Monday, February 23, 2015

018A-Bread and Boat, Again and Again

Jesus came to meet people where they are.

imageFirst off, we only managed to get through the first third (feeding of the 4,000) of the study during this session. We will finish off the remainder next time.

When the story of the feeding of the 4,000 is read in its literary context, it reveals much more than simply another miraculous feeding by Jesus. There are some key differences and similarities between this feeding and the earlier one in chapter 6. These point to what Mark intended for his readers to understand.

The key message is that the gospel is not just for the Jews, but for the entire world. This story illustrates the “riddle” that the Syrophoenician woman brilliantly answered in 7:24-30. This feeding illustrates both Jews and Gentiles eating together (literally) in the kingdom of God, that all are fed simultaneously, and that all are fed until satisfied.

So the Syrophoenician woman turns out to be right after all. The Gentile "dogs" eat from the provisions of Abraham's descendants, and the disciples are not deprived in the least. They collect enough leftovers to fill seven baskets, each large enough to hold a man (spuris, 8:8b; Acts 9:25). At the eschatological banquet that this meal prefigures, everyone has a place at the table, everyone eats at the same time, and everyone has enough (echortasthesan, 8:8a).[1]

In view of the mixed population of the area, however, it is probable that both Jews and Gentiles sat down together in meal fellowship on this occasion, and this prefigured Jesus' intention for the Church. This seems to be a more realistic approach to the historical situation than the desire to find an exclusively Gentile audience in Ch. 8:1–9.[2]

This story and the differences with the earlier feeding story also provide us with some principles of mission. In the earlier story Jesus (and Mark) allude to a number of Old Testament passages and metaphors (such as the Good Shepherd, Psalm 23). Jesus is also shown as primarily teaching. But in the current story, Jesus’ concern is with primarily with the physical needs of the people, and there are no allusions to the Jewish scriptures. In addition Jesus gives thanks for both the bread and fish, a detail not found in the earlier story where it could be assumed that the Jews already understood that giving thanks for the bread was indicative of God’s supplying of all needs, but where the gentile audience would not have necessarily known.

We see that Jesus tailors his methods and message to the people; something that Paul will later be shown to do. Mission work begins with the missionary integrating herself or himself into the society and culture of those to whom her/his compassion has led. It begins with listening and understanding. When actions are taken and words are spoken, it begins with the immediate needs and understandings of the people. This is something that American Christians need to take to heart, especially as we attempt to communicate the gospel to those around us. We cannot assume prior biblical knowledge or spiritual foundations of those that we encounter. Our first step should not be to try to correct errors or misunderstandings, but to listen and understand, to build up and affirm, to discover what it is that they find valuable and life-giving already, and then build from there.

[1] Reading Mark, 7:24-8:9.

[2] NICNT: Mark, 8:8-10.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reblog: The Gospel of Mark as a Manifesto of Political and Religious Defiance

Christian Piatt writes in his blog at Patheos Progressive Christian Channel:

“All human laws bow at the feet of the authority of God, which is not a rule of law, but rather a subversive, paradigm-shifting ‘from the bottom, up’ rule of love and compassion for others, first and foremost. Period.”

Read the entire post at

Friday, February 6, 2015

017-Did Jesus Really Say That?

The kingdom of God is not about maintaining purity and exclusivity but about finding as many as possible to bring into it.

imageIn the two miracle stories found in the last half of Mark chapter 7, we are given a peek into Jesus redefining the kingdom of God to include everyone, Jews and Gentiles, male and female, privileged as well as the outcast.

The unit 7:1–37 radically expands the inclusiveness of the kingdom of God. It includes a redefinition of cleanliness, a major value in the Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds, breaks out of the boundary of Galilee into Gentile lands, and crosses boundaries between male and female, even showing Jesus’ honor being challenged by a witty Syrophoenician woman. If we miss all this boundary breaking and the inclusiveness of the kingdom, we miss the gospel’s essence.[1]

We encounter two puzzling statements from Jesus:

  1. The first story includes a saying that can be interpreted as a racial slur (calling the Gentiles a “dog”).
  2. The second story continues Jesus commanding people to remain silent, but in the context that he has just enabled a mute man to speak, it seems particularly puzzling.

The study outline and the accompanying group discussion explores what Mark might have intended his audience to hear and understand. This outline includes extensive footnotes with commentary excerpts to help us see the different ways in which these stories could be read and interpreted.

So while both of these stories anticipate and justify a Gentile mission, they both indicate the great boundary that had to be crossed to start that mission. Often forgetting that Jesus crossed that boundary for our sake, we Gentile Christians institute new boundaries between us and them. Mark intends the kingdom as radically inclusive; we often reconstitute it as exclusive… The story of the Syrophoenician makes explicit one more boundary that had to be crossed: she was a woman… Even more, Jesus, as a Jewish male of honor, must give up some of that honor to meet the woman’s request. The first must become the last and slave of all (9:35).[2]

[1] Feasting: Mark, location 7651.

[2] Feasting: Mark, location 7444.