Searching for Jesus

Mark 16:1-8 (Friday)

Mark 16-6

On the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James & Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  They went first thing, right as the sun was rising (as early as they could and still respect the Sabbath).  When they reach the tomb, they find the stone rolled away and a young man in white telling them Jesus was raised from the dead and was no longer here.  He tells them go and tell Jesus’s disciples and Peter that “He is going ahead of you to Galilee to meet you there.”  So the two women fled from the tomb in astonishment and trembling, saying nothing.

And that is how the oldest versions of Mark end.  That’s it.  All the rest of chapter 16 (verses 9 – 20) were added afterwards.  No appearances of the risen Jesus.  No commission to the world.  No ascending up to heaven.  Just an empty tomb and silence.

What in the world is Mark doing?!  If this were a movie, it would easily be one of the worst movie endings of all time.  And that includes some pretty unsatisfying movie endings (Inception, X-Men 3, Matrix Reloaded…).  BUT, as we’ve seen, Mark isn’t a crummy writer.  Remember his artful use of “stay alert” and his plot timings in the Temple?  Mark knew how to craft a remarkable story and to tell it with purpose.  I believe that Mark was up to something here that makes me like this older ending more than the extended one (it’s like the original vs the extended edition).  Here’s my take on Mark’s original ending.

First, we – as the reader/audience – are in the know.  From the very beginning we know that Jesus has been raised and that the church emerged as his followers continued his work.  So we know what happened.  Because we know that the church exists and that the disciples continued the work, we know that Mary & Mary weren’t silent forever.  The word spread and the gospel message grew.  I think that Mark is using our knowledge of this as a way to emphasize the irony of this moment and as a challenge for the audience to do what they know wasn’t done: DON’T BE SILENT!  Spread the good news!  From the first verses, Mark is preparing us to speak out; to be the voice in the wilderness shouting out.  We are meant to take the message forth to take up the responsibility we know we have but that is left unfulfilled in the text.

Second, the audience is meant to experience the suffering and despair of the crucifixion – not just for Jesus but for his followers as well.  Mark leaves us unsatisfied as a tool for helping us step into the shoes of those who were living this out in real time.  We experience the uncertainty and trepidation that comes with uncertainty.  BUT we still must move in light of that uncertainty.  Which then becomes faith.  Faith is belief in things unseen.  In Mark’s gospel, that faith is put into the text literally with the absence of the risen Christ.  If Mark wasn’t written until the disciples and witnesses of Jesus were all dying, then it was for an audience that would have never seen Jesus face to face.  Their faith isn’t based on some encounter with a man but an encounter with his love in the community he started.  Mark’s original ending helps us feel the void of uncertainty (what happens in our lives all the time) but also move us to a faith that is open to uncertainty and still demands that we act anyways.

Finally, I think that Mark is leaving the story in our hands.  The man in the tomb says, “Jesus is going ahead of you; there you will see him.”  Jesus isn’t in heaven in this story.  Jesus is out there – in the world.  Waiting for us.  We have to go find him.  We have to search for him.  We have to take this story and find Jesus in the love and grace and truth of a community that is searching together in the world.  This is my favorite idea in Mark; that this ending calls us to go forth and live a life for Christ so that we might find him.  But where can we find Christ?  We’ll find him in the orphan we adopt, the prisoner we visit, the poor we protect, the immigrant we give refuge, the sick we heal, the hungry we feed, and the oppressed we redeem.  I know that Jesus is in heaven now, and I can’t see heaven.  But I can see the Kingdom of God – the good news he came to spread – break into this world bit by bit when I live out the life I was created to live.  Jesus is out there, waiting for us to come and serve and find him.

Now Mark says, what are you going to do?  Will you remain here, quiet?  Or will you go and be a part of the work God is doing?

-Graysen Pack

Be on the Alert!

Mark 13 & 14 (Thursday)

Mark 13 33

The thirteenth chapter of Mark finds Jesus teaching his disciples on the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem.  Jesus is teaching his disciples about the tribulations that are to come and his second coming.  He ends with this admonition in 13:35-37…

“Therefore, be on the alert – for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep.  What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’”

Jesus begins and ends his command with “be on the alert.”  In fact, Jesus says “be on the alert” in verses 33, 34, 35, and 37.  For Mark’s audience, this is like shining the spotlight on the words while fading everything else to black.  Like we covered earlier this week, the gospel was meant to be heard and hearing the same phrase back to back like this is a sign that it should be held onto.

Now, let’s jump just ahead a bit to Mark 14:32.  We’ve been through the Last Supper and Jesus has taken his disciples to Gethsemane.  He picks his three favorites (Peter, James, & John) and takes them a bit further than the rest.  He says to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.”

You ready for this?  Jesus is using the exact same word as he did back in chapter 13.  It’s even in the same tense!  The word is gregoreo by the way (like gregarious).  It’s a command directed directly at his listener.  Jesus was asking his disciples to do something much more than just stay awake.  He was pointing them back to what they had heard the night before: to be alert because the end is approaching.

In fact, when Jesus returns to find his disciples sleeping the first and second time, he repeats this same command to them, gregoreo!  Stay alert!  But upon his third visit he says it is enough, the time is now here.  In Mark 13, Jesus commands his disciples to be alert so that they may be prepared for the (ultimate) end, but in Mark 14, when the (immediate) end comes, they are asleep at their post and ultimately all leave him and flee (14:50).

This is not just a word by Jesus for his disciples but a word for us today as well.  Like the chorus in a Greek play, Mark’s words in 13:37, “What I say to you I say to all…” is a clear calling out to us here today.  Be on the alert for the end is coming and we must be prepared.  We must be prepared to face our own crucifixion – to die each day as a living sacrifice – as our own immediate ends in service, love, and sacrifice for others.  It is the cup we are called to bear as followers of the one who showed us the way.

OK – tomorrow is the big finale!  Mark’s last words to the earliest followers of Christ.  It’s a shocking, amazing, inspiring vision of Jesus’ ministry.

-Graysen Pack

A Den of Robbers

Mark 11 & 12 (Wednesday)

Mark 11 17

Once Jesus enters Jerusalem, the timeline for Mark slows down significantly.  While the first half of the book takes place over almost a year, the second half occurs in about a week.  Mark is letting us know that this is what his gospel and Jesus have been preparing for.  Mark 11 and 12 takes a closer look at the first 3 days Jesus is in Jerusalem.

While there’s a lot that we could cover here, I’d like to focus on Jesus’s experience in the Temple and how we can better understand a well known story that we may misinterpret.

On Jesus’s first day in Jerusalem, after the triumphal entry, he enters the Temple and “looks around at everything.” (11:11).  He leaves for Bethany outside of Jerusalem – using it as a kind of safe spot – instead of staying the nights in the city.  On the second day, he goes back to the city with his disciples and enters the Temple again.  However, instead of just observing, he begins to cause a scene.  Mark tells us that he starts “to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and over-turned tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves; and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.”

Whoa.  That’s a pretty radical departure from the Jesus who didn’t want anyone to talk about the miracles he was performing.  It’s as if the shy kid from the back of the class suddenly started burning textbooks in the auditorium screaming “You won’t do any more homework while I’m around! Ha ha ha!”  It’s a little weird.  And, the principals would be rightly concerned about what was going on (like the chief priests and scribes).

So, what is going on?  First, let’s clear up some misconceptions about what the Temple looked like.  We may think that Jesus was clearing out the Temple area because the vendors were causing problems for the act of worship.  That doesn’t really fit with what we know about the Temple.  First, the area where Jesus is clearing house is HUGE.  I mean really big.  It’s approximately the size of 11 soccer fields.  That’s massive (about 704,000 square feet).  There weren’t enough vendors in all of Israel to fill that space.

Another idea is that Jesus was fed up with the temple system completely and was overturning the model that the temple existed on.  This tends to emerge when we think that Jesus is somehow trying to move beyond Judaism and create his own new thing.  Well, Jesus isn’t.  He was and is a Jew.  Mark’s gospel itself undermines this idea in chapter 12.  On the third day, Jesus returns to the Temple (where he wrecked it the day before) and sits across from the treasury.  A widow comes and puts in her 2 pennies.  Notice, Jesus doesn’t say that she is being scammed out of her pennies, that she should do something better with her money, that it isn’t right for her to give to the current system, or that she’s being robbed by the temple.  No – he says that what she’s done is more than everyone else AND it seems to be a great thing!  Even today, this widow is meant to be a role model for us.

So, what is Jesus trying to do?   Let’s look at the text.  After he drives out the merchants, he says that the temple had “become a robber’s den.” (11:17)  Was the temple robbing people?  No – a robber’s den isn’t where robbers actually rob people.  It’s a place where robbers can go and be safe.  It’s a hideout where they don’t have to worry about the law coming after them.  I don’t think that Jesus was calling out the merchants or the temple system, but rather the leadership in the Temple for their willful blindness to injustice and sheltering those who do injustice in their midst.  His criticism of the Temple isn’t for how it works or what it does, but rather for what it isn’t doing.  I think that Jesus is taking up the call of Isaiah, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isa. 1:17)

This is where I think we can find a message for our lives and churches today.  Would Jesus level the same criticism against us today?  Not that we have vendors in the church, but that we allow ourselves to become a den for those who rob others?  Jesus’s problem with the temple wasn’t directed at the merchants or vendors but at those who were complacent in the face of wrong-doing, injustice, and evil.  Standing against injustice – especially when we find it in our own house, community, and ideals can be scary and seem life-threatening.  But, I think, like the widow, we are called to give what we have – “all that [we] have to live on” – to offer hope and justice to those starving for it.

-Graysen Pack

Graysen’s Favorite Gospel

Mark 1-1

 

Hey everyone!  I’m excited to be back 😀  Bethany helped us move this past week from the Old Testament into the New Testament with the gospel of Mark (thanks Bethany!).  This week, we’ll be exploring the second half of the gospel of Mark and see some of the themes that Mark has been setting up come to their close.

Before we get into looking at the text itself, here’s just a bit about Mark that will be helpful for us as we read.

First, Mark is the oldest of the gospels and it sets the stage for the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke).  As the church grew in the years after Jesus’ resurrection, there wasn’t any need to write down stories about his life – the people who were there and saw it were still alive and present.  It was only around the end of the first century CE that people who were followers of Jesus began to write down what they knew about his life and teachings.  Why?  Because all the witnesses were dying!  They needed to keep a more permanent record of Jesus’s words that didn’t rely on having witnesses of the events nearby.  That first written story came to be known as the Gospel of Mark.  The writers of the Gospel of Luke and Matthew would later use Mark as the skeleton for their gospels.

It’s because of this that the gospel of Mark is my favorite of the gospels.  It’s the pre-cursor and contains the most concise collected narrative of Jesus’ life and teachings.  And – the end is just great (but we’ll get there soon enough)!

So, I hope that you’ll join me as we explore what one of the earliest authors of the life of Jesus had to say about “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

-Graysen Pack

Converse with the Almighty

bible

Saturday’s Weekly Recap with Graysen Pack

This week we’ve walked through another six chapters of Proverbs and found words that, although written thousands of years ago, still speak to the persistent struggles of human existence.  Answers to guide us seek the wealth that God promises, to join God’s work as he defends the orphaned and poor, to earnestly engage in honest community, to be aware of the emotional strife of ourselves and others, and to use our words to build a church of sincerity.

 

It can be easy to forget that even when we read the oldest parts of the Bible, the words are still alive and active.  And we don’t really read Scripture, but instead engage in a conversation with it.  It isn’t a professor lecturing at us from the front of a large classroom.  Instead, it is a dialogue that speaks to who, where, and when we are.  The words of God are both alive in the history of Israel and the church as well as our lives today.

 

As you continue to read through the Word of God this year, remember that you are entering a conversation that will speak to your life and the life of the world today.

Watch Your Words

Proverbs 26 – Friday 

Prov 26-18-19 (1)

18 Like a maniac who shoots deadly firebrands and arrows,

19 so is one who deceives a neighbor

   and says, “I am only joking!”

Proverbs 26:18-19

There’s a popular show on HBO called Game of Thrones.  And whether you’ve ever seen it or not, it has become a meme factory.  And there’s one line that is currently making the rounds on social media: “When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything and then there are no more answers.  Only better and better lies.”  

Like the boy who cried wolf, this proverb is a warning that words are powerful.  Although we want to believe that only sticks and stones can break our bones, words can often cripple us in a way that no wound ever could.  I think it is probably fairly rare that we intentionally fire hurtful words at those around us (although when tempers flare I have unfortunately found a sharper tongue than I ever expected in my mouth).  What is really dangerous are the words we throw at someone else veiled in jest.

I learned this from Andy Cisneros, but in every piece of sarcasm there’s a little nugget of truth.  Something real about the thing we’re pretending to say but really meaning.  While we may find them easy to move past at times, sarcastic words erode away at us like water through a canyon.  They’re poison pills wrapped in sweetness and given in bitterness.  

We may not consider ourselves to be con men – deceiving our neighbor intentionally – but we deceive ourselves and shoot arrows at our neighbor when we pretend that the words we say don’t have weight to them.  This proverb encourages us to become people who use our words wisely, to mean what we say, and to engage with each other genuinely so we can build a better community together.

-Graysen Pack

Caring for the Poor

Proverbs 23  (Tuesday)

Prov 23-10-11

 

 

There are two strong images that emerge in this proverb.  The first is that of moving a landmark so that it encroaches on “the field of orphans” (Proverbs 23:10).  This is most likely a reference to the Israelite practice of leaving the corners of a field for the poor to glean from (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-21).  This institutionalized care for those in need meant that farmers would always leave part of their field unpicked.

 

Just like surveyors today, the properties of each person would have been laid out by various markings: large rocks, stakes, or a cairn (pile of rocks).  While there wasn’t a board or city commission the farmers could check against, a greedy farmer could slowly move a marker year after year to make their own plot larger while taking from their neighbor – or in this case, shrinking the portion of their field that is left for the poor.  Human greed to take from those who already have so little is nothing new today.  So, this proverb is a warning that if we try to steal from the orphaned and poor, we have their redeemer to answer to — God.

 

The second image comes in verse 11 and is connected to the story of Ruth.  It is the role of the “redeemer.”  In the Hebrew, this is the word Gaal or Gaw’al (spellings vary).  We might more accurately translate it as a “kinsman redeemer” like Boaz is in Ruth.  This is the person whose responsibility it is to care for family members who don’t have a means to protect themselves.  And God will not only protect them, but plead their case against us if are the ones threatening the little that they have.

 

Our God is one who jealously guards His children, even more so those who have no protector themselves.  As the people of God, this Proverb reminds us that God is one who stands as the kinsman redeemer of the poor and that it is our responsibility as part of his family to take up their cause as well.

–Graysen Pack