Tag Archives: Mark

Travel Light

A summer spent hiking in New Mexico and canoeing in Maine was the acme of my scouting experience. For two separate weeks I and a few of my friends traveled with no more than we could carry on our backs in very rugged places far from the rush of civilization. To prepare for these trips we learned to leave behind anything that we would not need. Every ounce mattered. Anything extra would be a distraction and burden for what lies ahead.

Hiker near Mount McKinley (NPS Photo/Kent Miller)
Hiker looking at Denali in Alaska (NPS Photo/Kent Miller source, Wikimedia)

Life can also benefit from leaving extra things behind.

Having moved several times, if I have not used something in the most recent 3 to 5 years I am likely to sell or give it to someone more likely to appreciate it. And when considering purchasing a new item, I think for a moment if I will still be using it in 3 to 5 years, if not, should I leave it for someone else to buy.

Healing: Physical or Spiritual

Does spiritual health affect physical healing?

A chaplain had told me that the hospital she served expected her to visit every patient frequently, for statistics showed that patients visited by a chaplain at least three times were discharged sooner.

Anointing Vial
Anointing Vial

Similarly the ritual of anointing that I carry in my pocket links spiritual care with physical health saying: “Spirit of the Living God, present with us now, enter into … in body, mind and spirit, forgive her/his sins, and heal her/him from all that harms her/him.”

Spiritual healing might not kill viruses nor bacteria; it might not mend broken bones nor close a nasty cut; it might not directly affect any of the multitude of diseases and illnesses that modern medicine can cure or at least name. But guilt and shame can burden more than a person’s soul, feelings of unmitigated remorse do cause real illnesses.

Conversely, feelings of joy and acceptance can and do improve one’s physical well-being. People who attend worship regularly live longer, happier, and healthier lives. The placebo effect, merely telling someone that a treatment will help, does make a physical difference.

Perhaps this is why the Greek word meaning “to save” is also used as “to heal.”

[Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you;
go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

— Mark 5:31

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, June 28th, 2015.

See also: Naming Demons

A Dead Calm

I look at what is happening to the Church these days and wonder: Where is God? New churches have become a rarity. A growing congregation celebrates if it can merely keep pace with the growth of its community. Many congregations see their membership numbers decline and especially the number who attend worship each Sunday. More and more churches have closed and others contemplate how many months they can eke out an existence.

Today the church does not face violent persecution as it had in the first century, but a dead calm. Increasingly events are scheduled on Sunday mornings ignoring the spiritual needs of those who attend worship services. The result is the same.

Backhuysen, Ludolf - Christ in the Storm on th...
Backhuysen, Ludolf – Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee – 1695 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion;
and they woke him up and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
— Mark 4:38 (NRSV)

Mark’s Gospel tells of Jesus calming a storm while the Apostles attempted to cross a sea by rebuking the wind, by ordering it to be silent. Now many individuals perceive they can weather life’s storms by themselves without a church family, without a caring community of believers.

Or perhaps the Church has busied itself with internal controversies and neglected to communicate the story entrusted to it. Have we too long enjoyed the calm waters? Neglected to communicate how worshiping God positively affects our daily living? Neglected to communicate the importance of setting aside a day to connect with one another and with God?

How have you helped the church put its oars in the water so that it might continue to effectively communicate the love of God in the dead calm that culture provides?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, June 21st, 2015.

Where Is God in All This?

I have experienced times when I wanted God to come in with a big hand and fix a few things. Something obvious like a timely, yet unexpected rain squall on an otherwise calm day that extinguishes a fire or a miraculous cure when none was expected.

Dandelion seeds (achenes) can be carried long ...
Dandelion seeds (achenes) can be carried long distances by the wind. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet more often than not, miracles have been long in the making: diverse services coordinating to extinguish a blaze and aid those harmed by it; or slow and steady advancements in medicines; or even someone with exactly the right training available at the exact moment. As if God had sown a variety of seeds widely and generously, without knowing how each particular seed might contribute to answering a future prayer, but hoping that if enough seeds were sown a few would eventually lead to great things.

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,
and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow,
he does not know how.”

— Mark 4:26-27 (NRSV)

What seeds has God planted in your life?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, June 14th, 2015.

The Unfinished Story

I like stories that wrap up loose ends before the last word. I want to close the book knowing that good will triumph over evil, that lovers will unite having gone through difficult times, that those who are ill receive healing or at least an opportunity to mourn those who die. For when the author has wraped up all the loose ends, I can close the book or eject the DVD, put it on the shelf, and turn to other tasks and adventures.

But the Gospel According to Saint Mark as originally written ended abruptly. The women had seen the empty tomb and ran away afraid to tell anyone what they had seen. Loose ends are left dangling: How did Peter and the others learn of the resurrection? How did the resurrection affect their lives?

The unfinished story must have bothered scribes copying this gospel for they added two endings. We know that these other endings were late additions because the oldest and most reliable manuscript ends with verse 8 and letters between early church leaders also note the abrupt ending of Mark’s Gospel.

I think Mark did this intentionally. An unfinished story demands attention. For example: a composer once lay on his bed awaiting sleep while someone practiced a melody on a nearby piano. But the piano player stopped one note short of resolution. Instead of sleep the composer tossed and turned in his bed until he arose and strode the to the piano, played the melody with the resolving note that begged for attention.

Mark left us begging for the rest of the story, imagining how we would respond the stranger’s message: “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

This is incredible! Tombs do not open themselves. Dead men, especially after crucifixion, stay dead. No one would believe them. Their friends and family at best would pat them on the hands and explain what they had seen and heard as a hallucination; at worst they would laugh at these silly women.

Would you tell? Would anyone believe you?

Will you tell a neighbor about Jesus this Easter?

Fast from Bitterness

English: A cropped version of Antonio Ciseri's...
From Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus had every reason to be bitter and angry when he stood before Pilate. He had been betrayed and denied by his own disciples. The Jewish leaders had him arrested on trumped up charges. The people had preferred that Pilate release a murderer. The guards mocked him, placing a wreath of thorns on his head, before spitting on him. Yet Mark portrays him as calm and detached.

The guards expected bitterness and anger. Such a response might have eased their gruesome task: nailing him to a cross.

Anger can be a dangerous emotion. One that unleashes harsh words that can’t be recalled. Words that can have an impact that lasts far beyond their usefulness.

The Prophet Isaiah provides an alternative response:

The Lord God will help me and prove I am innocent.
My accusers will wear out like moth-eaten clothes.
— Isaiah 50:9 (CEV)

Fasting from bitterness and anger requires learning to take time to think through how I might respond, using my advanced human brain, rather than my animal instincts. Daily meditative prayer allows me to practice letting stray thoughts amble through my mind, without dwelling on any one thought. So that when circumstances might evoke a strong emotional response, I might allow those thoughts to amble through, I might be able to give God time to help me and prove my innocence, to wear out my accusers.

Fasting from bitterness can lead to forgiving others. Not letting them off the hook, ignoring the pain that they have caused in harming, but letting go of the string that binds us together, giving me time to heal. Forgiveness need not deny guilt, merely responsibility for retribution, allowing me to separate from the incident lest my bitterness eat in to my spiritual health.

When have you forgiven someone who hurt you?

Alternative Health Care

If someone offered you a low-risk, low-cost way to improve your health, would you try it?

Try participating in the life of a congregation.

Jesus heard them and answered,
“Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do.
I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers.
I came to invite sinners.”
— Mark 2:17 (CEV)

Lower your stress

Filling the Baptismal FontEach week we confess our sins publicly and privately, with a unison prayer of confession and silence. Then while we hear assurance God’s forgiveness, I pour water into the Baptismal font reminding us of being cleansed by Christ. For at least a few seconds we learn to release concerns about what we have done and what has been done to us. For at least a few seconds we might escape the hurts of living in the world. For at least a few seconds we might recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in those worshiping alongside us. For at least a few seconds we might hear and receive healing for our spiritual wounds.

If we say that we have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves,
and the truth isn’t in our hearts.

But if we confess our sins to God,
he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away.
1 John 1:8-9 (CEV)

Scientists tell us that disease comes from a variety of sources: genetic traits, microbes, what we eat or neglected to eat, and the distress we experience each day. The ritual of forgiveness lowers our social stress, if only for a few seconds, so our bodies can better fight disease.

Develop your strengths

While your boss might assign you a variety of tasks that you despise, in a congregation you can choose which tasks to try and which to decline. You can develop new skills or develop skills that your career neglects.

Drummer in Brisbane Mall-1=

When our band needed a drummer, I learned to beat a tempo, at least until someone with those gifts who did not use them at work. Another congregation gained an outstanding drummer when she continued taking lessons started for her son.

What skills might you exercise with a congregation? What new opportunities could those skills open in your future?

 There are different ways to serve the same Lord, 
and we can each do different things.

Yet the same God works in all of us and helps us in everything we do.
— 1 Corinthians 12:5-6

Find Meaning for Life

Participating in something bigger than ourselves gives us meaning and purpose to life, a reason to wake up each morning with a smile.

Thriving congregations make meaningful contributions to their communities: feeding the hungry, building homes after a natural disaster, or helping our neighbors find employment.

People with a well-defined sense of meaning, live longer, happier, and healthier lives.

How might participating in the life of a congregation improve your health?

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July 22nd: “We Can’t”

Consider how the disciples felt when Jesus told them to feed 5,000 men plus women and children. How might we respond to Jesus’ startling command to do the impossible?

This Week’s Passage: Mark 6:30-44

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, July 22nd

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

What had the apostles been doing and teaching prior to v.30?

31, 32 The religious leaders need time to decompress, rest, and eat so that they may serve.

Jesus and the Apostles attempt to sneak off for a vacation, but are found.

34 Even though Jesus needed rest, he took time to teach this flock. A large crowd gathers needing guidance. Jesus teaches them. What did Jesus teach them? Did he teach them about loving one’s neighbor so that they multiplied the loaves the disciples provided?

The Lectionary omits Jesus feeding the 5000.

As night approaches, Jesus directs the Apostles to feed the people. With five loaves and 2 fish, 5000 are well fed and satisfied.

Where is Bethsaida? Which mountain does he pray from that overlooks this lake?

The Lectionary omits Jesus walking on the water. Ends by explanation of the fear of the apostles was due to them not being able to grasp the feeding of the 5000. Can our minds grasp it even now?

Mark does not want us to think that the feeding of the 5000 was simply the sharing of what the people had, as perhaps the apostles originally did. The juxtaposition of the story of walking on water wants us to hear that this was a real miracle.

52 Why were the apostles’ hearts hardened? Was it to prevent terrorizing the crowd? What would have happened if the apostles’ had understood the loaves in the presence of the crowd?

53 What is the deeper spiritual meaning to this verse? Had they really arrived spiritually, or had they merely come ashore for awhile?

54 Were they still attempting to avoid recognition or had their retreat ended?

55-56 News of Jesus’ ability to heal preceded his arrival.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • In the preceding narrative, Jesus had sent out the apostles proclaiming repentance, casting out demons, and curing the sick. Mark notes that this had created a significant stir. Herod had ordered John the Baptizer imprisoned to quell the crowd.
  • The passage is preceded and followed by several passages of healings and teachings telling about the ministry of Jesus. This passage occurs as the disciples regroup after being sent out in pairs to minister to the people. The ministry of the apostles and Jesus was so effective, the people thought it was John the Baptist brought back to life or Elijah.
  • The walking on water passage is the center of the Markan sandwich, with reports of healings and teachings on both sides.
  • Lectionary clipped out the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water, and continues with additional healings at Gennesaret and in the wherever Jesus went. The healings lose emotional impact adjacent to the feed or walking stories.
  • The feeding of the 5000 provides opportunities to examine our participation in ministry.
  • In the following passage Jesus condemns the Pharisees for being closed minded and creating barriers between the people and the grace of God.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • Written by Mark as a teaching guide for disciples and new converts in about 65 AD. Mark was a disciple of Peter and probably had access to other Apostles.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Matthew 14:13-21,22-33 – Jesus arrives by himself. The disciples come later. Text is very similar. Cuts out complaint of the cost of feeding so many. Adds Peter’s request to join Jesus walking on the water. The walking on water opens their eyes to see that Jesus is the Son of God.
  • Mark 8:1-10 – Jesus feeds 4000. Seven loaves and a few small fish. The crowd has not eaten for three days. Both are done out of compassion for the crowd. Again they depart by boat. This time they end up at Bethsaida. Both stories are bracketed by healings.
  • Mark 8:14-17 – recaps both of these stories. The numerology may be significant. However, the bottom line seems to be: ‘Ask and you shall receive bountifully.’
  • Luke 9:10-17 – Context is the same regathering after sending out the twelve. Story is much more compact. No complaints from the disciples. No direct connections between miracles and Christology. Occurs in Bethsaida. Luke’s emphasis is Jesus’ compassion on the crowd.
  • John 6:1-13, 15-21 – Jesus on retreat with disciples. A boy provides the 5 BARLEY loaves and 2 fish. The feeding itself directly reveals to all the people that Jesus is the “prophet who is to come into the world.” Destination by boat was Capernum. Jesus’ headquarters between Bethsaida and Gennesarette. Jesus identifies himself with “I AM.” Similarly Jesus mysterious departure is received as a sign by the people. The feeding is used as an illustration for “I am the bread of live.”

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • Hearts: 1st century biology associated reason with the heart. Thus hardening of heart is analogous to not being able to grasp meaning.
  • Twelve: Indicative of the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • v.52 alla: this Greek word may be used as the conjunction ‘but’, or as an intensive, ‘indeed’. This allows the verse to hang together better.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • The style is Gospel narrative.
  • The author probably intended us to read this as theological fact. Although exaggeration was normative of this style.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Jesus: I am thankful that the Father has chosen to give me such powers to reveal to these people such great signs that they may eventually come to recognize God’s grace.

The Disciples: Who is this man? He must surely be a great prophet for he does signs beyond our wildest dreams/nightmares.

The Crowd: We don’t care who he is, as long as he continues to feed us and teach us and heal our sick.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

Apostles’ left for Bethsaida and came to land at Gennesaret. Both are on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Gennesaret is in Galilee. Bethsaida is to the East in Philip. The sea is about 15 miles long and 7 miles wide.

The body of water and location of the feeding are un-named. But the apostles’ intended and actual destinations are named, although they are unconnected from the preceeding and following accounts. Bethsaida is the traditional home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip. Gennesaret may refer to the body of water rather than a specific village.

The number of fish and loaves served is emphasized, yet their symbolism is not explained. If the fish is a symbol of Christianity, then why two fish?

What is significant about the grass being green? Is it an allusion to the 23rd Psalm?

What is the significance about the size of the groups of people on the grass, 100’s and 50’s?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: The walking on water is sandwiched between two more typical prophetic actions feeding the multitude and healing the sick. Both of these signs were performed by Elisha but on a smaller scale. The walking on water is a new sign. No previous evidence of this in Scripture. The implication is that Christ Jesus is radically different from the previous prophets.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Jesus demands more of the disciples than they are prepared to recognize that they can give to the people; i.e. feeding the 5000.
  • The disciples don’t really understand what Jesus represents.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • Amazing stories. Too good to be true.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Although Jesus regularly confronts the law as a needless barrier to God’s grace, he wears a fringe on his cloak in observance of the law.

Job 9:8 and 38:16 alludes that only God walks on water.

Ralph Martin (Knox Preaching Guides: Mark. JKP, 1981.) compared Mark’s account of the disciples’ return with Luke’s account and discerns Jesus displeasure by the lack of comment by Jesus and an immediate withdrawal for instruction and reflection. Recalling the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness (from Luke) he discerns Jesus fretting an uprising against the Romans as the people latch on to the healing and feeding miracles apart from the lessons which the disciples had not grasped. He interprets the green grass as indicative of early spring, thus the feeding of the 5,000 occurred near the Passover, adding to Messianic expectations. He interprets Jesus immediate departure, apart from the disciples, as avoiding the crowd making him king (see John 6:15).

Lamar Williamson, Jr. (Interpretation: Mark. JKP, 1983.) considers three different dimensions of the feeding of the 5000 for interpretation: (1) The Good Shepherd – Jesus confronts the disciples with an impossible command, “You give them something to eat,” and “supports us with the abundant promise of more than enough;” (2) Blind Disciples – In the presence of miracles, the disciples did not have eyes to see, yet Jesus continues to invite us “to trust his mighty power and abundant blessing;” (3) Bread in the Wilderness – Jesus connects himself backward to Moses by providing bread in a lonely place, and forward to the Eucharist with “words that become living bread that satisfies our deepest hunger and gives us strength to make it home.”

Pheme Perkins (“The Gospel of Mark,” The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 1995.) favorably compares Jesus having compassion Numbers 27:17, 1 Kings 22:17, and Ezekiel 34:5-6. She notes that early Christians understood the feeding of the 5000 as anticipating the Eucharist. She reflects that Jesus demonstrate the need for both teaching and healing, both teaching and feeding; that neither the social gospel nor preaching are sufficient by themselves. Regarding Jesus walking on water, she reflects: “If miracles alone create faith, the disciples have witnessed more than enough for their faith to be strong. … Our disbelief has less to do with the an anticipation that God will do miracles than with the suspicion that perhaps life would be just the same even if we did not put out the effort to be active members of the Christian community.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Christ Jesus has revealed himself through miracles so that his Gospel might be received by the people. The miracle stories provide a teaching opportunity to receive the breath of God’s compassion for each person and give authority to the story.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Accept God acting in new ways, and act with compassion through the controversies of these new revelations.

June 24th: “Jesus, Wake Up”

At sea, a storm involves everyone, yet Jesus was not involved in the ordinary way, bailing or rowing. What are our expectations on how Jesus should and will become involved in our lives?

This Week’s Passage: Mark 4:35-41

I. Establish the text

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

36b There were other boats alongside the boat with Jesus, thus merely bailing or rowing would not be sufficient, as the others would presumably drown while Jesus and the disciples continued.

38a How is it that Jesus could sleep in a boat that was nearly swamped? Would not the water in the boat make him wet and awaken him?

38b Is this question not the same as our questions? At a hospital bedside of a friend: “God, don’t you care if we suffer?” At a funeral: “God, don’t you care if we grieve?” Watching a news report of violence: “God, don’t you care if there is no justice?”

39 A demonstration that God is Lord of all.

40 Is Jesus asking about their terror in response to their fear of the storm, or in anticipation of their fear of God who acts? Or both?

41 The disciples go from fear of the storm to the fear of God who answers their prayers. When God chooses to act miraculously in the world it shatters our understanding of how things happen, making the whole of life unpredictable and scary.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Preceded by four parables about the kingdom of God: The sower, the lamp on its stand, the mystery of seed growth, and the mustard seed.
  • Followed by the healing of Legion of Geresenes and two other stories of casting out demons.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Matthew 8:18,23-27 – Omits specificity of location in the boat. Omits presence of other boats with them. Omits Jesus being asleep on the boat. Changed accusation of Jesus’ indifference to a plea for help. Omits Jesus’ direct speech to the waves.
  • Luke 8:22-25 – Consistent with Matthew’s version.
  • Psalm 4:8, Prov 3:23-26, and Job 11:18-19 — Provide precedence for those with faith sleeping in the presence of evil.
  • Psalm 107:23-30 Is similar in that the LORD quiets the storm once the merchant’s courage melts away and they call upon the LORD. But it differs in that they leave not in fear, but glad as the LORD guides them to a safe haven.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

35 “[just] as he was” What does this mean? NIV, NRSV, NIV, NAB & NJB add “just” to the Greek. Why not translate this as: “as he was [already] in the boat” (see REB & 4:1)?

39 /siwpa, pefimwso./ Literally: “Silence. Muzzle it.” Many translations sanitize this to “Peace, be still.” But would the original language have a connotation like: “Put a cork in it!”

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

The disciples would have immediately busied themselves with responding to the storm, striking sails, rowing to keep the boat parallel with the wind, and bailing. They would have been shocked to see Jesus sleeping as waves broke over the gunwales. They would have been even more terrified when the wind ceased after Jesus spoke.

Jesus would have been exhausted after a full day of teaching. He’s miffed that they need to wake him to calm the storm.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

Sea and storms are often metaphors for chaos, evil, or separation from God.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Even when we do not notice Jesus with us in life’s storms, he is Lord of all.
  • Emotional Center: In the midst of a storm, seeing God is difficult.
  • Music: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • At sea, a storm involves everyone, yet Jesus was not involved in the ordinary way, bailing or rowing. What are our expectations on how Jesus should and will become involved in our lives?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • “Jesus, we don’t need you to stop the storm, just wave and show us you’re part of the solution.”

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Pheme Perkins (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Mark,” Abingdon, 1995) notes that like Jonah, Jesus is accused of not caring if the crew perishes. She also notes that Matthew’s version more closely follows pattern of the ancient sea rescue myth.

Ralph Martin (Knox Preaching Guides: Mark, JKP, 1981.) interprets Jesus sleeping as indicating “perfect trust in the sustaining and protecting care of God.” He notes the parallel with the exorcism of the demoniac in chapter 5. He cites Tertullian’s use of this episode as a parable: “The ‘little ship’ of the church is often rocked in the storm and nearly swamped until the Lord of history comes to his persecuted people, as in Mark’s church, and rebukes the oppressor.”

Lamar Williamson, Jr. (Interpretation: Mark. JKP, 1983.) laments that the familiar translation of verse 40 (“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”) lacks contemporary force equivalent to the Greek. [He might like Peterson: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”]

James H. Price (“Jesus’ Authority,” The Presbyterian Outlook. Feb. 17, 2003.) notes “the mighty deeds or miracles of Jesus are signs of God’s mastery over the demonic powers that degrade and control life. … in the first century no rigid distinction was made between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural.’ ” For discussion he asks: “What are some of the powers that control and subjugate men and women today?”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Even when we do not notice Jesus with us in life’s storms, he is Lord of all.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

We innocently go out onto the sea with Jesus and he awes us, calming the storms that would drown us.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

To appreciate the terror of inviting Jesus to response within our lives.

April 8th, Resurrection Sunday: “Amazement”

The resurrection is scandalous! Resurrection of the body! Frightened women were the only witnesses. But this ending marks our beginning.

Mark 16:1-8

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for 1stSunday in Easter

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 Burial delayed due to Sabbath restrictions. These are the women who had observed Jesus at his crucifixion and when placed in the tomb.

2-4 Affirmation that the tomb had been sealed more tightly that three women could open.

5 Not an angel, but a stranger in a white robe alarms the women.

6 Standard angelic opening: “Do not be afraid.”

7 Frightened women were instructed to be the first evangelists.

8 An honest reaction to a divine message!

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • The preceding segment ends with internment. This segment begins about thirty-six hours later, on the third day.
  • There are three endings to this passage:
    • with the women fleeing in stunned silence;
    • with the women briefly telling Peter and a projection of evangelism; and
    • summaries of Mary Magdalene telling the others and their disbelief, the two on the road to Emmaus, and the upper room denials including Thomas, but resolving with a summary of the apostolic movement.
  • Too many Christians act more like the open ended version: Fleeing in fearful silence, afraid to tell others, and wondering how the story had been told from generation to generation.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • The abrupt ending is supported by the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.
  • The shorter ending by itself is supported by only one manuscript, but is included with the longer ending in a few manuscripts.
  • The longer ending is included in several manuscripts, but some mark it as dubious. This section differs in language and style from the rest of Mark.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Matthew 28 – No mention of Salome. An earthquake and a descending angel open the tomb. The angel sat on the rock that had sealed the tomb. Whiteness of the angel’s garb amplified. Guards at the tomb faint. Angel’s message varies only grammatically from Mark. Jesus briefly appears to them and re-iterates the angel’s message. Interlude about counter resurrection propaganda. The women tell the disciples, all go to Galilee, and there they hear the Great Commission from the risen Jesus.

Luke 24 – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and the other women. The stone had been rolled away prior to their arrival. Two men in dazzling clothes appear. The angels’ message greatly expanded, yet similar to Mark. They tell the eleven, and Peter alone investigates. Emmaus Road interlude and Jesus appears to the eleven in Jerusalem, immediately followed by his ascension.

John 20 – Mary Magdalene arrives alone, sees the stone removed and told Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” These two disciples investigated the empty tomb and get partial insight. Later Mary saw two angels sitting where Jesus had been laid. The angels began a dialog with Mary which Jesus completed. That evening Jesus appears had met with the disciples in a locked room where they received the Holy Spirit and, still later, Thomas’s doubts were erased.

1 Cor. 15:3-10 – No mention of the empty tomb or angelic messages to the women prior to appearing to (Cephas) Peter. Women would have been considered unreliable witnesses thus their testimony irrelevant to Paul.

Mark provided a terse account, giving readers the bare minimum so they might carry the message out into the world.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

The three women had expected to find the tomb as they left it and instead found a man whose message frightens them into silence.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The man sat on the right side (of the tomb?). Is this symbolic of where Jesus would sit in heaven?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: “He has been raised! He is not here!”
  • Emotional Center: Terror and amazement! ? God had disrupted what they knew to be true.
  • Music: I recall our daughter (probably before her 6th birthday) being frightened when a trio of trumpets suddenly blared from the balcony above us. Her mother and I knew to anticipate them from the bulletin. Music this day should engender shock and awe!

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • If the women had “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid,” then how do we know this?

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

  • The unfinished or perhaps lost ending begs readers to finish the Gospel. But I believe the unfinished ending is correct, as it begs the reader to finish it with the living of their lives, spreading the Gospel into the world.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • Hearers will want to harmonize Mark’s telling with other accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, both those in the other Gospels and those in fiction.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Pheme Perkins (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Mark.” Abingdon, 1995.) notes that predictions in Mark of Jesus resurrection, meeting in Galilee with the disciples, and judgment anticipate that the Gospel cannot end with crucifixion and burial. The abrupt ending begs an explanation which the alternate endings provide. She points to Jesus’s dispute with the Sadducees over the resurrection, Elijah, Moses, and Enoch as indicating that “resurrection does not imply return to the conditions of bodily existence, such as the revival of Jairus’s daughter,” but “represents the end-time renewal of all creation,” “… might suggest that the time of salvation has been initiated,” and a “special, heavenly status.” She interprets the women’s flight as symbolizing their isolation from Jesus due to their fear from lack of faith. She comments that Peter is singled out from among the disciples because he had previously boasted he would die with Jesus (14:31), had publicly denied Jesus (14:71), and had wept over recalling Jesus words (14:72). [Since Peter was reconciled with the resurrected Jesus, there is great hope for us!] She concludes that since we know this story, “therefore, his promise that the failure of his disciples would be overcome can also be trusted.” She reflects that “the resurrection is exaltation to Gods’ glory”, the women’s fear demonstrated the mystery of faith. “Jesus did not need to come again and choose a new team in some grand lottery for better disciples.”

Lamar Williamson, Jr. (Interpretation: Mark. JKP, 1983.) begins his interpretation of this chapter: “When is an ending not the end? When a dead man rises from the tomb–and when a Gospel ends in the middle of a sentence.” He interprets the abrupt ending, including a dangling preposition, as literary style rather than indicating a lost section. He concludes: “[This unfinished story] puts us to work; we must decide how the story should come out.” “The significance of Mark 16:1-8 lies instead in its understanding of the basic life-stance of a Christian: expectancy.”

Ralph Martin (Knox Preaching Guides: Mark. JKP, 1981.) reminds us that first century Jews would have been shocked by the presence of women alongside men in the gospel story and perceived women playing a central role in discovering and announcing the resurrection as scandalous.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Jesus is risen from the dead.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

The resurrection is scandalous! Resurrection of the body! Frightened women were the only witnesses.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

This ending marks our beginning!