Things of God, Things of Men (Mark 8.22–9.1)

Jesus’ relationship with his disciples is all too often a relationship of one step forward, two steps back—both with his first disciples and with us today. They, and we, make progress in the faith only to backslide into our old way of doing things. This back-and-forth dynamic is only display in Mark 8.22–9.1. “Who do people say I am?” Jesus asks the disciples. We often read the Gospels in order to find practical guidance about how to live our lives, and it offers guidance aplenty. However, the Gospels are not about us, they are about Jesus. Therefore, the question we … Continue reading Things of God, Things of Men (Mark 8.22–9.1)

The Yeast of the Pharisees (Mark 8.1­–21)

Over the past two years, I have become a huge fan of television crime shows. I watch CSI, Law & Order, Cold Case, and Numbers, of course, all of which are fictional. But I enjoy “true crime” shows the most. My wife and I TiVo every episode of American Justice and Cold Case Files. What fascinates me about these shows is the way detectives patiently gather and sift evidence in order to solve the case and convict a criminal. Mark 8.1–21 tells two stories. The first is the feeding of the 4000 (vv. 1–13). The second reports on the debriefing … Continue reading The Yeast of the Pharisees (Mark 8.1­–21)

He Has Done Everything Well (Mark 7.24–37)

Mark 7.24–37 tells two stories. In the first story, a Greek woman from Syrian Phoenicia (modern-day Lebanon) asks Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter. Easy enough, of course! Jesus has already exorcised numerous demons as well as given his disciples the power to do so (Mark 1.21–28, 39; 3.11–12, 15, 20–30; 5.1–20; 6.7, 13). And yet, Jesus responds to the woman with what seems like an ethnic insult: “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” As the parallel story in Matthew … Continue reading He Has Done Everything Well (Mark 7.24–37)

Clean Hands, Unclean Hearts (Mark 7.1–23)

Mark 7.1–23 tells the story of Jesus’ interaction with a group of inquisitive Pharisees and teachers of the law. Through his response to their question, we learn about the danger of externally defined righteousness as well as the necessity of inward moral transformation. Let’s take a closer look at the story! Notice the context: A committee of Pharisees and teachers of the law from Jerusalem go down to Galilee to investigate Jesus’ orthodoxy. When they see Jesus’ disciples eating food without first washing their hands, they ask Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders … Continue reading Clean Hands, Unclean Hearts (Mark 7.1–23)

Smallness of Faith, Hardness of Heart (Mark 6.30–56)

Mark 6.30–56 tells the stories of two miracles. In the first (vv. 30–44), Jesus feeds a large crowd with fives loaves and two fish. In the second (vv. 45–56), he walks on water. Both stories tell us something important about Jesus, as well as something troubling about ourselves. The first story tells us that Jesus is the Great Shepherd who cares about and provides for his sheep, both spiritually and physically. It begins with Jesus inviting his apostles, exhausted from their first extended evangelistic campaign, to take a few days off. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place … Continue reading Smallness of Faith, Hardness of Heart (Mark 6.30–56)

A Prophet Without Honor (Mark 6.1–29)

In a perfect world, people get exactly what they deserve. Good comes to those who do good, but bad to those who do bad. A perfect world, in other words, is characterized by justice, which Aristotle defined as treating equals equally and unequals unequally. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. In our world, bad things happen to good people, while bad people enjoy good things. Injustice is all too often the rule in our world, not the exception. According to Mark 6.1–29, Jesus and his colleagues also experienced injustice. Although good people—in Jesus’ case, a perfect person—they … Continue reading A Prophet Without Honor (Mark 6.1–29)

An Interruption to an Interruption (Mark 5:21-43)

Mark 5.21–43 tells the interconnected stories of two miracles: (1) the healing of a woman with a twelve-year-long hemorrhage and (2) the resurrection of Jairus’ little daughter. What do these miracles teach us about Jesus? First, and very obviously, they teach us that Jesus has the power to heal. Jesus has power over sickness and death, as the stories of the woman and the young girl make clear. Furthermore, Jesus has power over the natural and supernatural realms, as seen by his calming of the storm (Mark 4.35–41) and exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac (5.1–20). Second, Jesus’ power to heal … Continue reading An Interruption to an Interruption (Mark 5:21-43)

Salvation as the Ultimate Sanity (Mark 5:1-20)

American culture has a longstanding interest in the occult, stretching from the Salem Witch Trials in the late seventeenth century to the remake of The Amityville Horror today. A crucial difference between then and now is that the Puritans feared witches and demons because they thought they were real. We, on the other hand derive entertainment from them because precisely we think they don’t really exist. (There’s just nothing like a good scare now and then!) I’m not sure whether being entertained by depictions of evil is an improvement over prosecuting witches, but I am sure that American interest in … Continue reading Salvation as the Ultimate Sanity (Mark 5:1-20)

True Adults in Faith (Mark 4:21-41)

In a sermon a few years ago, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger—now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI—offered some insights about what it means to be “a true adult in the faith.” Reflecting on Ephesians 4.13–14, he said: “Being an ‘adult’ means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today’s fashions or the latest novelties. A faith which is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature.” Today’s Scripture reading is Mark 4.21–41. In it, Jesus shows us what it means to practice a mature, adult faith in him. First, a mature Christian faith is characterized by openness. “For … Continue reading True Adults in Faith (Mark 4:21-41)