these people! Having come through global leadership of women, I have found this true all around the world: Men think that their religious (and other) judgments have precedence over that of a woman at all times. But Jesus says: “No!” Let her be!

And then, there is this woman. I love how the Gospel of John displays the background for her lavish worship of Jesus (comp. John 11:1-12:11). Her intuition was driven by thankfulness and love for the unspeakable thing Jesus did for her. Therefore nothing she had could have been wasted on Jesus. She needed nothing, when she had him. (This perfume was probably her life savings fund, compare to the widow in Mark 12:41-44). She didn’t calculate how that will score on her CV or spiritual portfolio, nor even on Judas’s agenda. But now, it is “proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Mark 14:9).

In the general rejection, betrayal, injustice, pain and crucifixion – in the way she was walking the path of sacrifice with him – for Jesus, her faith must have felt like the “first-fruits” of his ministry. In those dark hours he could see that a woman got his message. God is working in the hearts and a change is happening in the world. We cannot understand how Jesus felt as a human – we immediately see him as God and think he needed no encouragement. But it seems to me that in this dire worldly moment, in his utterly human life, this woman’s gift lifted his human spirit.

Do you love God more than yourself? If not, you may be tending your little ego on the way to betray him.

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 30

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 29

Watch! Pay Attention! Keep Awake!

Read Mark 13

Contemplate on the passage. What captures your soul?

Read through the text again and notice how often the disciples are called to watch or keep alert (not necessarily in those words). How does that “explain” the meaning of this difficult text?

What should the disciples “watch” for in particular? (Mk 13:5-6; 21-23)

How do you feel about this passage? What makes you fearful? What gives you hope?

If you had the chance, what would you have asked Jesus regarding these things? (Mk 13:3-4) Can you imagine what he would answer you?

Have you noticed how the Holy Spirit reappears here (Mk 13:11)? How would you need him in your present circumstances?

*******

To understand passages like this, we should first unlearn what we have picked up on our Christian walk and pay attention to to what is really there. Mark 13 is one of two “big” teaching sessions by Jesus (the other one was Mark 4) in this gospel. There are many and interesting details both concerning the story and how Mark incorporates it into the gospel, but that needs to be done on another occasion. The main point is clear when we pay attention to the repeating concepts which govern this story: Watch out! Pay attention! Keep alert! Stay awake! – on the one hand side; and the warning about the false prophets of doom two times (Mk 13:5-6; 21-23). One can almost say that Jesus’ agenda is contrary to the end-of-the-world sentiment of his environment and the enchantment with outward religious expression. He moves the disciples into a new era with the temple destroyed and life challenged to the extreme (Mk 13:19).

Mainly, Jesus predicts the end – but it is the end of the temple and of Jerusalem, not an end of the world. This actually happened in AD 70 and for centuries, Judea was not re-populated. It also catapulted the Christian church into a three century long time of persecution. Only on the outskirts of this main prediction Jesus sees the end of the world. But note how he insists that nobody knows when this will come, not even he (Mk 13:32). “And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations” (Mk 13:10). So it seems that Jesus’s main attention is not on the end of the world – but on the end of a world – namely that of the disciples.

Jesus has not been thrilled with their excitement about the temple or about the apocalyptic concern that was the religious “culture” of their day. Rather he saw them again side-tracked what looked grand, but did not express God’s will. This world is coming to an end but that is not something that should concern people who walk with God. If we read the history of before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, we recognize that Jesus captured the zest of it very well: False Messiahs and war lords promising peace, but in the end there was destruction never seen before. Jerusalem, the holy city, and temple, that “great building” turned out not to be a sanctuary to run to, but rather run away from.

I believe that Mark captured and featured this teaching of Jesus because he recognized that Jesus spoke of the times his church in Rome was living through. Possibly, Nero had already martyred some of the leaders, and the church fearfully prepared for its own doom. Where they contemplating to flee back home to Jerusalem (at least the Jews among them)? We cannot know for sure. But Mark reminds that nothing new is on the agenda. Jesus predicted it. He also cautions them that this is not the end of the world, because that end is unknown to people. So the disciples should pay attention and not be caught up in the general state of fear. Instead, they must trust God with their lives in the midst of the chaos of trouble both without (wars, earthquakes, seasons, and courts) and within (hate, rejection and treason by those closest). They should not their trust great buildings or the many prophets of doom etc. Instead, they should live their days before God, as his faithful servants in all circumstances (Mk 13:33-36). That’s how they will be ready.

It seems that this is an important message to us today in the global pandemic with earthquakes, wars, and other extreme difficulties including the ever present prophets of doom who thrive in such circumstances. We should not try to withdraw into what is familiar and was probably great (because, exactly those things God decided to destroy!) but rather, we should rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us – as John would say at this place – “into all truth” (John 16:13). Just like Jesus stood his ground and faced the cross, we “keep alert” and stand our ground every day, as if God is coming today.

Fear no end times – not the ends of an era, nor the end of the world. Keep alert! Hold on. God is with us.

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 29

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 28

God Prefers Poor Pious Widows

Read Mark 12:38-44

Contemplate on the passage. What captures your attention? Why?

Widows are the subject of both stories in our passage (Mk 12:40; Mk 12:42-44). What do you think, how do they connect the two passages?

How does Jesus describe the scribes? How does that compare to your criteria to judge about someone’s spirituality?

Why do you think Jesus said the widow has given more than the rich people together? Do you agree?

*******

Even when we don’t want to and know better, we judge people by their appearance. We expect our leaders to look smart, so that we are not ashamed of them. If they match our standards we end up forgiving them their other issues for instance, their pride – e.g. when they “like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”

Translated into my own context it would sound more like: “they sit around in coffee gardens and clubs exposing their refined metro-looks to the world; they insist to be respected and thrive on flattering; they are invited to rich houses and cultural events; and even in the church they stand out as cool.” The point is: we easily excuse when such people exploit the poor for their appearances. Sometimes, we are annoyed a little by them, but generally we accept their “look-at-me, look-at-me” personalities and their love of good platform pathos and drama. Why? Connecting business and church has become fashionable and a trade mark of a successful Christian. Especially in Eastern Europe, we are fed up with poverty. But given the crash of recent church empires and their successful leaders, a fast re-evaluation of our values should be conducted.

The problem is that there is only a fine line between the looked after neatness that comes with from piety and sleek exhibitionism. Basically the difference lies in the motives and these aren’t easily accessible. However, God sees the heart, and Jesus gives us an example in today’s passage. Commentators of our passage suggest that the widows whose “houses have been devoured” were legally put into the care of these scribes, because their male family members had died. So the same people appointed because of their alleged godliness to care for these women actually robbed them from what was theirs and pushed them to the margins of existence. And everything was legal and – of course – spiritual.

Christian ethics must more righteous than the laws of the land, especially the economic laws – as money supports money and power supports power, righteous has little chance. If we see things as Jesus did, the widows and other marginal victims who struggle to survive the sleek economic (and often “pious”) vultures, emerge. Jesus’s rule and measure, exposes true godliness. These pious poor emerge as worthy contributors to the kingdom of God because of their exquisite and tested faith.

Don’t take me wrong. Poverty per se is not spiritual. I have seen my share of poor people who also behave like vultures. The point here is to imitate Jesus in his act of seeing behind the pious fronts and recognize the marginalized gems in our churches. Can you follow Jesus’s criteria for judging greatness in his people?

How would that change your church culture?

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 28

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 27

Tempting Jesus with Human Sophistry

Read Mark 12:18-37

Spend some time with the text. What moves you?

In real life the Pharisees and Herodians and Pharisees and Sadducees were not friends even though they served on the Jewish Council. What brought them together? What do you think about that?

How do you feel about the Sadducees’ question? Was it real? Was it important? Why?

Apparently, there were 613 commandments in Judaism of Jesus’s day – including one prohibition for each day in the year. How does Jesus’s answer to the Pharisee compare?

What about you – do you need detailed instructions or are you satisfied with Jesus simplification of the “law”? (Mk 12:29-30).

********

I remember a number of years back, a conference incident. A priest (with a student in tow) approached me to ask what I thought of Matthew 16:18 – being a theologian and all. Since defending or challenging Papal primacy didn’t rank high on my priority list of subjects, I answered that I needed to look it up. He laughed triumphantly! He disclosed me as a theological fraud to his student! A little later, he was disappointed when he was told that indeed Jesus chose Peter to be the rock for the church, however, the text said nothing about the other people. This kind of discussion is unhelpful, to say the least.

Here, Jesus needs to be seized and processed and that’s why he needs to answer questions. Mark wants us to see these groups of Jesus’s enemies working in unison. An unholy coalition has formed to ruing Jesus’s reputation by intricate sophistry. The Pharisees went first – after all, they thought they were the smartest. As that back-fired, the Sadducees had their impossible question up their sleeves which will certainly embarrass Jesus. I am sure that they have used it on the Pharisees on a few occasion with success. But Jesus was ready for them all and exposed them as frauds.

I am wondering why Jesus lowered himself to answer such stupid and quarrelsome questions?

May be, because sometimes in the middle of those senseless discussions, there are people with serious questions who seek God? Like the Pharisee (Mk 12:28-34) who was a true seeker of the Scriptures and who got entangled in all the commandments and prohibitions who truly sought an answer.

Jesus is a great teacher and answers our questions – but that is not his first priority (as is shown from Mk 12:35-37). He is so much greater than just an offspring of David (a mere human)! He is Lord and worthy of worship – even by David. People often fail to see this because they don’t move further than their questions and answers. Especially in our time, when some still live on the Liberal Theology’s demythologized Jesus, the teacher like so many others.

But even with the earnest seekers who “are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk 12:34), we must note that accepting Jesus’s wisdom is not yet faith. Faith is a different type of trusting God. Ideally, there will come a time when we realise how offensive and even – forgive my saying so – how stupid and offensive our questions, directed at God, have been. When that happens, a good step forward in our Christian life has been made.

So what is your category? Are you challenging God to judge him? Or are you inventing questions to ruin his reputation? Or are you truly asking what bothers you?

God will answer your questions in any case. But do you react with awe, appreciation, and worship?

A LENTEN MEDITATION: FINDING JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK – 27

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 26

Stealing God’s Authority

Read Mark 11:27-12:17

Contemplate on the passage. What kind of feelings does it bring up in you?

If you trace Jesus’s conflict with the religious officials up to Mk 11:27-33, can you name their problem with Jesus?

Mk 12:1-12 – the parable is not an answer to the Pharisees and scribes, but a charge against the false identity and authority they stole from God! Have you noticed how they “understand” the parable (comp. Mk 4:10-13)? What is their reaction? What would you have expected? Why is it so difficult for people to let go of power?

The “trap” set for Jesus is a lose-lose situation – humanly speaking. But Jesus sees the way out. What (who?) do you think belongs to God and should be given to him?

*******

The Bible has a whole lot to say about false authority. It is the first human sin to want to be like God (Gen 3:5-6 comp. Rom 1:20-23). Therefore paying attention to leadership styles in the church is of utmost importance. While we all are sinners and God is showing us mercy, the sins of the leaders should not be excused in the same manner (God can forgive them of course), but excusing power abuse on the account of God’s mercy because we are equally sinners, means allowing imposters to abuse and steal God’s property. They may be entitled to God’s mercy. However, they are NOT entitled to a leadership roles – if we leave them there we are 1. prolonging their sin and 2. become their partners in the violence against people! We have seen a lot of that lately on the global scale, but it is happening in our churches and for that, the responsibility lies also with “the small people.”

Give to “God the things that are God’s” (Mk 12:12) is a question about power over people (and the rest of creation really), because the people belong to God. Whoever has come to a leadership position anywhere (not just the church) needs to know that God watches over what is his and how it is treated. He will come to judge.

Look what happens in the vineyard (it’s one of the pictures for the people of God – Jer 8:13). The vineyard is God’s. The vineyard entrusted to “tenants” doesn’t stop to be God’s and cannot be used for the tenants’ own profit. But temptation comes with power. Once those in authority are “lifted up” to positions of power, they start thinking of themselves as Lords over other people’s lives, often including their income and their bodies (Generally known as “money, sex, and power” problem of leadership! Notice how Jesus describes the tenants’ attempts to fool the real owner out of his profit? Do you notice how brutally violent and unrightful their approach was, but equally also how futile? They are NOT the owners. They never will be! Had they not lost perspective of themselves, they could see that “beating and killing” the owner’s emissaries will not make the vineyard their property. The LORD of the vineyard is coming! They can kill the Son, but they will not escape God’s judgment.

Yet “giving to God what is his” is not only a call to the leaders (although Jesus does speak to the religious elite directly and in the end, pays with his life). It is a call to all of us who belong to God. We need to pay attention to whom we offer our worship. It’s high time to examine whether we live what we profess – that we belong to God, and not to people or to the “powers” in the world. It is easily detected: Whom do we fear most (We do things not to rock the boat)? Whom/what we cannot imagine life without (Sometimes, these strongholds look like the foundation of our lives, but if we think, God should be our foundation)? Who is reaping our “fruit” (where is our money/time/attention/love etc. invested)? Have we unloaded what we are and what we have (including our power) at the right owner, our God, our creator?

What one thing comes to mind that needs to be placed in God’s hands today? What fake authority in your life is challenged by this act?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 26

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 25

A Hungry God

Read Mark 11:11-25

Contemplate on the passage. What sentence/phrase/word keeps jumping up?

What’s so strange about the last part of Mk 11:13?

If you read the story about the withered fig tree (Mk 11:12-14 and 11:20-21) as a “Markan sandwich” – that is, the outside explains what’s in the middle (Mk 11:15-19), can you see parallels and what Jesus is doing? (Comp. Mih 7:1-2; Jer 8:13; Jer 24:1-10). Remember – this passage is Jesus’s prophetic self-disclosure as God).

What do you think – what kind of “fruit” does God long for in his people? From you? Would faith and graciousness qualify (Mk 11:22-25)?

*******

The poor, poor tree! – This is usually the reaction my students have from reading this. How could Jesus be so cruel? And, it wasn’t even the time for figs! But this passage is not about figs. It is about God’s people who has turned worship of God into lucrative temple business. As we noticed before, in this chapter Jesus is finally disclosing himself as God. Therefore the passage is full of symbolic, prophetic acts to show his identity.

The fruitless tree is a prophetic picture as we saw from Micah and Jeremiah (and others). It is an old symbol of Israel’s dealing with God. God is hungry for fruit, but his people, his “vineyard”, his fig tree, who have been tended so carefully, are fruitless. What does one do with a fruitless tree? It will be cut down and the vineyard will be ploughed over. Jesus’s curse on the fig tree pre-figures what is due to the temple!

Jesus comes to his house. He has “measured” it the day before (Mk 11:11, another prophetic act. Comp. Ez chs 40-48). He finds a lot of commotion – but no no faith, and no mercy for the sinners of all nations! Jesus knew before, but now the time has come to reveal God’s promised arrival. He comes to claim what is his but what he finds is human business feeding on the souls of people! The withered tree is a warning to the temple officials that their days are numbered. Now, only the tables have been turned over symbolically (comp. Mal 2:17-3:5) but an uprooting of them is on God’s agenda as promised. And just like the fig tree had no choice, so they too will endure rightful judgment.

More confusingly at first, Mark adds two short paragraphs to this story. The other evangelists removed them from this concept and have them elsewhere. Mark’s gospel was confusing to them, too! In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke about the power of prayer (Matth 5:23; 17:20; Lk 17:6). But Mark features faith. Faith relies on believing that God moves the mountains, including the mountains of unrepentant business in the temple which has taken over what is God’s. There is hope in this otherwise dreary story about recurring leadership sin. It can be stopped by faith in God and by forgiveness.

But, we also need to rethink “forgiveness.” It is not “turning a blind eye” on the atrocities committed. Paint over them like white-washing an ancient tomb. It’s not continuing business with those exploiting God as they please, because “we have forgiven them.” It is “leaving” them to God, without constantly searching to fix and repay them ourselves. Faith means turning them over to the one who can say even to that “mountain”: ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ (Mk 11:23). That kind of faith brings the fruit that God seeks. Notice it is the faith of his people, of those who claim they know him. This is not about those outside.

What’s your “fruit” of faith when God is asking? Have you made God’s church your business? Or do you need to “leave” a mountain to God? Only a grain of faith is needed for that.

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 25

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 24

Hosanna Or Crucify?

Read Mark 11:1-11

Contemplate on the passage. Where do you see yourself in this story? What touches you?

The crowd was cheering “Hosanna!” which means “save, we pray, save now!” What kind of saving did they experience or expect?

Have you noticed how many references there are – hidden prophetic, but also expressed by Jesus and by the crowd to Jesus as God’s Messiah? Can you trace some of them? (Read Isa 62:11; Zah 9:9; Gen 49:11 – comp. Deut 21:3; 1 Sam 6:7; Zah 14:1-9).

Also, Jesus is not hushing the crowd this time. Why not?

Imagine yourself in the crowd cheering Hosanna. Who would you be and why (can you imagine what Jesus could have done for you?). How much would it take for you to betray him a few days later?

*******

“Hosanna!” – The crowd shouts and repeats Bartimaeus’ words as it means: “save, we pray, save now!” All evangelists have this story of a hopeful joy. A king in the line of David is coming to his rightful city. The crowds are cheering. They have recognized their king. Hosanna! Was a cry with which the kings were welcomed. Jesus rides a donkey, intentionally enacting Zechariah’s prophetic word (9:9). The text is full of such royal, even messianic symbols, and it seems like the disciples first and then also the crowds finally recognize him and exalt him. We, of course, know how tragically this ends. They will be equally emotionally engaged a few days later in crying: “Crucify! Crucify him!”

A new chapter in the life of Jesus has begun and it is a short, dark road from the Mount of Olives of messianic expectation to Golgotha, the “Place of the Scull” (John 19:17).

It frightens me, how easy it is to turn devotion into deception. How close “almost” understanding Jesus comes to the betrayal of him. From reading this story we see Jesus finally in the open. He even set up the scene for people to recognize and call him who he is. “The Lord needs it”; “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord“; and also the riding on the donkey as a sign of Messiah King. But although they recognize and bow down and “spread their cloaks on the road” to worship this king, and although there is a lot of emotion involved in praise – it turns out to be devotion of oneself, one’s needs and one’s own experience.

Don’t get me wrong – God reaches out to us and heals us and provides for our needs. But if our response is only to what God gives me and how he fits into my program, soon we too may cry out: “Crucify!”

I like how R. Foster explained fasting in his Spiritual Disciplines, as intentionally giving up on the material blessings which God gives us, to seek to see him directly, to see his face, to draw closer to him. As long as Jesus is only our Saviour, our Advocate, not to say our wending machine for the many needs, our faith is not in him, but in ourselves. Never mind the “Hosannas!” In a way, the pandemic lock down has been a blessing as it called us to “take away the noise” of our worship (Amos 5:23) and reconsider what devotion to God really is.

More personally, I suggest that this Lent, we plan to truly fast one day to seek God’s face rather than ours.

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 24

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 23

It Takes Time

Read Mark 10:46-52

Contemplate on the text. Which word/phrase grabs your attention?

Have you noticed the irony of the passage? A blind man sees. The title “Son of David” is a reference to Messiah and is the answer to the question from 4,41: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Who are you more like – Peter (in 8:29) or Bartimaeus? What is the difference between the two confessions? What are the outcomes?

Why do you think were the disciples “blind” but a blind man clearly saw who Jesus was?

*******

We live in an “instant” age and have no time. Whatever we want – we want it now. But it seems, that’s not only a trademark of the contemporaries. People have always wanted things “now.” We have only perfected our instant industry to have things available and fast. In no time you are at destination!

But it is not so with the knowledge of God. It cannot be forced. It takes time. Taking time is an important lesson that Mark, the evangelist, has capably packed into his story about Jesus. Therefore Mark’s “gospel on the way,” as some called it, is so instructive. The story about the blind Bartimaeus concludes Jesus’s “way” with the disciples, as the gospel story moves to Jerusalem.

Looking back at the disciples – it has been a rough ride. Jesus confused and scared them. He just wouldn’t not fit into their plans and logic. He constantly blew their boundaries. Walking along with him was as invigorating and empowering, as it was frustrating and scary. Imagine getting the power to drive out demons and heal people! Imagine watching people fed on practically nothing. Imagine Jesus doing what they could not. Seeing all this and yet not getting that he is God-with-them makes us wonder! It is all so clear to us!

Or is it? My last year felt like this “long way with Jesus” with no destination. It felt I was constantly retaking lessons, and God was so different from anything I thought was, so far. It took me a long time to realize that there are two ingredients to really seeing God: time and the realisation that in effect, I was blind! Like Peter I could, may be, name things rightly, but I was very far from seeing God’s realities. I needed time to see what the thing I said really entailed! At the end of that story and that way, there is only one prayer: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Time needs to pass for people who walk with God to come to this only efficient prayer. The disciples needed even more time to recognize and accept Jesus as God. It is the story about us needing to fit into his kingdom. But we expect him to fit into ours! Once we arrive at this conclusion and call out, God hears our cry and approaches and heals the blindness so our watching finally becomes seeing and listening becomes comprehending.

Have you seen lately why giving us time is so important to God?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 23

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 22

Leaders in an Up-Side-Down World

Read Mark 10:35-44

Contemplate on the passage. What grabs your attention? Why is it important to you?

Re-read Jesus’s announcements of his suffering and death (8:31-33; 9:30-37; 10:32-34) Compare. What’s the pattern of the disciples’ “reaction” to this talk? How do you feel about it?

What do you think about Jesus’s teaching about the up-side down leadership? Do you think this can work in the world? In the church? Have you seen examples where it did work?

*******

Commentators don’t usually dwell on the what Jesus meant when he said to John and James, that as leaders they will have to follow him in his baptism and in drinking his cup. It seems self-evident that Jesus meant the suffering represented in the Holy Communion. But that is reading backwards from our Christian experience of the “cup.” Hence, for us the passage is confusing. While the cup has overtones of suffering, we perceive baptism as a joyous event of finding new life in Christ!

Biblically speaking, the cup is always the cup of God’s wrath poured on sin (comp. Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17. 22; or Lam 4:21 comp. Rev 16:3-21). To understand baptism, we need to notice the embarrassment with which Matthew and Luke re-interpret Mark’s matter-of-fact, short statement about Jesus’s baptism by John (comp. Mk 1:9-11 with Matth 3:13-17 and Lk 3:21-22). We too should be confused. Matthew adds the discussion between Jesus and John on who should be baptizing whom. His “it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (Matth 3:15) helps some as it suggests that there is a rule about “what is proper”. But it does not really satisfy, does it? Luke condenses even Mark’s already short report. Jesus was baptized. Full stop. Solves nothing. Wants us to move on to more important issues. Luckily, John (of all people!) gives us the apt theological explanation: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). In other words, he who had no sin, took the sin of the world upon his shoulders so that the cup of the wrath of God would be poured down on him and not on the sinners, whose sin he bore. John, it seems, finally got Jesus’s message!

Ever since sin entered the world and with sin also death – the world is up-side-down. By rejecting God, people turned it on the world on its head. It’s nowhere clearer than in leadership misunderstood as a position one assumes to have power to rule over, exploit other people and drain their lives for one’s own benefit. According to Rom 1:18-32 this is God’s wrath. When people reject God he simply “hands them over” to their own sin – i.e. to the suffering and death they foolishly create by putting themselves up as “gods”.

There is no other way to save but to take on the sin of the world and receive the “wages of sin” (Rom 6:23). This is what Jesus is about to do in our reading, but the disciples cannot hear or understand. True leadership mimics Jesus’s way. It redeems situations by serving and giving oneself up for others (on a much smaller scale than Jesus, because we cannot take up much of the pain of the world; Just think easily we end up in “compassion fatigue” or demand our rights). True leadership is not “transferred,” it is earned. It does not depend on titles and power. It is recognizable by the healing capacities of the servants who have given themselves up to follow Jesus on his way of the cross.

Don’t be fooled by thinking that this leadership is only for the talented, important people. Servant leadership is expected of all Christians on all levels and areas of life. You grow as you serve more and more deeply. The upside-down world needs such leaders in families, in workplaces, in schools and on the streets.

How far can you follow Jesus? How much of his baptism and of his cup can you take?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 22

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 21

Following Jesus Overwhelmed with Fear

Read Mark 10: 28-34

Contemplate on the passage. What word/phrase speaks to you?

What does it mean “to leave” your family and possessions? Did Peter really leave? In what way?

Why do you think the people were “amazed” and “afraid” at the same time following Jesus up to Jerusalem (comp. Jn 11:55-57)?

Imagine yourself in the crowd going up to Jerusalem with Jesus. How does it feel? Why?

********

They were astonished, but they followed him in fear (Mk 10:32). This sentiment captures my attention. Why would you follow in fear? But encounters with God are never easy and if you never experienced the awe and fear at the same time, you have not yet allowed yourself to follow Jesus up the Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:1-9).

As we saw yesterday, there is no space in the kingdom of God for people who rely on their possessions and their human relationships – like the young rich ruler. In Genesis 22, God brings Abraham to the foot of the mountain to teach him and us some important lessons about following God. Going up that mountain will require the final sacrifice – you noticed that this is the third and most explicit announcement about Jesus death (Mk 10:33-34). The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the same spot where God tested Abraham’s faith by requiring the sacrifice of Isaak, his promise to him. Why would God give and then take away?

For God the point is never in the thing sacrificed. Unlike the idols, he doesn’t need sacrifices. All is his anyway. Rather, the sacrifice reveals the state of human heart. Are you willing to give up what makes your living, your ambition, your peace and security and entrust your life to God alone? Do you understand that all is his anyway? Do you trust that he is good? It seems like God teaches us to trust him gradually. Abraham’s life is a model – first God asks him to leave his father’s house. Obedience to this request makes Abraham an adult. You cannot rely on your parents for care and insist you are adult.

Next, God makes him leave his territory to go to an “unknown” land. Social geographers have explained the immense power a place has over us. Leaving your place (if only for study in another town) is uncomfortable, but it expands your vision and helps you see better who you really are before God, outside of the comfortable structures of your life. We call that freedom. And in the end, Abraham has to sacrifice his son – his promise from God. That’s a tough Bible section to read but the point is to read it in the context of the final sacrifice of God.

In our passage, the mountain of Abraham’s sacrifice, the place of Israel’s temple, becomes the place of God’s own sacrifice for the world. You cannot save without sacrificing. This kind of sacrifice is so utterly illogical for the human logic. However, only when you sacrifice your “promise” to God you realize that all you need is God. With him, life is far bigger than the smallish place and experience we made it. We are catapulted into the realms and options of resurrection! The letter to the Hebrews expounds on Abraham’s experience by giving us some insight into his thinking. Abraham knowledge of God blows his mind as he contemplates “that God is able even to raise someone from the dead” (Hebr 11:19)! In the Old Testament there was no such knowledge so early on.

God tests our faith by asking us to leave. But in our obedient leaving we gain – fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers and house and land – already in this life. But we gain also “eternal life” in “the age to come” (Mk 10:30). “Leaving” for the sake of God is an awesome but scary experience. That’s why you follow Jesus up that mountain of sacrifice with awe and trembling. It seems like you are losing everything, but in fact you are about to experience the amazing power of God’s love and resurrection.

Is God calling you to follow him up the Mount Moriah these days? What is it that you need to leave behind?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 21

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 20

Jesus’ Favourite People

Read Mark 10:1-31

Contemplate on the passage as one story in three parts. What do you see?

Is there evidence in the passage that the people’s hearts, including that of the disciples, where hardened?

Why would Jesus say that a “hardened heart” divorces a woman?

What were the disciples thinking driving away people with children? And why did they think that the rich young man naturally belongs to the kingdom of God?

Would Jesus approve of your choice of company?

*******

It takes only one example and soon you have a crowd. In our humanitarian work – with domestic displaced people, with flood victims, with the poor in the neighbourhood and the migrants storming our borders in past 5-6 years – you show one person some kindness, and soon there is a crowd. It’s so easy to draw people in when you are responding to a need. Jesus’s disciples are overwhelmed by this unusual demand probably of the mothers. I think so because Mark does not spell out but who the people were bringing the children to Jesus. His his lack of address and the fact that “little” children were in the care of their mothers, we can be almost certain they were women. Also, you wouldn’t push men like that. Women, as we see, where also easy to divorce (Mk 10:4). They had no worth or standing, other than what the men gave them.

Remember, the disciples are looking at a test here but have forgotten. After their private lesson in Mark 9, they are again among the crowds. The test comes in the package of “little children” that “people” wanted touched and blessed by Jesus. News travels fast and once Jesus recognized a child, the mothers saw their chance. And the disciples fail test number one. They forgot the lesson in Mk 9:33-37. They assumed their positions as Jesus’s advocates and body guards: Jesus surely couldn’t be bothered with this noisy crowd.

But instead of being happy, Jesus became “indignant” (i.e. very angry and disappointed) with them for that! Why?! And what’s that talk about the kingdom of God belonging to children? So that test was failed, but a retake was just around the corner – though from another perspective. A rich young man arrives and he is evidently the disciples’ model audience for Jesus. And again, they are surprised: No chance that such people could enter the kingdom of God! – Jesus says. The camel story is there to show the impossibility and not some smallish chance of salvation, because you just cannot serve both God and money (Matth 6:24)! The disciples’ radar for discerning the real worth of people for the kingdom of God is seriously uncalibrated.

This makes me think about our own values. From what I know, most of our churches globally would have sided with the disciples in this judgment. We are out there to get the rich young men for our churches (sometimes even old rich men will do). We have eaten the bate that the rich young men are the solution for our societies. Jesus’s lesson is counter-intuitive for us. Consider this: rich people have not become rich by loving others, but by loving themselves. It is absurd to expect that they would care rather than exploit.

On the other hand Jesus points to the neglected and disowned little people on the margins. By neglecting them we neglect the potential hidden in them that could make our future. This is particularly true of women and children. Jesus does see some chance for rich young men as a special grace from God, but God’s undivided heart is with those whom we declared unworthy.

Yet, true disciples of Jesus concentrate on the children and their mothers. The little ones occupy our central stage both to remind us of God’s purposes to serve and not to be served, and to unleash their freedom and potential. There is an enormous need to pay attention to the children in our homes, in our churches and societies. Can we even start imagining what their lives look like consumerisms and technology, with present but actually absent adults with bluish faces glued to screens? Between the non-stop entertainment industry and parallel realities construed by them, which make it difficult to see what is real and what is not? What is worthy and what is not? And in the midst of poverty and violence that go with this all?

What is needed are laps to sit on, embraces and blessings of true acceptance. We need a revolution in our homes and churches to put the “little ones” on the centre stage of our churches. No, we don’t need adding more programs and more entertainment, but real attention to their needs and the needs of their mothers in particular – in the name of Jesus. We need to teach them participate in life by placing them at the centre of our lives and letting them be a subject, not just an object that is put away at need.

Can you think today about all the annoying little people wanting your attention? What lesson has Jesus taught you that you that’s difficult for you to understand with regards to those?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 20

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 19

In Jesus Name

Read Mark 9:30-50

Contemplate on the passage. What’s the word that speaks to you?

Can you see how these themes come together?

Have you noticed that the teaching following is for the disciples only (Mk 9:31)? Identify those teachings in Mk 9: 33-50. How “natural” do you think did the teachings come to the disciples?

If we called “Christian Identity” that which Jesus teaches them in this section – what would it entail? Why does Jesus compares the lack of these qualities with salt that “has lost its saltiness”? And how can the presence of these bring peace to the community (Mk 9:50)?

*******

“If the disciples lose their savour, the world truly stinks and dies,” Ben Witterington III remarked in his commentary. Today’s passage is about what is done or failed to be done “in the name of Jesus.” It begins with Jesus’s repetition of the impossible subject – that Jesus is handed over to people and they will kill him. The first time he said it, it did not go well and Peter embarrassed himself. So this time, they decided not to pursue it or ask a thing. Like most times when the students are quiet – they are in the dark about the matter at hand. But that did not hinder them to think happier thoughts about their own greatness.

Evidently, Jesus knew what they argued about. It was – ironically – the pure opposite of what Jesus told them. He has been handed over to the people, and predictably, he will serve them unto death. The disciples, however, have been handed over to Jesus which has made them great and powerful. A happy exchange, M. Luther would have called it. They were following the great teacher and they had good prospects. Surely, they needed to make plans for a great future. But Jesus seizes the opportunity to drive home his counter-cultural lesson through several examples (Mk 9:35-50).

They include: 1. Serving the lowest in Jesus’s name. In Aramaic, Jesus own language, the word for a child and for a slave is the same. He even dared to embrace a child in public and set him or her (we don’t know) in their midst. Seeing and caring for these shows true greatness (Mk 9:33-37). And 2. so does accepting all who minister in the name of Jesus. 3. You even score for providing a thirsty Christian with water! The disciples are not called to judge and prevent others who work “in Jesus’s name” from doing their ministry. And 4. They must pay attention not to offend “these little ones who believe in me” and cause them to stumble. In the kingdoms of this world, the lowly and their needs don’t matter. But God measures greatness by a different standard. Therefore, they must suppress the urge to make the little ones stumble even in drastic ways. Although in those days, the kind of punishment described here was not a hyperbole. People lost feet, eyes and hands!

The commentators are not certain about the meaning of “everyone will be salted with fire” (Mk 9:49) – is it a reference to the preservation of the good in the world, because otherwise, the world would just “stink and die”? Or is it rather that “fire” should be seen as tribulation in line with Jesus’s own fate – so that the “saltiness” of the true salt is shown. In other words, the difficult path of Jesus’s disciples serve the lowest and that purifies them and make God’s work shine (Comp. 1 Cor 3:15). If the “salt” of voluntary submission in service to others is achieved in the name of Jesus, then also peace resides in the community.

So what has lately been your path “in the name of Jesus”? Have you served, or prevented service?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 19

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 18

How much faith?

Read Mark 9:14-29

Contemplate on the text. What word or phrase captures your mind?

Imagine yourself among the crowd watching Jesus come down the mountain. Can you imagine why “they were immediately overcome with awe” (Mk 9:15)?

What does the father call his boy’s demon? How does Jesus address the demon, when he exorcizes him? Does that ring a bell?

What did the disciples do wrong in their exorcism? Why were they unsuccessful?

*******

How much faith do you need to drive out a demon? We would expect the disciples’ success. After all, Jesus empowered them and they went out and healed people and exorcized demons (Mk 5:12-13) before. No new situation here, is it? However, this time, they are unsuccessful with this one. We are fooled to think it’s because of the specific kind of demon. But that’s only partially true.

Let’s look at the situation. Conspicuously, Jesus is absent from this scene when this happened. Instead, we see an altercation between the disciples and the scribes, that is the teachers of the law, probably discussing the strategies of demon exorcism. Our bibles call it “arguing” but the word could also mean consultation. After all, scribes were the specialists in all things divine! The crowd is bewilderedly and hopefully looking at the scene, but with little hope.

We can see how Jesus’s descending from the mountain is a hopeful last resort. They run up to “greet him” – of all things. Again, we can imagine that it was a greeting with much expectation. And the unveiling happens: First, Jesus inquires what the commotion was all about. The boy’s father appears from out of the crowd with his view of the story: The spirit of deafness possesses and tortures the boy and: “I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” The man volunteers his view of the things for a second time, after Jesus enquires only about the time frame of the symptoms. He also adds: “if you are able to do anything, have pity on us.” (Mk 9:21-22).

The main question is why Jesus gets so upset with them all (Mk 9:19. 23). Did you notice that the disciples are included in the “faithless generation” (Mk 9:19) of which he says: “How much longer must I put up with you?” Remember ever since Mk 5 Jesus presents to them the signs of his divinity (John’s gospel will make this very clear) and yet they only recognise him as one of the “teachers”!

The real problem here is still the spirit of inability to listen, not just in the deaf boy – notice how Jesus expands the problem to “and hearing” (Mk 9:25)? In all of the clear signs and explanations, they are still unaware that God is among them. And “they” includes the disciples. Jesus comes to them from the mountain like one mightier than Moses (Ex 34:29-30) and they welcome him where they should have worshipped him. The problem at hand – the problem of not “hearing” the voice of God is recognized as lack of God’s power. It can only be solved by reconnecting, recalibrating oneself with regards to God. Understand that we live only by his power and mercy.

Not much faith is needed for this – Matthew adds: “… if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matth 17:20). The faith of turning to God means that we hear and understand who he is and who we are. The power to stand up to the demons of this world is found in God – not the teachers or human strategies. Therefore, “This kind can come out only through prayer” (Mk 19:29), means that only a true connection to God empowers people to stand up to demons. A fact we easily forget – even as Christians, and even as such called and empowered.

So, today we are called to examine where have we stopped hearing God and started imagining that we could stand up to powers and authorities on our own with our theologies and strategies instead in the power of God. We need to start praying.

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 18

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 17

A Mountain Experience with Jesus

Read Mark 9:1-13

What strikes you as interesting in this passage?

If you imagine yourself as Peter – how would you have felt at the mountain? What kind of thoughts would have piled up in your mind?

What do you think is the purpose of this vision? Why did they need to see this?

Can you identify the “important” word as it resurfaces here again? Why is this an important word to Peter? And to you? (Mk 9:6)

*******

The commentators have a hard time to interpret the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. On the one hand side, there is so much information missing, which we would need to know. On the other hand – there are so many connections and clues from the Old Testament, that it’s hard to combine them in a sensible picture. All of this tells us, that this is a vision, a short insight into how things will end for Jesus, and not an earthly report.

In front of the disciples, Jesus is transformed into the smashing figure in dazzling white clothes – a designation which will later describe the saints who have come through a great tribulation in Revelation. The vision is a glimpse into Jesus’s new reality and power, and only a glimpse. He says and does nothing. But he is in the company of the two important mysterious Old Testament figures: Moses, whose grave cannot be found (Deut 34:6) and Elijah who was taken up to heaven in God’s chariots of fire (2 Kg 2:11). A voice from heaven comes to the transfixed disciples: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mk 9:6). With this call, the mystery is gone and life resumes.

Mark tells us that this happens after “six days” probably counting from Peter’s testimony, that Jesus is the Messiah and the following distressing revelation that the Messiah must suffer and die, but also rise again after three days. After six days of the usual, Shabbat has come and the time to reflect upon the things of God. In the Bible, climbing up the mountain is often connected with seeking God. It seems that Jesus leads the group into this experience to give them hope against the dire situation that burdened them. The vision should give them strength for the hard journey, although visions – as we see in the discussion following – do not always clarify things. The need remains still to walk the difficult path in the valley of the shadow of death. But the vision fuels us on. The kingdom of God is present in Jesus already, and soon, it will be revealed in power. I think, the “in power” is the key point for interpretation and it promises resurrection here, rather than the eternal reality of God. The problem exposed in it is the apparent weakness of suffering in Jesus – but the end is Jesus in dazzling white and the company of those who have also been taken up because they have overcome!

The really striking message of this text is very clear: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mk 9:7). What if Peter, James and John – the first and most daring of Jesus’s disciples – needed to hear this message in particular? After all, the transformation follows on Peter’s confession and opens a section in Mark (9:1-10:52) where the other two will be featured as displaying a similar lack of hearing. What Jesus has to say is of highest importance, but the disciples’ hearing is impaired! So their ecstatic Shabbat experience is a comfort but it is more a call to listen to the hard words of Jesus. And walk the path with him.

We have a tendency to see visions as a goal in themselves. But really, when they happen, they are an encouragement and a reminder to stay focused on the task ahead, especially through the extreme times. The power of God will be revealed.

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 17

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 16

Get Behind Me!

Read Mark 8:27-38

Contemplate on this passage. What has captured your attention?

Compare Mk 8:22-26 with Mk 8:27-30. What do you notice? How is this story significant to the identity of Jesus and the unflattering story that follows in Mk 8:33?

What does it mean to you to “take up your cross”? How can you “save your life” by losing it? Do you have such and experience already, or have you observed it in others?

*******

We have arrived at the “breaking” of the story which Mark tells about Jesus. So far, there has been euphoria about the healer and miracle worker who attracted crowds. Now darkness starts clouding over, although, finally, there is some recognition of Jesus – at least among his disciples, That is, if Peter is their spokesperson.

Jesus has to silence them – and we have a clear indication here he has done so all along. The disciples may be up to something, but they still see people “like trees”. The revelation about Jesus the Messiah, as amazing as it sounds, is only partial and the disciples’ misconception of its content, may confuse people rather than opening their eyes. Therefore, Jesus begins his three-fold revelation about his own pending suffering and death. If we compare these three places 8:31, 9:31 and 10:33-34 we notice that they become increasingly more concrete: The Messiah will be handed over to the leaders – and they will “mock, spit upon, flog and kill him.” – “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him” (Mk 8:32), on behalf of this talk! There is a lot of young idealism in Peter’s reaction. Of course he did not mean to offend the teacher by confronting him (so he calls him out for a private talk, may be even on behalf of his companions). That’s impossible! Such a good man who has just only done the best for the people, who has such a great crowd following him. No way! But also, nothing of the sort can happen to the Messiah! God would not allow it.

Do you notice how this is our regular church talk, when difficulties cloud up our skies? But Jesus is strict and decided. In view of what his teaching will become in this second part of Mark starting here, it is unlikely that his own temptation and frustration is reflected in his passionate response to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mk 8:33), as a commentator suggested. On the other hand, Jesus did address Peter. The phrase, some claim, was not uncommon in a pedagogical setting when students overstepped by talking nonsense. Peter’s idealism clouded his vision. So commentators suggest that instead of challenging his teacher, Peter must resume his place as a follower. What follows could underline this interpretation (Mk 8:34-38). Worthy followers “take up their cross” and follow Jesus on his painful way where he exposes to them what it means and how it’s done to the full. Ironically, giving up their lives will make them gain them.

So basically, what Jesus says to them is that your life has been given to you to give it up, to share it and waste it on others and for them. The opposite is an egotistic attempt to accumulate and protect oneself and leads to a permanent death. If we think about it our whole experience of life teaches us that living means giving, and even giving up to gain friends and freedom. No, I do not mean co-dependent relationships where you buy other people’s “love” by letting them trample on you. I mean a life which unburdened of worry and which walks in the freedom of God’s provision because it trusts God. This is a paradox that Jesus will explore and exemplify all the way up to his death.

How good are you at giving and giving up your life to gain the real thing?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 16

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 15

People Like Logs Walking

Read Mark 8:14-26

Think about what you read. What moves you in this passage?

What does Jesus think the disciples should have understood (Mk 8:21)?

What do you think Jesus meant by the “leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod”?

Having in mind that Mark chooses incidents from Jesus’ life as symbols – whom does the gradually healed blind man symbolise? Why?

Why does Jesus forbid him to tell others about his healing?

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Today’s stories belong together. The healing of the blind man cannot be properly understood without the disciples’ inability to see the wood for the trees. Have you noticed how for days now we trip over the disciples concerned with bread? It’s the main issue on their mind – where to find it? What’s enough bread? They only had 5 or 7 loaves and so on. And Jesus constantly supplies the multitudes and also them with bread overflowing. The two great miracles that should have been recognized as signs of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God – but they have learned nothing?

Jesus tries to provide the disciples with a spiritual lesson. The kind of people display “faith” – like that of the Pharisees who seek signs to be able to believe, but no sign will do it for them, or that of Herod who “loved” John the Baptist and still killed him to please his wife – are dangerous. They should not be mistaken for leaders. “Watch out—beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod” (Mark 8:15) he warns them. And again – all the disciples hear is: BREAD! We have forgotten to buy bread! He is criticising us for not having bread! – “Why are you talking about having no bread?…Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?” (Mark 8:17-18). The bread, people, is not a problem! How can you not see that?! There are bigger things at stake. By now, you should hear and see and understand the amazing reality behind all the miracles. God is with you in Jesus – and you should not be worry about your bread, when the giver of life is with you.

The story of the blind man healed through an elaborate process of isolation and care (spit was considered to have healing powers) which had to be repeated, before it yielded success, gives hope that eventually, the disciples may also see. Right now, they are in the phase of seeing the people “like trees, walking.” Or may be, they are as hard as logs.

Why Jesus sends the blind man home and forbids him to show himself in the village, will be clearer with tomorrow’s reading. Right now, Jesus does not need the kind of publicity, this healing would have stirred. People need to understand more deeply, first!

A meme was circling the internet with a cat in a cat carrier. It stared attentively at the closed door. The top was taken off, but the cat was so used to waiting for the door to open, that it sat there in great expectation of freedom. It did not notice that freedom is at hand. What bread are you focusing on right now, that prevents you from seeing God’s bigger reality?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 15

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark -14

Do You Need Another Miracle?

Read Mark 8:1-13

Contemplate on the story. What stands out that may be important to you?

If you were among the disciples – how would you have reacted to Jesus’ request? Compare the two feeding stories. Is there something annoying about this one?

What kind of sign do the Pharisees want, but Jesus refuses to give them? (Read John 6:26-35 for comparison.)

Pay attention to where this miracle happens (as opposed to that in Mk 6). How is it important?

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All the gospels have the story about Jesus’s feeding miracle, but Mark and Matthew have it twice. Why? Mark 8:4 may suggest that the disciples never before saw Jesus perform feeding: “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” It’s unlikely that they had forgotten, right? On the other hand, later in Mark 8:19-20 Jesus reminds the disciples of both feeding miracles they had witnessed! So, yes, these disciples were slow and truly annoying. Do you notice how annoyed we get both with them and also with the Pharisees who seek yet another sign, obviously unsatisfied with Jesus performance so far.

Although the feeding stories are similar and feel more like a make-up test after one failed, they are also substantially different in the details. Most of them point to the fact that Jesus feeds predominantly a non-Jewish crowd. Mark gives us clues even by the numbers used – 7 and 4 often describe the whole world, all the nations. Remember, Jesus is at the place where people lived who were considered “dogs” by the his compatriots. Considering this, we are not surprised by the lack of the disciples’ initiative to ease their hunger of these people. The disciples have stocked up for themselves and have 7 breads this time among themselves. They did not need another feeding miracle for these “dogs.” But Jesus disagrees. He has set up the scene with the incident with the Gentile woman (Mark 7:24-30) to warn them that indeed, he came so that all could have life!

On the other hand, the Pharisees need another “sign from heaven” to be persuaded by Jesus. Nothing is enough. And so we find ourselves between such that don’t care for other people’s needs, and such that have never enough for themselves, constantly needing another proof from heaven. To the last crowd Jesus says: “no sign will be given to this generation” (Mark 8:12). We may translate “to this sort” of people, no sign will be given. As we see later in Mark 8, Jesus continues to perform miracles and everyone is welcome to watch. But some will never be persuaded. They watch closely and do not see – because they don’t want to.

So it’s a question for us today – are we counted among those who don’t care if the world gets its needed miracle because we are happy with our Jesus? Or do we belong to a people constantly requesting signs because Jesus can never persuade us? Or have we learned to pay attention and care, when God “crosses over” and challenges our experience by what’s impossible?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark -14

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 13

When Jesus Speaks Differently Than Your Heart

Read Mark 7:14-37

Contemplate on the passage. What captured your attention?

Have you noticed how much “hearing” there is in the text? Does it remind you of Jesus theme introduced in Mark 4? (Reread if you forgot!)

What were the disciples supposed to hear? Did they?

What do you think why was Jesus so harsh to the Gentile woman?

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“Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Mk 7:16) cannot be found in all translations, simply because the oldest and best manuscripts we have, omit it. Yet, Jesus’s call to listen to him and to understand what he is saying is underlined by this verse. Some early thinkers thought it should be supplemented here too as it was in Mark 4. In both cases, Jesus’s talk felt radical and confused the disciples. True, here they were breaking the Law by eating unwashed (Mk 7:2), but that made them wrong and not the law! (They would side with the Pharisees.) “So, Jesus what do you mean? Defilement comes from the heart?”

Thematically this passage clearly belongs to the previous and presents Jesus revision of the Pharisaic interpretations of the law. Yet, it better serves as an introduction to yet another repetition of the important lesson on Jesus true identity as the Bread from heaven. To recognize it, people have to listen to him and to pay attention to those words. But the sensational miracle captures their eyes and mouths (Mark himself seems impressed with the miracle of the deaf person’s healing, as he gives a detailed account of it) – and they go on and on babbling about it and missing to hear Jesus’s important truth.

What comes next in chapter 8, will underline this drastically different teaching, that defilement comes from the inside of people (Mk 7:20) simply because it exposes their evil hearts. All people. Never mind their political, geographical or even theological specifics.

The scandal of what Jesus was teaching them is – it seems to me – best shown in the conversation with the Gentile woman. In this encounter Jesus exposes the outcomes of the pharisaic teaching on ritual purity, by which some people are impure “dogs”! Hence, they are excluded. By enacting the Pharisees “normal” conversation style with Gentiles, Jesus exposes all the nastiness of human exclusion of others on account of what’s outside. “I did not come because of the dogs, I came because of the children!”

As we don’t know such a Jesus, he frustrates us with this response, but not his hearers. That’s common. That’s what they can hear. Rather, he challenged them by praising the Gentile woman for her faith and by healing her daughter! The miracle is possible because of his teaching on cleanliness (which they could not understand). Out of her heart came faith. She needed no loaves. A crumb from God’s table is enough! When the criterion of “clean” is removed, she too has access to the Kingdom of God.

There is a need for us to learn to listen, understand, and implement this hard word to God. In the increasingly racist and nationalist churches, God judges people differently. The outward marks are no criteria. What’s in the heart – that counts.

So, have a look at what comes out of your heart. Who is on your list of “dogs”? Can you hear when God challenges you and calls you to repent? What steps will you make today?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 13

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 12

Not All Piety Is Pious

Read Mk 7:1-14

Contemplate on this passage. What intrigues you?

Try to see the event from the perspectives of the characters in the story. What would have been the disciples’ reason for eating without washing? What would have the Pharisees answer them?

Look at what Jesus does. How do the stories about the washing of hands and mistreating your old parents similar?

Do you know traditions that have made your life miserable (or more miserable) than what it should have been?

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Is Jesus a radical? This is what we often hear in theology classes. But listening to today’s story from Mark – it’s not really him who is radical. The situation is such that the teachers in charge of piety in Israel, radicalised the life for the common people so that piety stood in the way of God and his will (commandment). Jesus only stands firm on God’s initial requests.

The Pharisees are not an exception but the rule for human behaviour in any time. Here, God’s “general” commandments have been translated to the “specifics” of human context. Hand washing – and with the pandemic we know for certain – is life-saving at times and prevents sickness. This is why God ordained for his people to wash and even we inherited those practices from them! But there are times, when mere eating saves lives and washing is secondary.

“Honour mother and father” seems ambiguous, but only to people who stopped loving their parents. In the old Eastern world “honour” mainly meant financial support (comp. Prov 28:24). But when love is gone and things come down to finances, they become complicated: How can you support mother and father if you don’t have the money? And if you promised the part of your land – from which you could have helped the parents – to the temple, then you don’t have the money. So for pious reasons you don’t have to pay up for the parents to them because God has priority! People have the tendency to dodge, outwit, and outmanoeuvre God’s commandments to have it their own way. Religious structures are no exception. That’s why the prophet mourns the mere lip service to God, with people’s hearts far away from him (Isa 29:13). The love for God has gone and true piety with it. Only human traditions of a sense deprived piety has remained.

Jesus confronts such state of affairs pointing to the love and liberation as God’s initial intent for his creation. All his laws are driven by love and liberation of people. Jesus is not a radical by calling people back to this simple love of God. We are the radicals who scheme, mistreat, and abuse others to fit them into our various interests, often even pious.

It is a major challenge in the life of Christians to voluntarily come into the light of God’s attack on our rebellious piety. But if he doesn’t, chances are that we are killing both people left and right with our rules. Ourselves including.

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 12

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 11

When All You Expect from Jesus Is Bread

Read Mark 6:30-52

Contemplate on this story. How would you feel as one of the disciples?

Compare the two feasts – that of Herod in the previous section and that of Jesus? How are they different?

Read Mk 6:34 and describe Jesus as the good shepherd of his people (unlike Herod).

Look at Mk 6:51b-52 and follow up on the story of the disciples. What did they fail to understand about Jesus? (Read Ex 16; 18:25; also Job 9:8; Ps 77:19).

How would praying to Jesus as God, rather than just as a miracle worker change your current situation of need?

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This miracle of Jesus who feeds the multitude is central to all the Gospels. This suggests its historical plausibility. But that is not what interests Mark, as he had already made the decision that Jesus is God and with this – nothing is impossible. Only the people, in particular the disciples, do not see it – yet.

The crowd is in great need and offers real detective work to search for Jesus. They are “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34) wandering around searching for their sustenance. By featuring Jesus’s thoughts, Mark gives the readers the interpretation clue. What is about to happen recalls the promise of Num 27:17 – The Lord’s people should never be as sheep without a shepherd. But here they are, because people like Herod, the killer, lead them. The feeding miracle recalls God’s care for the people in the desert. Even the sitting in groups is mentioned Ex 18:21 as Moses’ organisation of them. As Jesus teaches them he is like Moses, the people’s first great prophet. But Jesus gives what Moses could not – the bread from heaven. Here, a new Exodus is at hand. A new true shepherd has finally come – God himself now leads his people. This is underlined by Jesus’ walking on water, an ability reserved only for God as the master over the elements (e.g. Job 9:8).

When one thinks about it, the crowd may have been unaware of the miracle. This discussion and the deed is directed to the disciples. So far they not only observed but also participated in Jesus liberating ministry to the people. They had just returned from a successful mission in word and deed proclaiming the kingdom of God (Mk 6:30 comp. possibly even Lk 10:20). So Jesus further provokes the disciples by the challenge to feed the crowd. We should notice that all the disciples wanted was for the crowd to go away (Mk 6:35). They were tired and hungry to start with and now another strenuous day had passed. They had little to give and that little was jeopardized by Jesus who had generously taken away their scarce lunch.

In observing what was happening, in hearing Jesus teach and watching the preparations for the miracle, the disciples should have recognized the greatness of God at work. But they got side tracked by their frustration. Things had not turned out they needed them to. They deserved a break (as even Jesus admitted; Mk 6:31). We can see them “hardened” into their own perspective. (No, the “hardened heart” is not a transcendent mystery that God does). And even after Jesus walked on the stormy waters as only God could, all they can is being “utterly astounded.” They “did not understand about the loaves” “Their hearts were hardened.”

Taken up by their own processes, the disciples saw the miracle worker, but not the God who was disclosing himself as “God with them.” They did not see the signs of divine in the miracles. They did not even consider the miracle of their own provision – as they ended up not only with their lunch restored, but each of them now had a basket full of food! The baskets were probably travel bags to carry provisions. By fixing their minds on their own needs, the disciples failed to see God’s broader perspective of his presence among them where nothing was impossible.

Can you lift up your eyes beyond your own need for a miracle to see God who is with you in all of your present situation?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 11

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 10

When Jesus Is Too Familiar

Read Mark 6:1-33

Contemplate on the verse(s) that speak to you personally. Why?

Why – after reading the four earlier events in Jesus’s life, Mk 6:1-6 is so disappointing?

Have you had experiences where people liked you, and still hurt you because of interest? Why is 6:26 so disillusioning?

Look at the display of Jesus power among the different “audiences”: Jesus’s compatriots; king Herod and Herodias; and the disciples. Have you noticed how Jesus’s power is multiplied in his disciple, while in the other settings it is down-played or feared?

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After the great expressions of Jesus divine power of the forces of nature, the evil spirits, and even death, Mark’s gospel makes sure we don’t get too cosy with its success. We are puzzled how a simple “We know this one! We know where he is from, and it’s nothing special!” stops Jesus’s liberation mission in his home town. It makes me think about Damir Nikšić, the Bosnian satirist, who, at one point, does nothing for five plus minutes but recite the kind of demeaning sentences that children grow up listening to: What are you up to? Leave that! You will break it? Who do you think you are? What do you think he can accomplish?! etc. Our immediate environment has an immense power to cripple people from living. Even Jesus is surprised at their lack of faith in his people. Jesus is too familiar to be taken seriously

On the other hand, for opportunists – like Herod – Jesus’s power is dangerous, as he thinks, John the Baptist, whom he killed has returned to haunt him. He killed John to maintain his face before his friends, to show that he can do what he wants and promises. He is the man! Now, Jesus power can only bring fear.

And finally, there are the people who believe in Jesus’s power and get to see it in their own lives – not only as their own transformation, but as power to transform communities. Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman (John 4: 14) that that the “water” he is willing to give her will not only satisfy her own thirst, but “will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” in her. And her whole town experiences that!

The disciples have witnessed to the power of Jesus and they are ready and empowered to step out and share freely what they received. They received the power “over the unclean spirits” (6:7). It is worthwhile for Christians to sit with this thought for a while – the power to confront unclean spirits, and not the power to outsmart people with preaching and philosophies.

I think Christians should unpack the word “preaching” as it has become a terminus technicus for a philosophical exposition from the pulpit. They should look at it from a biblical perspective as the New Testament does not know that medieval discourse from the pulpit. It knows proclamation of the kingdom of God – that is an invitation to repent where people are (and rarely that is in crowds) and it knows teaching – which happen in the community of a teacher and a disciple, in the circumstances of life. It is done by simple, everyday concepts, not in exalted philosophical discourses. (There is a place for philosophical and theological discourses, but it is not the church).

If you are a follower of Jesus you have been sent out to exercise the power of Jesus against the “demons” of the world. You don’t need special equipment for it. Just your own experience of Jesus’s transforming power and faith that God wins against the demons of our time.

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 10

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 9

Jesus the Lord of Life

Read Mark 5:21-43

Contemplate on the stories of the two women meeting Jesus. How does this relate to your life today?

Given the fact that in ancient Israel bleeding and death were considered unclean, what do these stories say about Jesus?

My bible entitled the section Mk 4:35-5:43 as “Three Great Miracles.” Do you agree? What do you think – which one was “deleted” from the translator’s mind? Why? Do you have a similar experience of “invisibility”?

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Although Mark often uses the “sandwich technique” to connect stories (where the inner story explains gives the clue for the outer story and vice versa), here, it seems, he just wants to prolong the time and build momentum for the climax of Jesus’s self-revelation as the Lord of life and death. The revelation is given to only to a small circle of people: the parents of the dead girl and the three close disciples. Also, they are requested to keep quiet about it and Jesus has reassured the mourning company that the girl is not dead, just sleeping (Mk 5:39) seemingly with the same effect of concealment. There is this revelation, but not everyone could properly handle it then. As we have already seen, Jesus was careful to avoid sensationalism, as it diverts attention from what is truly important and encourages the mania of a mob.

The truly important issue about Jesus here is not his power to heal or even resurrect – but that he can stand with the unclean outcasts and the dead, touch them, and not be infested with sickness and death! On the contrary, his life grabs what has been offered to certain death and makes it alive.

My attention is captured also by the fact that dire situations require female characters. Poverty, sickness and abuse are bad, but women are those affected worst. There is a principle, it seems, to handle their pain: “Why trouble the teacher any further?” (Mk 5:35). This question is a sinister sign that Jair’s household may have not considered it worthwhile to pursue the health of this girl in the first place. Why bother? She’s only a girl! Similarly, when Jesus calls out the woman who was healed, she has aware of her overstepping the rules and boundaries for bleeding women. She should not have been in the crowd in the first place. She made everyone else unclean!

But Jesus wants to see her (Mk 5:32) and affirm her belonging to the family of God. He calls her “daughter” (i.e. “of Abraham” Mk 5:34, comp. Lk 13:16)! He equally cares that Jair’s little girl does not become prey of sensationalists, by limiting the audience who witnessed his confrontation with the final enemy of humankind – not only natural laws (Mk 4:35-41), demons (Mk 5:1-20), but decay and death itself (Mk 5:21-43).

Two questions to ponder upon today:

Where in your life do you need God’s power to confront decay and death? He calls on your faith. Life can swallow up that death!

And – have a look at the women in your church? Have they been pushed to the fringes, considered defiled and unworthy of God’s intervention? What can you do to make them visible and affirm the worth God gave them?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 9

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 8

When Jesus Is a Greater Threat Than the Demons

Read Mark 5:1-20

Contemplate on the story from the perspective of the “the man who had been possessed by demons”. Can you imagine what his testimony was like (5:20)? What’s the most amazing thing in this from where you are right now?

What do you think is the climax of the story? Why?

Imagine yourself a Gerasene: How would you feel about Jesus after these incidents?

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A century or two of a materialist world view side-tracks the contemporary reading of this story. It makes us wonder whether all the demon possessed babble is true – and our thoughts are lost. I suggest a different road: Do you know people who are so out of control that nobody can restrain them? You cannot speak them without tantrums. Having to them is a constant struggle. They seem to live in a different universe and it’s like “a demon possessed them”? Do we know such people in politics? In companies? Only ruins and death remains when they have passed. After a couple of centuries of denial we too are ready to admit that something bigger than human folly is at work. As for the Bible it always presupposed such evil powers and even ascribed them some traits of personality. Like here – the demon speaks and has a name.

Jesus was sailing to the other side of the lake Genesareth, to the land of the non-Jews. Jesus has shattered the disciples’ ideas about him as a fantastic healer back to square 1: “Who is he?!” they asked themselves, “if even the wind and the sea obey him?” Have you noticed how the disciples are missing completely from this story (other than being presupposed). Finding demoniacs among the other nations was not surprising to Jews. And yet: Have you noticed how Jesus is recognized for what he is, the moment he sets foot on that soil: Jesus, Son of the Most High God (Mk 5:7). Were the scribes right with: “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons” (Mk 3:22)? But the story does not end with recognition, but with complete surrender of the demons and liberation of the possessed man.

“Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Jesus commands (Mk 5:8). And soon you see the formerly possessed sitting in clothes listening to Jesus, amazed by the freedom he gained. How wonderful! But do you notice, how that’s not the climax of this story? Rather, our attention is immediately diverted from demons to the drowning pigs! Surprisingly, the people ask Jesus to leave. The one who healed a demoniac, has become a threat! Their attention has moved from what is essential to what is “existential” – namely, the business of swine raring! Sometimes, to free a man of his pain, you have to give up 2000 pigs. If freeing people has negative economic consequences, then, Jesus, please leave! You will ruin us! Although Jesus was clearly identified and has proven his power – his value is not appreciated.

To see and accept Jesus people must rearrange their value system. When the devil is bound then indeed his house can be plundered and he does not like it (Mk 3:27). The more devilish power, the bigger the material losses once he leaves. You think about the big evils of our days – the trafficking, the exploitation on account of race and gender, the migration, the drug lords, the wars and the poverty and you see the devil is loose and has a field trip. Money weighs more than the people (and creation on the whole). Freedom in this setting is a costly enterprise. And it surprises how upset we are with such circumstance, but when the choice is ours, we choose the pigs over liberation. Christian church including.

For the past few decades a lot of attention has been given to Christians and business. Sometimes it seemed that business had insights which needed to inform church life. In the newest scandals we experience how churches have sold people for money and power – the two main principles of business. Jesus is a threat to business. It’s always freedom for the slaves with him.

Has your sense of business blurred your vision of Jesus’s value?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 8

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 7

What’s Hidden Will Be Revealed

Read Mark 4:21-41

Contemplate on what you read. What questions come to mind? What word speaks to you personally?

Today’s passage seems fragmented. Is it still possible to see Mark’s theme? What would it be?

“Listen” and “pay attention” are important imperatives in the Gospel of Mark. What should the disciples hear? To what should they pay attention?

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Who or what is the seed in all of these parables is the key to understanding Mark 4 as a unit. Churched people have difficulties, because some parts of Mark 4 are popular sermon material, and usually, “we” end up to be the seed that grows into big trees. Nothing more than a pious pep talk for the little sheepfold and its archetypal inferiority complex! But that is not at all what Mark hears Jesus saying.

The Parable of the Sower has set the scene for interpretation. The kingdom of God has been sown, but the crowd is confused about Jesus identity as Messiah. They don’t see him. In Jesus’s teaching the hearers are compared with different soils, and it features on the impenetrable soil of the scribes and the Herodians, who already decided they will kill him – Messiah or not. In the other parables this story is further developed by the fact that Jesus’s identity and the Kingdom of God cannot stay hidden for ever – enemies or no enemies. Light is not brought into the darkness to be hidden but to shine! Equally, God has not brought his light into the world to hide it. It is exalted on a lamp stand and shines on everyone in the house.

The Kingdom of God – Jesus, if you will – is a powerful seed (Mk 4:26-29). We don’t need to worry about its potential for growth. Once the ground receives it, the seed grows in the hiding first, but soon it sprouts and brings a bountiful harvest. It become visible to all! It may not look as much when it’s sown, but once it hits fertile, receiving soil it burst into life giving shelter even to the destitute and homeless.

The question throughout is the need of listening well and paying attention to what is not immediately obvious to the eye. Just as, compared with John the Baptist, Jesus did not impress people at baptismal site, now he has become more famous even than John. He healed people. But again, the crowd is misled.

Healing has become everyday experience in most of today’s world. We have pain killers and good doctors to take away our little aches and pains. For us, Jesus the healer of masses and an exorcist is miraculous. But in Jesus’s day, healers were not uncommon. So people compared Jesus with the other healers. He scored better, as he really healed people. That was attractive. Yet paying attention only to his ability to heal, and not seeing the liberating agenda of the kingdom of God, meant not seeing Jesus for who he really was. This problem becomes evident in the little paragraph about the stilling of the storm (Mk 4:35-41). Had the disciples at least identified Jesus as the Messiah, who he was, the stilling of the storm would not be a surprise. But they didn’t and “fearing with great fear” (the Greek says) they ask each other: “Who is this?” They will need the whole Gospel of evidence and still will not see (comp. Mk 16:8).

The call to pay attention, listen, and hear Jesus (Mk 4: 3, 9, 23, 24) repeats the sinister prophetic threat in Mk 4:12 “they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” Not recognizing the Kingdom of God when it is near in Jesus, has far-reaching consequences, because Jesus did not come to stay hidden in human agendas. He came to be exalted and revealed as the Lord over all.

The lack of devotion – of paying attention, listening and hearing the word of God in contemporary Christianity is alarming (some of it has been revealed in the great Christian scandals, some will be with the outcomes of the pandemic). Our church work features on people as the seed that needs to develop into big trees, mighty speakers, great leaders. The purpose of faith is translated to “feeling good in my skin” under all circumstances. We like to understand, but make it easy with little effort and maximum impact on my immediate needs.

How important is it for you to listen to God? What have you received that should be multiplied by paying attention and listening to God? How much effort are you willing to give to him to grow the fruit of the Spirit in you?

A Lenten Meditation: Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 7

A Lenten Meditation on Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 6

Read Mark 4:1-20

Contemplate on how meaningful this passage is for your own life. Why?

Imagine you are sitting among the people who listened to Jesus then. Do you think you would have found his teaching confusing? In what ways do you think, Jesus words could have been difficult for his followers?

Who does Jesus mean with the “they” in “so that they may not turn again and be forgiven” (4:12)?

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Give it time!

This story feels like the Forrest Gump film situation where he was running aimlessly – or so it seemed – and then he suddenly stopped. “Hush! He will speak!” fills the expectant crowd. But Jesus – unlike Gump – does not leave. He sits down to teach the crowd probably the most serious teaching Mark’s Gospel. Like often, if we haven’t learned to understand this Gospel as a story about the hidden, i.e. to the eye invisible Messiah, we feel lack of connection in the text. The truth is that Jesus addresses the problem of gaslighting to which he, who truly is “Kingdom of God approaching,” has been subjected by the Pharisees (see yesterday’s blog). Jesus story is about the followers who cannot bring the rich harvest for the Kingdom of God. It didn’t come out of the blue. But his hearers may have not expected it, and even the disciples were taken aback and asked: “What does that mean, Jesus?” And often, we don’t.

Jesus sounds disappointed with his disciples: “You have been given the mystery of God” (remember, Jesus chose them Mk 3:13-19!) and you don’t understand what I am saying? How will you understand life’s peril per se (some dictionaries suggest that the Greek word parabole can mean danger or peril, too!). They should have known Jesus’s thoughts but rather, Jesus cannot count even on their understanding.

But the confused crowd is learning an important lesson: “Nothing is as it seems on earth, until the fruit of the soil is revealed. Time will show what kind of soil has received or not received God’s mystery. Time will show all truth and truth about everyone. Nothing will stay hidden forever. Even the hearts of his enemies will be exposed for the hard soil they are, and the words of the prophets will be fulfilled: “they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven” (Mk 4:12 comp Is 6:9).

Mark 4:10-12 is difficult to interpret. It seems at odds with the universal love of God which Christians proclaim. But note how John too, adds the sinister word of warning to the beloved verse, John to 3:16: “whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath” (3:36). So also the text in Mark is best understood as repeating the uncomfortable threat from 3:39, about those misrepresenting God to the people. Even if we do interpret Jesus’s own words from the Aramaic – as it has been rightly suggested: “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, all of this is a riddle in order that: ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven’” (Mk 4:10-12) we have not unsharpened the threat. Some interpreters suggested (again, plausibly) that in line with rabbinic tradition, the last part of the prophetic verse positively: “So that the may turn again and be forgiven.” But in Mark’s context it seems that rather Jesus speaks of the unrepentant gas lighters and what time will show about their inadequate “fruit.” There will be none, because they are such hard soil that no seed of the kingdom can grow in them.

However, equally, the good soil will also be revealed with time. It is difficult to watch what seems a bare field – especially if you don’t know the mechanics of growth. A good soil and good seeds, however, have nothing to fear. The fruit is coming! You have to stand your ground patiently. No wonder, the Bible compares the “way to the harvest” always as a wilderness. (It really helps to study the sojourn of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land in Exodus).

You can force growth and it may soon show some sprouts – but most likely, you will end up with dried up stalks and no fruit and no use. How good are you at giving time to things to grow and show their fruit?



A Lenten Meditation on Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 6

A Lenten Meditation on Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 5

Is Jesus real?

Read Mark 3:7-36

Contemplate on what is happening in this passage. What are the most important points for you?

Now lay aside 3:28-29.

Look at the recurring theme of the “evil spirits” and Jesus. What do you think: Did the scribes know that Jesus is not really demon possessed? Why did they do what they did?

There are two passages on Jesus and his earthly family and they are not flattering (3:20-21; 31-35). What do you think was going on?

Why did the Pharisees say that Jesus was demon possessed and therefore able to drive out the demons? If you now read 3:28-29 in the context of the whole passage – what does Jesus mean by in this?

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The Pharisees and the Herodians made a pact to destroy Jesus (Mk 3:6), but it wasn’t an easy task with his growing reputation and popularity. The whole country was following him. He was more popular than John the Baptist (Mk 3:7-8) and it is always difficult to take out someone famous. So the plan was first to dismantle Jesus’ integrity, and the easiest way to do it was to question his reality. Jesus had a ministry of liberation. The demons knew well who he was and had to withdraw, leaving their captives free and healed.

It seems to me that the Pharisees too knew who Jesus really was, but they had delusions about their own authority and power. They use the most destructive method to discredit him. They started questioning the realities of him and his followers by reversing the argument. They could do this because of they had “spiritual authority” and were in charge of religious interpretation for the people. “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons” (Mk 3:22). Not much was needed to ignite insecurity in the crowd, and even in Jesus’ own family who knew him well. If the Pharisees thought that he had the ruler of demons, who could doubt it? So the family came to contain Jesus, so that he would not be a disturbance to the community! This is not the best portrait of Jesus’s family (3:31).

The rumours soon reached Jesus. It is important to see his reaction. He questions their argument as it negates the experience of many who are free and healed, but their logic is just plainly wrong! What interest would the devil have for leaving his territory? But logic doesn’t usually score in a crowd. Mark doesn’t say, but the crowd mentally withdraws from Jesus – still, of course, interested in the sensation. It becomes an easy mob at the hands of Jesus’s enemies – just waiting to give him the final blow.

The method employed by the Pharisees is popular with bullies. Today we have a name for it – gaslighting. Gaslighting is when your reality is deconstructed so that you and your people, family included, start doubting your reality and believe the perpetrator. Unfortunately, gaslighting often happens in churches to people who stand up to false authorities. Gaslighting is truly devilish as there is no other way to live through it but waiting it out. The truth will eventually show itself, as reality dismantles the lies. It is a long and painful way often resolved only after the death of the victim (in Jesus’ case) or the perpetrator, when his earthly power structures naturally collapse (like in the case of R. Zacharias). This, Jesus said is an “eternal” sinful act. It cannot be forgiven, because forgiveness is based on telling the truth and gas lighters just cannot submit, because of their own delusions of power – even over God.

Gaslighting comes in different forms and intensities in life and everyone is tempted to play that card sometimes – whenever we have the feeling that we have to “control” other people, a red light should come up. If we are attempting to control, God calls us to accept his control over everything. If we are gaslighted, Jesus’ example calls us to stand firm in our reality.

But if we are in the crowd and we are watching someone being gaslighted: Instead of hushing up the victims, we must stand by them. Regardless of our “equal fault” and “it takes two to tango” policies – which are just fine Christian methods to wash our proverbial hands – gaslighting is easy to disentangle, because it almost always comes from those “in authority.”

How ready are you to stand and act for the captives?

A Lenten Meditation on Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 5

A Lenten Meditation on Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 4

Being religious is a problem

Read Mark 2:13-3:6

Contemplate on Mk 2:21-22. What is the meaning of these words in your own life right now?

Follow the story of Jesus and the scribes (1:21-22; 2:6-11; and then in todays text. What do you notice? How does it make you feel?

How important are your religious rules to you? Must Jesus die so they (and you) don’t need to change?

New wine into fresh wineskins! – This is what Jesus states as he mysteriously reveals to the crowds the new life breaking in on them with him. The old cannot be just amended to receive the new. The old must give way to God’s new creation. You cannot accept God’s Messiah and stay the same.

For the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus time, as also for the religious people (leaders in particular) this truth is difficult. They have worked hard on a system (a ministry, a procedure, a law), they saw it work, but now it needs to perish? Jesus warns here that no human system can contain God and his new life. The human attempt to impress God must be exchanged for a new and heavenly gift of undeserved love.

Unfortunately, religion is resilient to change and to life. It has a life of its own and as it joins forces with politics (comp. 3:6) it make its claims binding and its grip on people more forceful. Religion displays raw and unforgiving power to keep people submissive to its cause of the upkeeping of the “old skin” that fits so well its leaders. Often, religion sounds so very divine. After all, God set up food laws, and Shabbat, and purity. So isn’t sitting with the unclean, not fasting and even working on Sunday clear evidence of disobedience to God? And God, of course, is represented by the leaders who must punish – even God, when he breaks their rule! Funny, isn’t it?

Do you notice what happened? In the name of God, people add burdens, make requirements, and sometimes, they even take the liberty to abuse, rape and kill by “authority” of God! But look how straightforward God’s commandment e.g. of keeping the Shabbat was in the beginning. One simple sentence making people seek fellowship with God was open for personal interpretations and needs. The Shabbat was made for the people and not the other way around! People should be fed on Shabbat, and healed on Shabbat, because they should have a rest from their toils on Shabbat, a reminder in the valley of death that they have been created by a loving God and for life! But if it were this simple – where would all the authoritarian keepers of Shabbat be?

Don’t misunderstand me. I still believe we need teachers and leaders in the church. And yet, they should be aware of the exceeding danger that comes with positions of power: to become worn cloth and old, dry wine skins. If you are the “authority” than you cannot contain and absorb the bubbling and swelling and bursting new life that comes from God. The test is easy: If your rules and your urge to control, contain, hurt, and enslave people is bigger than the love for the sick, the sinner, the person who challenges your leadership, the young person who is more talented than you and challenges your position – then you too will seek political allies to kill Jesus in them instead of making space for the new. It’s tragic how that happens already at the beginning of Mark 3 with Jesus! The next 13 chapters are a description of the long and excruciating plotting of the religious people to kill Jesus and make it look legitimate and even pious.

We are watching Jesus on this unjust walk to Calvary again this year. Mark painfully features this injustice. So the question is: Are we walking with him on this road of change so that there can be life?

A Lenten Meditation on Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 4

A Lenten Meditation on Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 3

There is always more

Read Mark 2:1-12

Contemplate on the situation described. How would have different people felt about this incident? If you were one of them, who would you be? How would you feel? Have you felt like this before in your walk in faith?

Whose faith triggered the healing? Whose sins were forgiven?

What do you think what is easier to say? Why?

********

I am convinced God always answers prayers, but he does not always answer our prayers only, when acting on our behalf. in our attempt to understand him from our own perspective, we are disappointed and try to save our faith by pious phrases. But consider this.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tries to stay hidden as healer. On the other hand, he wants people to see him for the God he really is. Today’s story is such a point. It is a funny story. If Matthew and Luke had Mark’s Gospel when writing theirs – and many think they did – we see Matthew embarrassed, so he strips Mark’s report off the roof incident (Matth 9:1-8). Yet Luke, who claims that he had “investigated everything carefully” (Lk 1:3), leaves it unchanged (Lk 5:17-26). Mark is known for his fast moving storytelling: he goes “and then,” “and immediately” just to move the readers forward. Matthew’s version would have suited Mark’s style better. Therefore, when Mark stays with the people dismantling of the roof of a house, we need to pay attention.

Mark shows the power of the friends’ faith. They are hanging in there, taking the time and the effort to bring what is needed for their friend. You want friends like this. But do you want to be such a friend? No doubt, the four friends, their prayer and their efficient faith are the trigger and focus of the story. But Jesus works with everyone involved in the incident: the paralytic, the scribes and the crowd.

When we (intercede and) pray, God changes our “universe.” And therefore this is a difficult experience for the paralytic’s friends. They only wanted their friend healed. They worked hard for it and believed in a miracle. They dismantled the obstacles only to get: “Son, your sins are forgiven!”?!? Feel the disappointment on the roof.

But from Jesus’ perspective, the story was far from over. The audience changes for a while as he turns to the scribes who are offended by his sin-talk. “Only God can forgive sins!” Yes, the Son of Man is giving them hints about his real identity, proving them with proof that the unlikely chap from Nazareth has authority to forgive sins – and is God. As we will see later on, the proof is lost on them. Very unfortunate.

And then, the paralytic comes into Jesus focus next. Not every sickness is a sin-problem, but it seems here it was. So, after his sins were forgiven the healing of the body was easy. Notice the four chaps on the roof rooting for Jesus! But the story turns to the crowds who have observed this incident. They too are amazed and praise God. Still, their feelings about Jesus are mixed, but this experience helped them along in the right direction.

How do you feel about the fact that God not only hears and answers your prayers, but moves and changes the universe through your faith? Can you sit on the roof with him for a while? Can you glimpse his perspective and scope of need?

A Lenten Meditation on Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark 3

A Lenten Meditation on the Messianic Mystery 2

They were astounded

Read Mk 1:14-45

Contemplate: What must it have been like for the different people in this story to meet Jesus for the first time? Remember – for them, he was just a Galilean, and Capernaum was probably where he lived and they knew he was from a village in the mountains.

What made Jesus stand out from other teachers?

What do you think: What is the meaning of Jesus message in Mk 1:14-15?

*****

My husband has the annoying habit of watching the evening news with a delay – and then fast forwarding over the contributions of certain reporters: “I am listening to them, but I don’t hear what they say! So why bother?” There are many of us who would like a fast forward button in our churches, and we feel we are doing our due to God by sitting through those sermons. After all, God speaks in all circumstances and Spurgeon got converted listening to the dullest sermon of his life. So, it may just hit us too, eventually!

But often, the fault is with the teachers. They teach, yet, without power.

Mark carefully describes Jesus as the ordinary person from the neighbourhood. A mere man. One like us. And then Jesus stands up from among us and his word is powerful. It grabs our attention. Like Zebedee’s sons, we are ready to depart from our life to another by following him. And Mark is eager to describe Jesus’s power: It was liberating, truthful, and healing.

The last Christian century was marked by an emphasis on evangelism, “preaching the word”, that is. Whatever else we did was good, as long as the Word was preached. But if you look it up in the Bible – there is no preaching in the medieval sense of the word that we inherited. Jesus proclaimed the nearness of God to the people. He did not repeat a set of religious philosophies and insisted on their acceptance, before, may-be, some day, you could be saved. What Jesus proclaimed was backed by God’s power in the lives of the people – now. And the truth of freedom and healing are attractive, even when people don’t fully understand God. (That’s also one of our aberrations – thinking that we know God better than he knows himself).

Evangelism is not what we talk/do for God. Evangelism is making known God’s power in the darkness of human existence. It means stepping out in the name of God against the powers that enslave people and declare freedom. Yes, even in the church.

Have you noticed how the first demon driven out by Jesus was sitting in the pews of the pious?

A Lenten Meditation on the Messianic Mystery 2

Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 1

A Lenten Meditation on the Messianic Mystery

Read Mk 1:1-15

Contemplate: Have you wondered about the unusual beginning of Mark’s gospel? If you follow up on the quotation by Isaiah (40:3) in Mark 1:3 – what do you notice? (Now read also Mal 2:17-3:3 and think about the identity of the “angel” in this passage: Who is he?) Finally, look at the descriptions of John the Baptist and Jesus in the text? If you knew nothing about Jesus who would appeal to you more between the two and how they are described?

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Let anyone with ears to hear listen! (Mk 4:23). Or even: Let everyone with eyes to see, understand! Mark 1:1-15 shows us how often we think we have read and understood the Word of God but we have glanced over it and heard what we wanted to hear. We are not much different than the disciples Mark describes and gets impatient with. Normally, we don’t notice the strange connection of the two scriptures tied together: Well-known Isaiah passage and a strange part from Malachi. And before we have noticed it, we are glorifying John the Baptist as the one who “prepares” the way to God!

In reality, John does not prepare the way, he denies doing so or being able. He is only a voice in the old paradigm of thinking about God and recognizing that something bigger is needed. He only has water for the washing of the outside – a symbol at best of what is really needed: The Spirit of God who makes all things new inside out. Malachi clearly refers to God’s Messiah himself. He alone can truly “prepare” sinners for the encounter with God because he came from God.

But instead the bulk of us, pious people are looking for signs and wonders – just like  “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem.” We are intrigued by prophets and weird guys who speak mightily and consistently with our pious expectations. We are unprepared to listen to God or to see him in the midst of this. And we are not prepared to see God’s “angel” come as a commoner, a Galilean at that plain like us. Here to be baptised by John?!?

And so we get the water and go on living our pious little lives in our pious traditions. The greatest epiphany of God, however, gets lost to our eyes and ears, our lives and our world. We have exchanged what appeals to us for what we really need and God has sent us. We settle for the little disturbance of our routines and think: Now we got it all. But rather, we have settled for the testimony and not light and life (compare: John 1:1-18)!

And at the beginning already of this mysterious gospel, we have missed the really Good News of God that came to us in his Servant Son who is the only one to prepare us for an encounter with God.

Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark – 1

Advent 2020. – Par riječi za kraj

Pjuh! Završili smo! Nisam očekivala ovoliko

  • inspiracije: Gospod je bio dobar! Često sam se dizala u dva i tri noću, da bi zapisala neku riječ. Nekad i “neinspiracije”, naravno. Nije lako pisati svaki dan cijeli mjesec.
  • nove snage: prošla je bila preteška. Recimo prošlih 3 su bile takve, a zadnji potez 2020. kao sprint pred finish. Mogu sad reći iz iskustva: Gospod obnavlja snagu dok trčimo.
  • vjernih čitatelja 40 svaki dan (vi znate koji ste i ja sam vam zahvalna, što ste ovaj put išli sa mnom.) Nadam se, da ste vi (i vi ostali koji ste nekad navratili) makar malo doživjeli snage i osvježenja, koja je došla meni.
  • Božje ljubavi na 1001 način u ovo doba izolacije kad ništa više ne očekujemo: Neprocjenjivo.
  • Ostanite mi dobro do neke nove prilike. Svratio Gospodin svoj pogled na vas i donio vam mir.
Advent 2020. – Par riječi za kraj

Advent 26

Prezreni čuvari ljubavi

I rodi sina svoga, prvorođenca, te ga povije u pelenice i položi ga u jasle…

Lk 2, 7

Moji su studenti uglavnom zaprepašteni kad shvate razliku između dva izvještaja o Isusovu rođenju: “Pa gle! Marije ima kod Mateja samo na marginama!” Josip, koji sa čudom utjelovljenja Božjega Sina jedva i ima kakve veze, glavni je lik te priče u Matejevom evanđelju. Sva je sreća, zaključuju moji studenti, da imamo i Lukino evanđelje. Lukino je evanđelje, s obzirom na okruženje, sasvim neobično.

Badnjak je i dan kad se naša misao okreće čudu Božića. Za događaj oko Božića, Luka u jednakoj mjeri cijeni i žene i muškarce koje Bog poziva i pohodi. Anđeo dolazi Zahariji, ali on pohodi i Mariju. Isusovom prvom prikazivanju u hramu svjedoči pobožni Simeon, ali i pobožna Ana. Bog oduvijek poziva i koristi muškarce i žene za svoje djelo među ljudima. Samo što iz različitih razloga, svijet žene slabo vidi i bilježi.

Unatoč svojoj aktivnoj službi, žene su uglavnom zaboravljene u djelima misijskih historiografa… “Žene jednostavno nestanu,” zaključila je Patricia Hill na temelju svog istraživanja o povijesti misije. Iako su žene često igrale ključne uloge u pionirskom radu na novim područjima i u razvoju novih programa, one su i dok su na tome radile, ali i kasnije, za to primale malo priznanja.

R. A. Tucker, Guardians of the Great Commission
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Tuckerino istraživanje misijskih pokreta u prošlim stoljećima pokazuje da su žene čak u i većem broju bile misionarke, s obzirom da su često odlazile u misiju i neudate, i kao supruge misionara, ali da za svoj rad nisu dobivale priznanje. Nažalost, ljudi poput J. R. Rice-a, suprostavljali su se pozvanju žena u misiju pa i njihovom načinu prezentiranja misije, “gotovo isključivo pred ženama i djecom u domovini.” Rice je inovativan način prikazivanja misionarskog posla kojim su se služile žene, nazvao “trkeljenjem o odjeći i običajima i hrani popraćenim dijapozitivima o neobičnim poganima.” No to je danas – osuvremenjen novom tehnologijom – pristup koji se koristi u raznim službama i organizacijama kao “human interest story.” Još je veći utjecaj za misiju imao odgoj za misiju kakav su provodile misionarke dok su “trkeljale” djeci o životu ljudi, među kojima su radile. Jedna je takva žena, Frau Lukesh, mene je usmjerila da razumijem Božji poziv meni, djevojčici od 10 godina.

Danas je Badnjak. Najveće je čudo Božja intervencija u ljudsku povijest tim božanskim dolaskom. Ali valja se ipak spomenuti Marije, koja je bila spremna ponijeti ljudski teret toga čuda. Ako je Bog mogao računati s njom, i mi možemo računati sa ženama koje on danas poziva u službu. Možda bismo najprije trebali vidjeti značaj svih onih služba koje smatramo neznatnima, jer ih obavljaju žene. Među njima svakako ima onih inovativnih, čiju će pravu korist možda moći ispravno procijeniti tek nove generacije.

Advent 26

Advent 25

Slični Bogu koji ljubi

Dakle: Budite savršeni, kao što je savršen Otac vaš nebeski

Mt 5, 48

Taj Bog postojane ljubavi i milosrđa je savršeno drukčiji od bogova koji ne mogu njušiti, niti čuti, niti gledati, niti hodati. Tako je i sa štovateljima YHWH. Oni su sasvim neslični drugim štovateljima. Oni, doista, mogu postatiti poput Boga kojega štuju, sposobni za djelovanje i slobodu, sposobni da ustraju na postojanoj ljubavi i obnavaljajućoj pravdi. Bogovi o kojima govori Jeremija nemaju “ruaha” (“duha,” Jeremija 10,14). A tako je i s njihovim štovateljima! … Oni koji od Boga čine stvar i sami postaju nesposobni za djelovanje. Kao da su nadrogirani za život koji je prazan od transformativne energije. S druge strane, štovatelji YHWH su oni koji djeluju i rade … stvarajući buduće povijesne mogućnosti koje zahtijevaju samoodrživo ulaganje.

W. Brueggemann, Tenacious Solidarity

U našoj se ljubavi tek vidi kakvog Boga štujemo. Tko ljubi živoga Boga, taj ljubi i djeluje. Teško mi je pisati o ljubavi, jer na njen spomen naše misli odmah odlete ko leptirići s “leptirićima” u trbuhu, koje bismo valjda trebali osjećati za sve ljude, pa i za neprijatelje. Neki kršćani se muče, jer je tako mnogo ljudi za koje nikako da razviju “leptiriće” u trbuhu. No, problem je u našem erotiziranom vremenu u kome smo ljubav “postvarili” u utjelovili u leptiriće u trbuhu. Božanska ljubav nema veze s time. Ona se ostvaruje u stvaranju i djelovanju i nesebičnim davanju za drugoga, pa čak i za onoga koji nam je neprijatelj.

Isusov poziv njegovim učenicima na božansko savršenstvo, dolazi na kraju odlomka u kojemu se govori o ljubavi prema neprijateljima. Njih treba ljubiti tako da se za njih moli i čini im se dobro, baš kao što Bog daje svoje sunce i kišu i svoja druga dobra i svojim neprijateljima. Ljubav s “leptirićima” je rezervirana samo za one ljude koji su nam sjeli, ali Božja ljubav je djelatna u koristi za sve ljude. S onima koji su nam sjeli volimo biti. I to je u redu.

Štovatelji Gospodnji su poput njihovog Boga – oni su proaktivni u ljubavi: Vide, čuju i djeluju.

No savršena ljubav se vidi tek po tome što radi i u nesavršenim okolnostima. Možda ondje radi i više, jer je ondje više potrebna! I ona ne proizvodi “leptiriće” nego proizvodi sustavno, održivo i trajno dobro. Ako ste zabrinuti što nemate “leptiriće” za ljude oko sebe, to je u redu. Nastavimo moliti i činiti dobro za njih.

Advent 25

Advent 24

Ljubav koja daje krila

Najblagoslovenija si ti među ženama! I blagoslovljen plod utrobe tvoje! Odakle onda meni to da majka Gospodina moga dolazi k meni?

Lk 2, 42

Sjećate se onog osjećaja, kad ste s nekim podijelili svoju jako veliku novost, a dotična odmah počne pričati kako je taman i ona… Eh, Elizabeta je imala priliku biti baš ta Mariji. I ona je bila trudna i to već šest mjeseci. Njeno je dijete najavljeno u hramu! I još kakvih je tu čudesnih stvari bilo! No, Elizabetina je reakcija – što ćemo reći – božanska! Ona progovara božanskom ljubavlju koja transformira Mariju od nesigurne djevojčice u ženu koja se u kompliciranoj situaciji i službi može suočiti sa cijelim svijetom! (Hvala, Enoh, na prekjučerašnjoj propovijedi!)

Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com

Kako je to drukčije od našega iskustva, gdje se svaka naznaka neke obične, a kamo li božanske vizije i službe dočeka s ravnodušnošću, prijezirom i često izravnim neprijateljstvom: “‘Ta će on/ona ‘Ta glumi?!” (posudila slogan od bosnaskog konceptualnog umjetnika Damira Nikšića. Ako se želite dobro “ubedirati” za blagdane, slobodno pogledajte video parodije nazvane “Masovna hipnoza”).

Lako je, naravno , negodovati iz perspektive onoga, kojemu su upravo ugasili duh. Ja bih da danas pogledamo što čini hrabritelje, od kakvog su materijala. Prvo, Elizabeta u susretu s Marijom treba zaboraviti svoju dugu, plodonosnu službu. Evanđelist Luka je to istražio: i ona i muž bili su poznati po svojoj duhovnosti u širem kraju. To se očekuje od takvih! Netko drugi bi odmahnuo i rekao: “Ta ispunila se Duha Svetoga! Lako njoj!” No apostol Pavao izričito govori da nije Kristov, tko nema Duha Kristova (Rim 8, 9). Tako svi mi koji tvrdimo da smo Kristovi, nemamo isprike za svoju duhovnu kratkovidnost.

Drugo, Elizabeta je trebala vidjeti sjeme Marijina čuda i prepoznati ga kao vrijedno, pa čak i veće od vlastitog. “Tko sam ja, da to meni majka Gospodina mojega dolazi k meni?” pita ona puna divljenja dijete još, koje je stajalo pred njom. Elizabetina duhovna pronicljivost i oduševljenje zarazni su i otklanjaju sve Marijine sumnje.

I konačno: Elizabeta je trebala stati uz Mariju protiv javnih napada. Biblija o njima ne govori, ali su morali uslijediti. Elizabeta se postavila uz Mariju, a protiv norma društva i religije. Razumjela je da se događa nešto veliko i sveto, nešto što nadilazi i nju, i njeno osobno čudo, tradicije u društvu, pa čak i vjerske zakone. Da, to nadilazi i Mariju.

Marijina je služba bila specifična, ali Bog i dalje radi po svojima. A oni trebaju ljubav koja će ih pogurati i dati im pouzdanja! Koliko je velika naša ljubav za druge, posebno za one mlade koji tek primaju viziju za veliku budućnost čije rezultate mi nećemo brati? Kao Marija, Isusova mati, oni trebaju naše ohrabrenje, trebaju vjetar u leđa. Trebaju od nas da se povučemo unatrag (možda zapravo trebamo i samo stati) i okružimo ih prihvaćanjem i ljubavlju koja daje krila. Neka se, kao po Mariji, ispunjavaju Božji planovi po njima.

I ne, ne moramo ih pod krinkom “ohrabrenja” vječno trenirati i nametati im svoj ja. Mogli bi time priječiti Duhu da radi svoj posao i upropaštavati evanđelje.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com
Advent 24

Advent 23

Ljubiti Boga iskreno

Nikome ne činite nasilja… nikoga lažno ne prijavljujte i budite zadovoljni svojom plaćom!

Lk 3,14

Kako narod bijaše u iščekivanju i kako se svi u srcu pitahu o Ivanu da nije on Mesija, Ivan svima izjavi: “Ja vas, istina, krstim vodom. Ali dolazi jači od mene, komu ja nisam dostaoja odriješiti sveze na obući; on će vas krstiti Duhom Svetim i ognjem. On u ruci svojoj drži lopatu da očisti gumno svoje i skupi pšenicu u žitnicu svoju. Pljevu će, naprotiv, sažeći ognjem neugasivim”

Luka 3, 15-17

Velika je razlika između ljudskoga i nebeskoga, pa čak i kad je u pitanju tako sjajan lik, kao što je Ivan Kristitelj. Narod ga je promatrao i razumio je njegovu poruku kao božansku. “Pokajte se!” – “Ne činite nasilja!” – “Dijelite s onima koji nemaju!” – “Budite zadovoljni svojom plaćom!” Narod razumije tu priču. Ona im je već objavljena. Narod rijetko razumije, da je to tek početak priče, koja je mnogo veća od ičega što narod može zamisliti.

Ako smo iskreni, upute kakve Ivan daje ljudima koji mu dolaze u pustinju na krštenje u nama najprije stvaraju otpor, posebno ako imamo određene privilegije, kojih bi se trebali odreći. “Zašto bih se toga odrekao? Tko kaže? ” – “I oni bi imali da rade.” – “To je dio mog posla.” – I onda iskreno kakve koristi od dobra, ako nam je nametnuto? Što će postići to neko jedno dobro djelo učinjeno preko volje?

Vjernik dozvoljava da ga prožmu Duh i oganj: Duh da ga uskrisi, a oganj da sažeže sve što priječi pravi život.

Božić ljude često stavlja u tavke dileme. Netko je rekao da trebamo očistiti ispred svoje kuće, pa mi sad čistimo kuću, kao da je Isus koji dolazi, sanitarna inspekcija. Poanta je proročkoga govora, pa i Ivanovoga (što Ivan dobro zna, pa zato tako i govori narodu), da ljudi vide dalje od zapovijedi, dalje od vanjskoga, ne bi li “gledajući gledali” konačno i shvatili: Popraviti stazu prema Bogu uistinu može samo Bog. To je u Kristu već učinio i mi smo dobitnici te milosti, tog dobrovoljnoga stalnoga davanja.

Jedino što možemo je da se predamo intervenciji Duha pa da siđe na nas oslobađajuć oganj. To je promjena od nevjernika u vjernika. Nevjernik svoja djela važe u miligramima ne bi nekako ipak makar malo ostalo po njegovim uvjetima. U srcu govori: napravit ću to opet, pa ću se opet pokajati, ako me uhvate. I sve pet.

Vjernik pak razumije i prima Božji dar oproštenja, jer zna da bez njega nema zajedništva s Bogom. Zato dozvoljava da ga prožmu Duh i oganj: Duh da ga uskrisi za novi život, a oganj da sažeže sve što priječi pravi život. A pravi život raste i daje plod. Ne raspravlja se oko toga niti prividno kaje za svoju “ljudskost”, nego odražava karakter Božjega Duha koji u njemu radi.

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Advent 23

Advent 22

Božja čudesna ljubav

Neka pogled svoj Gospodin svrati na te i mir ti donese.

Brojevi 6, 26

Božja se ljubav u stvaranju temelji na poniznoj ljubavi, koja samu sebe podređuje drugome. S tom ljubalju, koja sama sebi postavlja granice, počinje Božje “pražnjenje,” a Poslanica Filipljanima 2 baš to vidi kao božanstvenu, mesijansku tajnu. Već da bi stvarao, Bog se morao isprazniti svoje sve-ispunjavajuće posvudašnjosti i kao Stvoritelj, na se je uzeo oblik sluge… Ako Bog svoje stvorenje … potvrđuje i vjeran mu je bez obzira na grijeh, ako čezne za njegovim spasenjem, onda u slanju svojega Sina i sebe predaje uništavajućem ništavilu, kako bi to ništavilo u sebi i kroz sebe pobijedio, i tako svome stvorenju pribavio život, spasenje i slobodu.

J. Moltmann, “Creation Out of Nothing” u God and Creation

Majke koje su izgubile svoju nerođenu djecu možda najbolje (a ipak nedovoljno) mogu osjetiti Božju bol gubitka u čovjekovom “padu” u grijeh. Priča o Božiću kršćanima se ponavlja već dvije tisuće godina. U tome ponavljanju nekako kao da gubi na svom značaju. Čini se kao prazna vjerska teorija, koja bi nas se valjda trebala ticati, ali zapravo je previše teoretska, da bi je doživljavli u svakodnevici. Zato najčešće Božja ljubav ostaje nezapažena, ili je kao kršćani tako izbanaliziramo površnim floskulama, da nam je i samima teško povjerovati u koncept Božje ljubavi.

Pa ipak, Biblija je od korica do korica zadivljujuća izvještaj o Bogu koji radi nemoguće da bi spasio svoje stvorenje, koje je odlučilo da u njemu može živjeti, ali bez njega! Božja riječ Adamu u rajskom vrtu: “… ako njega okusiš, zacijelo ćeš umrijeti!” nije prijetnja, nego upozorenje. Ne možeš kao stvorenje odrezati svoju pupčanu vrpcu i očekivati da će ti i dalje pristizati izobilje života! Ako se okreneš od Boga koji je tvoj život, smrt je posljedica.

Zato kad evanđelist Ivan govori o tome da u nebo nitko ne može uzići, osim Sina Božjega koji je s neba sišao (3, 13), on govori o nevjerojatnom vrhuncu Božje ljubavi. U Sinu Bog je svom otpalom svorenju obnovio životodavnu vezu s nebom.

U Božiću, Bog je ponovno uspostavio životodavnu vezu. Bog je svoje lice okrenuo svome stvorenju da obnovi što je bilo smrtno narušeno. Nudi život u sferu smrti! Zato možemo recitirati omiljeni redak: “Bog je tako ljubio svijet da je dao svoga jedinorođenoga Sina da ne pogine ni jedan koji u nj vjeruje, već da ima život vječni” (Ivan 3, 16). Bog u Kristu ne dolazi suditi nego spasiti i svojom ljubavlju osvijetliti ljudsku tminu. Kakva li nevjerojatna čuda! Kakve li divne, životodavne ljubavi!

Advent 22

Advent 21

Kad Bog spava

… oni otpustiše narod i povezoše Isusa onako kako tu bijaše, u lađici… Uto nastade silna oluja, a valovi su tako navalili na lađicu da su je već napunjali. On (Isus) bijaše na krmi i spavaše na jastuku…

Mk 4,35-41
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Zanimljiv je događaj s učenicima na uzburkanom moru, posebno ako ga se čita – što Marko svakako misli da bismo trebali – u kontekstu Prispodobe o sjemenu koje samo raste (Mk 4,26-29): Sijač spava i ustaje, danju i noću, a sjeme raste bez brige! U zgodi o lađici na moru baš se to događa: Isus je posijao sjeme, i sad je vrijeme da zalegne na jastuk, na kraju lađice. (Ne razumijem, zašto sve te umjetničke slike Isusa vide na pramcu?!) Učenici rade – otpuštaju narod, spremaju brod i pratnju, veslaju (pretpostavljam) ili razvlače jedra. Isus spava, otraga. Nema potrebe za njegovom intervencijom.

Često zamijenimo uloge. Umjesto da mi rastemo, čekamo nekako da Bog raste umjesto nas u vjeri. On se mora nama dokazivati, nama dati kakvu pidžamu i jastuk, pa i sedam perina, da nas ne nažulja grašak u tom našem čamcu na putu za preko.

Ali Bog – kad nam je pokazao smjer – sad očekuje akciju. Oluje dolaze da se vidi dokle smo stigli u rastu. Znamo li, baš zato što je on zalegao na našu krmu, da smo sigurni i kad udaraju vjetrovi i valovi prijete potopiti lađicu? U trenutnoj našoj pandemiskoj oluji ne proživljavamo ništa novo. Blumhardt je pisao prije više od stotinu godina. Kako nam je pandemija uzela mogućnost za nedjeljna bogoslužja, mnogo više razmišljam o tome što to je to crkva – svaki dan.

Photo by Ella Pix on Pexels.com

Nasreću, mnogi ljudi više nemaju dojam da im je dovoljna nedjeljna pobožnost. Neovisno o tome što ljudi govore, u opticaj se vraća radna odjeća. Budi se neki novi duh, i mnogo ih je koji traže božansku prednost, iako možda ne znaju kako bi i šta po tom pitanju poduzeli.

C. F. Blumhardt, Action in Waiting

Blumhardt naglašava akciju, naše djelovanje, i našu radnu odjeću, koja treba zamijeniti tu fino popeglanu nedjeljnu toaletu. Kad nas je Bog raštrkao po kućama kao nekad Izraelce po šatorima (obično je to bilo da razmišljaju o svojim postupcima), mi smo navukli pidžame i trenirke. Nije ni to loše za neko kratko vrijeme – ali cilj je radna odjeća i zadatak na koji nas je usmjerio.

Kad ti kažeš, ja idem

Kad ti kažeš, ja idem.

Ti određuješ smjer.

Ti biraš i ti

ideš samnom, kao kofer tu

gdje već jesi, na krmi, na jastuku.

xx

Rekao si: Idi, i ja idem.

Dok ti spavaš na jastuku,

na krmi mog života, moje oluje.

Ti si tu i kad spavaš. Pratiš da sjeme raste

za žetvu šezdesetorostruku, stostruku.

Advent 21

Advent 20

Radost blizu Boga

Sva radost tvoja neka bude Gospodin. On će ispuniti želje tvoga srca. Prepusti Gospodinu putove svoje, u njega se uzdaj i on će sve voditi.

Ps 37,5

Glavna je zamisao posta dragovoljno odricanje od nečega inače potpuno prirodnog, radi intenzivne duhovne aktivnosti. Inače, u životnim tjelesnim potrebama nema ničeg lošeg. Riječ je samo o tome da ima trenutaka kad ih moramo odložiti u stranu, kako bismo se usredotočili na nešto drugo.

R. Foster, “Disciplina posta” u Duhovne discipline

Budući da našeg unuka ne vidimo često, on brizne u plač svaki puta kad prvo uđemo na vrata. Kao baka, naučila sam ponijeti nešto lijepo, npr. autić ili knjigicu, pa mu je ponuditi, dok on još razmišlja hoće li se rasplakati. I to pomogne. Poslije se polako priviknemo, pa i do te mjere da mi pruža rukice kad sjedi u stolici za hranjenje a mama i tata još nisu odlučili da treba izaći van. U tom slučaju krajnje potrebe, naš odnos postane blizak!

Slično je s nama i s Bogom. Njegov nas dolazak uglavnom plaši. Volimo djetešce u jaslicama, mali Božić. Ali nam je teško zajedništvo s Bogom koji je toliko velik i stran. Bog nas mami svojom brigom, ljubavlju, stvarima koje nam daje, uključujući i one bez kojih uopće ne bismo mogli živjeti, a mi ih i ne vidimo kao dar. Naša ljubav za Boga ovisi o tome odgovara li na želje našeg srca!

Post je aktivnost odraslog kršćanskog života koja se bazira na iskustvu da Bog i bolje od nas zna stvarne želje našeg srca. Npr. Želja je našeg srca da se dokažemo nekome, a on razumije da je naše srce zapravo teži za prihvaćanjem. Ispočetka, post možda počinje kao praksa očaja. Kao moj mali unuk u svojoj stolici pružamo ruke Bogu, jer ne možemo izdržati stanje u kome smo zarobljeni. No uskoro nas post nauči da nam je Bog izravno dostupan, da i od nas samih bolje zna naše želje. Kasnije kroz post učimo da ništa što nam Bog daje nije tako značajno kao njegova blizina. Sama sam doživjela radost koju donosi to sjedenje u postu, u Božjem krilu, neopterećeno dnevnim brigama za održavanje života.

Post je aktivnost odraslog kršćanskog života koja se bazira na iskustvu da Bog i bolje od nas zna stvarne želje našeg srca.

Nekako mi se čini da je Božić 2020. prisilni post. Kad se pomisli u kakvo smo stanje katapultirali svijet svojim jurenjem oko zemaljske kugle, informacijama i industrijom, bilo nam je vrijeme da stanemo i da razmislimo. Možda bi mogli prigrliti taj prislini post (umjesto što stalno naričemo o onome što nemamo) da vidimo na kakav će nas novi način Bog iznenaditi ljubavlju, koja ostvaruje prave želje našega srca.

Advent 20

Advent 19

Radost i pokajanje

Photo by Tairon Fernandez on Pexels.com

Ne žalostite se: Radost Gospodnja vaša je jakost.

Neh 8, 10

Vjerujem da svi mi, crkvenjaci, lako iscitiramo redak “Radost Gospodnja vaša je jakost!” (možda u onoj prilagođenoj verziji: “Radost Gospodnja moja je snaga!”) No mislim da nas malo zna gdje se redak može naći i u kojim je okolnostima izrečen. A okolnosti su zanimljive: Narod sluša riječi Božje i čuje ih, nakon mnogo godina, kao prvi puta. Te ga riječi toliko pokreću da svi završavaju u velikom pokajanju, jer prepoznaju kako strašno odudaraju od Božjih kriterija. I točno je taj tren pokajanja učiteljima znak da treba najaviti radost – i feštu! Pokajanje i radost idu ruku pod ruku.

I čitahu iz knjige Božjeg zakona po odlomcima i razlagahu smisao da narod može razumjeti što se čita. Potom namjesnik Nehemija, i svećenik i književnik Ezra, i leviti koji poučavahu narod, rekoše svemu narodu: “Ovo je dan posvećen Gospodinu, Bogu vašemu! Ne tugujte i ne plačite!” Jer sav narod plakaše slučajući riječi Zakona…

Neh 8, 8-12

Nemamo radosti, ne zato što nam je Bog ne bi želio dati, dok nas ne vidi da ridamo. Izraelcima je dao povratak i obnovu prije njihova pokajanja. I nama daje svašta! Nedostatak radosti više ima veze s tim kakvi smo, kad se ne obaziremo na njegovu riječ, i radimo po svom. Tad nam ni cijeli svijet nije dovoljno ponizan, da se uklopi u naše planove za njih. Tek to pravo uviđanje vlastitog stanja, postaje dobro mjesto da vidimo što nam sve Bog daje. I obuzima nas radost.

Ovih se dana po društvenim mrežama vidi meme, koji kaže nešto poput: “Za 2020. htio sam svašta i ništa nisam dobio. Ali mi je 2020. pokazala što sve imam, pa sam zahvalan.” Tako je i s radošću koja dolazi nakon pokajanja – ona totalno mijenja perspektivu. Daje nam slobodu da nas “ja” više ne drži u ropstvu nezadovoljstva. Vrijeme je za radost i feštu!

I really do not know where this is from. Please, forgive. It’s a great picture.
Advent 19

Advent 18

Duh radosti

Vi, naime, niste primili duha ropstva da ponovno budete u strahu, već ste primili Duha posinjenja kojim vičemo: Abba – Oče!

Rim 8, 15
Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

Ne, ljudski naraštaj nije uglavnom sretan – baš suprotno! Radost Duha Svetoga nije nešto što se može proizvesti – ta je radost poslije-uskrsna. Krist je izašao iz groba, i Duh uskrsloga Krista vraća se njegovom narodu. Radost koju imamo, gleda unazad na grob. Nije to radost koju imamo unatoč činjenici da moramo umrijeti – nego proizlazi iz činjenice da smo u Kristu već umrli i uskrsli i da tamo vani više nema prave smrti za pravu Božju djecu.

A. W. Tozer, When He Is Come

Kad se sjetim Amelie, podpredsjednice s Južnog Pacifika, moje se lice automatski razvuče u smješak. Tko je što radio, Amelia je molila – i dobivala što je tražila. Pa i onaj puta kad smo išle u New York u drugom mjesecu na UN-ove konzltacije o statusu žena. Sastanci Izvšnog odbora Svjetskog saveza u Washingtonu završili su u kratkim rukavima, i s rascvalim magnolijama. No, čim smo sjele u bus za New York, TV je najavljivao sniježnu oluju.

“Amelia,” povikala sam, kad sam je vidjela na vratima hotela. “Jesi se ti molila za snijeg?” – “Ja nisam nikad vidjela snijeg, pa sam se molila,” rekla je pomalo pokajnički, i brzo dodala: “Ali za samo koju pahuljicu da padne na moju glavu. Nisam se molila za snježnu oluju!” Kao i obično, Bog je odgovorio na Amelijine molitve obilno i daleko više no što je tražila: Bilo je sniježnih anđela na 39. ulici, grudanja nasred ceste i snjegovića. Promet je stao na Manhattenu i UN zatvorio vrata za jedan dan, da Amelia ima svoje sniježno čudo. Naravno, slijedeće smo se dane probijale kroz jednako veliku bljuzgu: “Plivaj ili umri!” vikala je Amelia i sve smo se smijale.

Radost je plod, koji u nama donosi Duh Sveti, Božji Duh. Bog se veseli s nama isto kao što i s nama tuguje, ali kad pomislim na taj New York, mislim da se više voli radovati. Chris Wright smatra da se u Bibliji vidi, da se Bog voli igrati. Radost raste, kad dozvolimo da on u nama radi. Kako veli Tozer, važno je da kršćani razumiju temelj svoje vjere, da je Krist umro ali i uskrsnuo, i da su oni koji vjeruju, s njim su umrli starom, a uskrsli za novi život (Rim 6,3-4). Taj novi život traje za vječnost. Naš život više nije omeđen ovom zemljom, da ga moramo uzimati tek kako dolazi. Bog očekuje da ga uključimo, da život prolazimo s njim i da ga molimo, čak i za lude, razigrane stvari, kao što je snijeg na Manhattanu. Vjerujem da se i Bog radovao kad je vidio Amelijinu sreću, baš kao mi, susjedi i hotelsko osoblje.

Što više učimo vjerovati Božjem Duhu koji je u nama, to ćemo se manje bojati. To ne znači da se moramo bahatiti i prkositi ne noseći maske (to bi bilo izazivanje Boga, a ne vjera). Maske ne nosimo radi sebe, nego radi drugih. Radost je, i kad smo nekoga zaštitili.

Ali kao kršćani smijemo moliti i za završetak pandemije i za zdravlje male Franke i za malo sunca u ovim tmurnim danima i za Božić s dragim ljudima. Bog daje, jer se želi s nama radovati i želi nas obradovati. Duh koji je podigao iz mrtvih našega Gospodina Isusa Krista, doista može učiniti sve što možemo moliti i misliti. On ne daje na mjeru.

Advent 18