Mark 7: 6-8

SO in Mark 7:1-23 Jesus quotes Isaiah and I, sadly, can’t even with the help of my study bible exactly figure out where or what is being quoted. My study bible suggests Isaiah 29:13, as well as Isa 1:10-20 and 58:1-14, and no doubt there are other places where Isaiah is saying, “Worship the Lord, obey the commandants with your heart, not by rote.” And Isaiah makes clear that the point is to help the needy, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, defend the widow and orphan, and so on and do so out of a heart filled with the love of God. The God of the Hebrew scripture and the God of the New Testament and Jesus are not different.

Isaiah before chapter 40 is seeing the danger and threat to Israel on the horizon. Isaiah in chapter 40 to the end is seeing a way to reconcile with God in the hope of the end of the exile, and having faith in that reconciliation with Jerusalem is reconciliation with God. In the silent gap between the end of chapter 39 and the start of chapter 40 is the Babylonian exile; the temple destroyed. So, and no doubt I am simplifying very big complexities, Isaiah is saying that the destruction and exile must have happened because God let it happen. God must have let it happen because the people did not worship God deep in their hearts. Something must now be happening to allow God to have mercy on the people.

To be fair to the Pharisees, they were deeply concerned, with the yoke of Roman oppression now on them, with how and why would God again allow bad things to happen? Clearly it is because rules were broken. I truly do not think they were (or people in this mental place today are) being insincere. They honestly see rule-breaking as a terrible moral danger that will cause (more) destruction.

But Jesus — Godself eh? — is saying nope, sorry not sorry, things are not like that. You can’t just say a prayer. You can’t just do a ritual. You can’t just wash your hands, or your cups, and be clean. You have to have a heart washed clean. The things that truly hurt you and each other and the world are the things that come out of the human heart.

Even if the disciples should have washed their hands — because please wash your hands! — the point is painfully true isn’t it? How do I get my heart straight, how do I keep these things that defile from breaking out? It would be so much easier to just have a ritual or a rule, yes?

As a storyteller, I’m having a great deal of trouble getting these verses from Isaiah by heart and I am thinking of “just” reading them — maybe making the point in doing so that Jesus is quoting a prophet thus making a virtue of necessity?


Interrupted by TV- The Chosen

This is JUST EXCELLENT — everything — the sets, the stories, the history, the acting, the imagination. I am giddy with delight.

The Chosen — a crowdfunded TV show. You get the app and then cast it to the TV. The first season is on Peacock.

Do I love best the midrash detail of the woman at the well always remembering her second husband when she smelled oranges? Do I love the character of Matthew the tax collecter best or Peter — a wonderful Peter! — or Mary or Nicodemus or John when he cries hearing Jesus read from Genesis. Oh my heart!

I honestly love every single thing. I’ve just started on season 2.

Quit reading and go and watch and see!

Mark 7:1-23

So the next time I am the layreader, it will be this sections of this passage in Mark, and my first thought on first reading it was — yikes! What does this even mean beyond the surface — that being bad on the inside is worse than being dirty on the outside? What is going on here? How in the world can I get this by heart?

And that’s pretty much as far as I’ve gotten!

Mark 7 has the story of the Syrophoenician Woman right after this, who is awesome and brave and a great mother, but that is after this section. And Mark 6 ends with a trip back to Gennesaret, where the demoniac was cured yes? And they all were over their fear and full of faith. So outsiders — in Gennesaret and the region of Tyre — prove to have more trust in Jesus than the insiders, the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem.

But it is a strange story because… why didn’t Jesus’ disciples wash their hands?

And it is a familiar story that might blind us to more going on.


Mark 4:35-41 in comparison

For the record, this story about Jesus calming the raging sea is also in Mathew (8:18, 23-27) and Luke (8:22-25). The stories are pretty alike. Mark has more detail. I think the curious thing is that they are in different places. In Mark, it happens after Jesus talks about parables and the Kingdom of God. In Mathew, it happens after Jesus talks to people who want to follow him and warns them he has no place to lay his head. In Luke, the context is also in the midst of parables, but also Jesus has just said no to his mother and brothers, who have come because they are worried (or even embarrassed?) by him.

After being in the boat, in all gospels, Jesus cures the Gerasene Demoniac which is a cool story indeed.

To understand that Jesus has the power to cure the Demoniac, first we see him “cure” the wind and waves.

But Jesus does not have power over the disciples faith. He doesn’t snap his fingers and “pow” they have 100% faith.

Faith or trust are a choice we make*. And so one answer to Jesus’ question — in all three gospels — “do you still have no/little faith?” — is to realize that as humans, our level of faith or trust (indeed love, hope, happiness, sadness, anything) changes and rises and falls. That is inherent in being human, yes?

Knowing our limitations is good. Maybe that is why Jesus asks them a question that he must have surely known the answer to!

Knowing our lane, FTGOG

*Of course, reformed theology if I understand it, is that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a choice we can make. That was certainly my case. My choice was to follow and deepen and learn.

Mark 4:35-41 for real

Sunday was the day for the “telling” of Mark 4:35-41, and now you can see how it went because church is recorded these days. Yikes! I can’t believe I am sharing this link. Of course our Pastor’s sermon is wonderful — you can see/hear the whole thing. My reading starts at 21, and Mark starts at about 25.

One new thing that — even as I was telling it — that sprang into my mind is thinking that the disciples were first so afraid of dying in the storm, and then suddenly there is a “dead calm” and then — whoa! They must have suddenly been so afraid of Jesus. What might someone who can control the wind and the wave able to do to them? Who is Jesus? Why did they wake him up if they thought he didn’t have the power to do something? And he did have the power — so is that power going to rebuke them?

And Jesus didn’t actually rebuke them. He asked them questions.

It is what he does.

He makes you answer hard questions.

How much does Jesus/God care that you and I are perishing in a storm?

So much more than we can imagine.


Interrupted by Books

Reading is my favorite thing. My idea of doing things outdoors is to read outdoors. ha! Here’s some suggestions with an un-expected trend toward “faith/church”.

Phil Rickman‘s spooky, layered, exciting, and well-written series about Merrily Watkins, a small-town Church of England priest, single mother, and … exorcist or “deliverance” specialist. Normally just soothing people down over nothing but sometimes, things get real. Or rather supernatural. Along with murder, greed, and so on. The books have many characters and they grow and change. I wish Merrily had more confidence, but on the other hand, who of us is truly confident? I really enjoy the historical elements too even though it takes place “now”.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Pendric and Desdemona stories. I love every word that this author writes. Her writing just swoops you in and time looses all meaning — you are in another world. Pendric and his demon, the sarcastic and wise Desdemona, always fall into adventures and in the course of time Pendric falls in love and gets married and has children. It’s just a delightful series. And over the whole series, Bujold has build a world with an entirely consistent (to that world) religion, with Gods and God-struck people know as saints. The world-building makes you think and is fun too.

Dracula by Bram Stoker — okay I didn’t exactly enjoy reading this book, picked by my book club. But the religious/church elements are thought-provoking. Was the use of Catholic imagery — crucifixes, the Host, etc. — out of respect or not? My book group had a vigorous discussion about this. This was written in 1897 — in some ways the people are as real as any fictional people and in other ways the people are cardboard or worse. But Mina is a gem! We all agree without her, those men would never have defeated Dracula.


Mark 4:35-41 and Footnotes

Mark 4:34-41 turns out to have a lot of footnotes in my study bible. I’m linking here to The Message version for contrast. The word that leaped out at me in this version is “cowards” in verse 40 instead of “afraid”. My study bible suggests that “cowardly” could be used instead of afraid.

Perhaps most obviously is the footnote to Genesis 1.2, 6-9 where God turns the waters of chaos into waters where life could be. God has power over the waters, and Jesus has power over the wind and the waves — exactly a God-like power. There are many more footnotes to example of God having power over water.

I like the footnote for verse 36, “just as obscure in Greek as in English” is all it says, because as I said earlier, it doesn’t seem obscure to me at all. Jesus gets on the boat, seeming completely human, no magic staff, no gleam of power.

The windstorm, waves and boat being swamped of verse 37, my study bible refers to Ps 107:23-25 and to Jonah 1:5 — I never thought of the connection with Jonah! If there is a connection beyond another story of God and wind and waves and boats. Psalm 107 is the first one of book 5 of the Psalms, so it is full of rejoicing and praise. Note verses 23-30 — particularly, “He stilled the storm to a whisper/the waves of the sea were hushed”.

The footnotes suggest many connections with Hebrew scripture in terms of insisting/demanding that God provide rescue — this is expected behavior and an expected tone even. So we might think or feel that “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” is somehow rude or demanding but the disciples are acting and speaking from a long history of making clear what is needed and wanted.

Lucky for them (and us) that Jesus is with them in the boat and does indeed care! They “rouse” Jesus and he takes action. While God may not always give us what we want or need, or have a different timing, sometimes the results are instant and awe-inspiring! Rousing God up is to be done with a bit of care perhaps!

While we could go even deeper, let’s just note one more thing, which is that in The Message the wind did not merely cease, but “The wind ran out of breath”. Wow! What an image!

Before and After Mark 4:35-41

Mark 4:35-41 is at the end of chapter 4, and in chapter 4 Jesus is teaching by the sea, in parables. And then in private explaining the parables to his disciples. The parable of sower, in particular, is given a lot of discussion, and the famous “lamp under a bushel basket” parable, and the “tiny mustard seed” parable.

In fact, when Jesus askes them “have you still no faith?” perhaps he was referring back to the mustard seed. Perhaps he is hoping they have a teeny tiny drop of faith — in him? in his mission? in his wisdom? his power? It’s so unclear! At least to me.

And what follows in Mark 5 is the exciting story of Jesus healing the Gerasene Demoniac. This healing will end up with word of Jesus being spread in the Greek controlled Decapolis area and will, according to one teacher I had, have big implications later. But the people then and there are like, “what is going on? Please leave!” And so Jesus and the disciples go back out on the sea and cross back over and … boom they are in the midst of the crowd again. And the intertwined stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with a flow of blood are told.

So the little story of a boat ride troubled by wind and waves is sort of swept away.

And yet the little story of a boat ride — where the disciples say, “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?” — is in a way a living parable, perhaps, for the bigger story. Because Jesus cares intensely.

I think the context of this story is interesting to note.

Mark 4:35-41 and a dead calm

Mark 4:35-41 starts out just being a story about Jesus’ power to control a storm during a boat ride, and then the more you poke at it, the more there is going on. Let’s zero right in on verse 39: “He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”

What happens when you are in a boat in a dead calm is that you have to get oars out (engines reving these days, but you see what I mean). A dead calm is better than a storm and potentially drowning, but it is very far from easy, far from a good situation.

And metaphorically … there was a dead calm… is far from joy, far from love, I rather think.

The amazing thing about Easter is that it was not a dead calm. Nor is Pentecost or the Christmas story. Things happen! Songs are sung by angels and the outcome of these inbreaking actions on our world is joyful change, vast disruption, movement.

Jesus in this moment, in this story, uses the power of God to make the wind and the waves obey. But I think the amazing thing is in the bigger story, the change brought by Jesus is not a dead calm, but a deep life with everything turned upside down, where the blind can see and the lame walk and the muted talk and the powerful go last and the least will go first. Not just the rich getting richer, not just endless war…. sadly not a snap of the fingers to a blissful world either. The tension between the already and not yet — but let’s get back to this specific story.

Perhaps the first step in having your world turned upside down is to be stuck in a dead calm and have to get out the oars and start rowing. Feel the burn in the muscles, feel blisters rise, and think about who then is this, that the wind and the waves obey?


Mark 4:35-41 and some hard stuff

So as I wrote last week that Mark 4:35-41 is amazing — Jesus has power, Jesus cares about them (us), Jesus was in the boat with them, Jesus suggested being in the boat — so many bits of the story to wonder at.

But there is also some hard stuff.

Why didn’t he wake up before the danger and still the whirlwind and the waves before they had to wake him up?

And in verse 40, why does he ask them why they were afraid? It’s obvious why they were afraid, right, they thought the storm and the water was going to kill them. Why wouldn’t they be afraid? I don’t understand this at all!

And in verse 40b the second question he asks, “Have you still no faith?” Why did he ask that? They could have had all the faith in him that exists — if he’d been awake! Or if he had known to stop the danger before they had to ask him too. Why should they have faith in him when he is sleeping in the middle of the storm? Why is this a matter of faith?

I have some fuzzy idea that Jesus was hoping they had faith in his ability to calm the wind and the waves so instantly that they could have just tapped him to wake him up, fully confident in the saving action to come. Or maybe Jesus was hoping that even if they are scared, that it wouldn’t be a display of power that would make them filled with great awe (verse 41), but something else that would fill them.

These are threads to mull over and pray about because they are hard and confusing.

In fact, as a storyteller of this passage, for verse 40, is Jesus speaking harshly? Gently? Exhaustedly? Is he frustrated by the disciples? Is he perplexed? Is he curious? I really like the notion that Jesus is genuinely baffled and curious. How would that sound in my voice? Should I rub my head or something? Lean a little forward? “Child, why are you afraid?” But again, this is hard, because how come Jesus didn’t know why they were afraid.

Here’s some final hard things — do we need to ask Jesus/God for help in the storm, instead of thinking that Jesus/God knows we’re in the midst of a storm? Isn’t it human and understandable to be afraid, when it is clearly logical to be afraid? When I was dealing with a pretty scary thing this past winter, I wasn’t afraid, I was fully confident that God held me — but I did not attribute that then or now to my effort of faith but rather to the Holy Spirit’s gracious gift. If I wasn’t afraid, that was a gift of God not my own resources!

Gracious, curious, loving God, help us to heal from the coronavirus. Help us to heal from isolation. Help us to fight hate. Help those who need food and hope and jobs and homes. Help us to stand patiently, in trust and hope, in the midst of the storms swirling around us and know that You are here.

next week we’re going to look at the last part of verse 39, because “whoa”…..