The first week of September takes us away from the bread of life and living bread which we have followed throughout August, within chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. We journey straight into the Mark and the discernment who is in and who is out.
2 September – Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
Is there a place at our table?
Chapter 7 of Mark’s gospel starts with judgement of the disciples and Jesus by the Pharisees and scribes, for not adhering to the traditions of the elders. In a context where the traditions and culture of the Jewish people was being tested and crushed by the clash of outside influences, this was a real threat to their practices as a people.
But Jesus calls out this behaviour, challenging the Pharisees and scribes, describing their reliance on words and practices as hypocritical. Summoning His rebuke from Isaiah 7; He says that they honour with their lips but not their hearts. Under pressure they interpret the law, traditions and customs as more important than relationship, inclusion and God’s own commandment of inclusion and hospitality. Their practices and their traditions are exclusive and divisive, helping them to identify who is in, but also who is out. It creates boundaries between the Jewish community and the ‘others’, those who don’t belong here.
Amy C. Howe, says that “our challenge today is to recognise how we, like the Pharisees, misinterpret what is important to God?”
In our Church communities, or in our contexts what are the practices that we have received, or customs that have defined who we are? Do these create boundaries between us and them? Should we be considering if Jesus fits into our practices of faith, or our own codes of purity and standards?
Is there space at our table for someone who might not look like us? Or sound like us? Or practice like we do?
9 September – Mark 7:24-37
Where are our limits?
She falls down before Him, bowing down at his feet, she begs for the health of her daughter. Mark and Matthew’s Gospel share the story of the woman’s daughter being exorcised by Jesus whilst travelling in the region of Tyre and Sidon, because of what she had said in Marks Gospel, and because of her faith in Mathew’s Gospel.
What is often difficult to grapple with, within this story, is that Jesus’ limits are met within this woman, a Gentile of Syrophoenician origin, her differences make him deaf to her cry. Maybe he spoke with such disgust because he wanted to make an example for his followers, or maybe the disgust was real. Whichever way you read this story, there is a moment of conversion for Jesus. Loye Bradley Ashton asks ‘if it is in this moment, that Jesus realises how He has lost sight of the point of his mission and has to be reconnected with it by someone assumed to be outside of it.’
I am reminded that earlier in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Had Jesus not changed his mind, had he not been swayed by the need for healing at His feet, would He have perpetuated this woman’s exclusion, and hardship, or her daughter’s illness?
How might our communities be deaf to the cry of the outsider? How might we be speechless to situations of hardship or exclusion because of our own disgust or our own limits?
What are the limits that we have that make us disregard another?
16 September – Mark 8: 27-38
What if we don’t have all of the answers?
Chapter 8 shows us Jesus feeding and teaching, and healing, and leads us then into a dialogue between Jesus and the disciples. This is a complicated conversation with many meanings and interpretations. Who do people say that I am? But who do you say that I am? Jesus then describes the suffering and humiliation that He will have to go through.
Peter is made uncomfortable by this conversation, and rebukes Jesus. This calls for another rebuke from Jesus and a further lecture. For Peter was looking through his limited perspective, setting his mind not on divine things but on human things. Jesus’ lesson advises then that all who follow Him will take up their cross and follow Him.
There are a number of ways to hear this. Ched Myers says that this statement is in “contrast to the Judean nationalists who were recruiting patriots to ‘take up the sword’ against Rome, where Jesus invites disciples to ‘take up the cross'”. That stepping not into violence, but rather into possible harm, and humiliation is the divine action for followers of Christ. Where Ched talks of the cross, Rowan Williams gets caught up with the following. Stating that “being where Jesus is, means being in the company of the people whose company Jesus seeks and keeps. Jesus chooses the company of the excluded, the disreputable, the wretched, the self-hating, the poor and the diseased.”
Whichever way we read, we should pay careful attention to Peter’s experience, we can express in many ways what Jesus is to us, and what others have said to us about their experiences alongside Jesus. But our expression of Jesus, should come with the humility that we might not have the whole picture, or that our point of view might miss something, something as important as not having all of the answers. Taking up our cross is admitting that we don’t know it all and submitting us to the voices and experience of fellow cross bearers too.
How are we living with other cross bearer’s experiences?
23 September – Mark 9:30 -37
What is upside down hospitality?
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant to all”
Jesus draws a child to himself. Calling the disciples to emulate the child says Martha L. Moore-Keish: “thus, renouncing social status; he then calls them to welcome the child, to make space for those with no social status, since to do so is to welcome Jesus himself – and the One who sent him.”
Where children are not of ‘use’, their status defined by where they were born, or who they were born to, their fate and future held within the hands of those who feed them, teach them, and lead them. Jesus says that they are of the highest worth in this new order, seriously challenging the social constructs of the time.
Jesus shakes the expectations of His followers consistently, when they argue about who might be first, who might hold the honour, who is the greatest, Jesus again shakes their understanding of the characteristics of someone who would be the ‘greatest’, by honouring a child.
Perhaps it is a call to honour a person, for their presence, for their being, rather than what they can offer, or what they can do for you, or what they can do for the community. In honouring someone who we think has nothing to offer, or no use, we might find a new way of seeing them, and indeed all of the people around us.
Hospitality served upside down, could mean it isn’t about what we might receive, but rather what we might be able give.
30 September – Mark 9:38-50
Serve with salt please.
Mark reveals that signs of Jesus’ and his example are spreading beyond just those disciples who have followed Christ’s inner circle. The Disciples sense of control, and their expectations of being the only ones with a grasp on following, are laid bare. Whoever is not against us is for us, is Jesus’ verbal response. How often should this be our response to others who might not worship like us, who might not be in our group, our club or community?
The lessons continue… If a part of the body causes you to stumble, cut it off. This grotesque language is offensive, at best, but it could mean to deal with the problems that arise in community rather than letting arguments, or actions infect the whole. This reading has been used as a way of excluding people from community rather than dealing with the actions that they have done. I am not sure which reading is better or worse.
Salt and peace preserve the body, the community of Christ. Jesus says to have salt in yourselves. Sharon H. Ringe, leads us to recall the codes according to grain offerings in Leviticus 2.13, where salt is used to seal covenants with God, and in this case one another.
Throughout the month I have asked you to consider questions in relation to each of our gospel readings, this week our consideration should be around how we might offer ourselves in service with salt, salt which preserves, builds on flavour, and in this case binds our community. But also, how we can be better at being at peace with one another.
How we might offer ourselves in service with salt, salt which preserves, builds on flavour, and in this case binds our community?
References and further reading:
Ashton L. B., Howe A. C., Moore-Keish M. L., Ringe S.H. in: Bartlett D.L., & Taylor B.B, (2009) Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Feasting on the Word (Year B. Vol. 4), Louisville; Westminster John Knox Press.
Myers C., Dennis M., Moe-Lobeda C., Nangle J., O.F.M., Taylor S. (1996) Say to this Mountain Mark’s Story of Discipleship, Maryknoll; Orbis Books
Williams, R. (2016) Being Disciples Essentials of the Christian Life, London; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
Rev. James Aaron