Wednesday, October 22, 2014

012-Summary Cycle Two

Christians are simultaneously disciples and apostles. 

Compared with the Twelve,
we act as though we were sent out to be tourists
rather than disciples in the world.
We plan, pack, and go.

Rejection in His Hometown (6:1-6a)

imageJesus’ initial cycle of teaching of his disciples has come to a conclusion and he sends them out as apostles. But first, he makes a stop in his hometown (probably Nazareth) where the people reject his teachings because they cannot believe that a hometown boy they’ve known all his life could possibly have wisdom (spiritual understanding), power, and authority beyond what even their authorized religious leaders have.

People cannot get beyond the shared assumptions and biases that stem from the most local of cultural institutions, the family and the village; one might as well be in Plato’s cave, where people mistake for reality the shadows they have always been familiar with.[2]

They hear Jesus’ words and hear about his activities. They recognize that they are not mere human words and actions. But what then could be the source? Like the scribes that questioned the source of his authority earlier (3:22-30) Jesus’ family and neighbors may harbor dark suspicions. Jesus cannot openly perform “mighty works” in his own hometown because to do so might only deepen their suspicions and work to further alienate them from him.

The people of Nazareth are like the seed that fell beside the path; they never take root. Their opinions about who Jesus is stand in their way. Jesus 'combination of human ordinariness and divine power makes no sense to them.[3]

Apostles Sent (6:6b-13)

imageRejection does not stop Jesus from his work. He goes on to other places. The work is also much lager than what one individual can accomplish.

The gospel demands judgment: either acceptance in faith, or rejection through disbelief. Jesus has experienced both and now he sends out his disciples with instruction to expect both kinds of response when they proclaim and act on behalf of his authority.

Jesus sends them out with what seem like extreme instructions: don’t take anything with you. Be at the mercy of those to whom you minister. Part of the reason may be that this was meant to be a short-term mission rather than a long-term lifestyle. Another is that the transparency with which they came, not seeking anything on their behalf but to simply be served with gratitude, shows that the apostles were not trying to manipulate their listeners.

Multiple commentaries note that these instructions were not meant to be prescriptive to all missionaries. Some, too, note the discrepancies in detail across the gospels in regards to these instructions and suggest that each gospel writer may be offering his own commentary on what was handed down as Jesus’ words. That said, we should also remain open to those times when God does call people to go without having time to prepare adequately.

What is most important is that Christians not stay confined inside their own bubbles, but to venture outside, to take risks that may be uncomfortable and challenge them. And while doing so to be vulnerable and transparent about their lives and motivations.

Our problem is that most of us would like to be disciples all our lives and never have to risk ourselves and our dignity by becoming apostles. We like the comforts of the cocoon rather than the uncertainties of the wider world.[4]

Summary: Cycle Two

imageSuccess of an apostle is not measured by how many people accept the gospel. Success is measured by how faithful she is to Christ’s commission. The work of the apostle is to sow. God is responsible for the soil and growth.

When the gospel is sown, expect all kinds of responses. Some may be mere dismissal, but at other times it may be quite hostile, even to the point of death. The apostle should not be disheartened by the seeming lack of growth or fruit. The power of the gospel guarantees that it will be fruitful in the end, where it meets good soil.

Could it be that Mark intended the parable of the Sower and Jesus’ explanation of it (4:1–20) to serve as an interpretive guide for all of these problems of speaking and hearing about the kingdom of God?[5]

[1] Feasting: Mark, location 6238.

[2] Feasting: Mark, location 5894.

[3] Reading Mark, 6:1-6.

[4] Exploring Mark, p. 131.

[5] Feasting: Mark, location 5888.

Friday, October 17, 2014

011-Power to Restore Relationships

Salvation is primarily a restoration back into community.

This passage is a perfect example of Mark’s use of his “sandwich rhetoric” in which the first story is interrupted by a second, and then the first resumes after the second.

“… What Mark has joined together the preacher should not put asunder.”[1]

imageThe two stories are meant to be read together and interpreted together. The messages Mark wants his audience to understand are found in the similarities and contrasts between the stories.

In the two stories we find first, a daughter of a synagogue ruler who is sick to the point of death; secondly, an adult woman who has been suffering from menstrual hemorrhaging for twelve years.

Both stories deal with the issue of impurity: death and menstrual bleeding. Impurity meant a person was cut off from regular social contact and from access to the Temple and God’s presence. For Jesus, it is not merely physical healing that matters, it is whole-life wholeness. That is what he brings to both women.

Having crossed geographical boundaries to release a gentile from bondage to the Destroyer, Jesus returns to Jewish territory where his healing power crosses traditional impurity boundaries to restore life to two suffering women.[2]

In both stories the one who suffers is female.

Both stories are also, of course, stories of women, and belong to Mark’s focus on Jesus’ regard for and attention to women.[3]

In the first, the father is an advocate; but in the second, the woman has no advocate. Jesus stops first to work with the one who is the lowest of the low, the one who has no one to speak for her.

“Twelve years” is common to both. The girl is born around the same time the woman begins to have her health problem. Twelve years is also the age at which Jewish culture recognized a girl becoming a woman.

Jesus instructs both the woman and the father on the topic of faith. For the woman, it was her faith, not her touch, that gave her healing. For the father, Jesus encouraged him to continue to have faith in spite of the reality of death.

His response, "fear not, only believe," was a call for intense faith. Jairus had exercised faith when he came to Jesus in the confidence that he could save his daughter. He had witnessed the healing of the woman which demonstrated the relationship between faith and divine help. But he was now asked to believe that his child would live even as he stood in the presence of death. Such faith is radical trust in the ability of Jesus to confront a crisis situation with the power of God.[4]

Both women are called “daughter” by Jesus. It is an affirmation that both have been fully integrated into family. But whose family? Their biological ones, or Jesus’? Or better perhaps, the answer is both.

Jesus as a healer who integrates people more fully into community… The woman is one of several figures in Mark whose healing by Jesus enables them to be (re)integrated into various dimensions of society… The primary effect of Jesus’ healing is thus not personal but social… The salvation or wholeness that the bleeding woman experiences (“Your faith has saved [sōzō] you”) is social and communal (v. 34; cf. v. 28). Jesus’ healings are one of three strategies he employs to (re)integrate social outcasts into community.[5]

In both stories, Mark’s narrative emphasizes that it is faith, not rituals, that is the basis of God’s power. For the bleeding woman, she had a semi-magical view of Jesus which he corrects by bringing attention to her faith For the daughter, his act of restoring life to her involves on lengthy ceremony, ritual, or incantation, but a simple command.

imageBoth stories are about faith. On one level it is about human faith, but at a deeper level it is about God’s faithfulness and compassion. It is a story that when even human faith falters, God’s faithfulness is able to carry us through.

“Fear not, only believe…” The present tense of the Greek imperative means to keep believing, to hold onto faith rather than give into despair. With respect to his daughter’s circumstances, Jairus’ future is closed; but with respect to Jesus it is still open. Faith is not something Jairus has but something that has Jairus, carrying him from despair to hope.[6]

[1] Feasting: Mark, location 5621.

[2] Reading Mark, 4:1-5:43.

[3] Feasting: Mark, location 5473.

[4] NICNT: Mark, 5:35-37.

[5] Feasting: Mark, locations 5775, 5790, 5805, 5807.

[6] Exploring Mark, page 125.