February – Finding Jesus among us
St Mark launches us quickly into the busy life of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. In 45 verses Jesus appears, is baptised and blessed from heaven, tempted forty days and takes John’s place as a preacher of repentance. He calls his first followers, preaches impressively, casts out numerous unclean spirits, heals a woman, a leper, bosses demons around, prays half the night, takes a Galilean ‘road trip’ and becomes rock-star famous. This is apparently what ‘Good News’ looks like.
In this week’s slice of the story, Jesus performs his first healing, this time by the power of touch. Both words and gentle touch are important acts in the ministry of care, whether a ‘cure’ comes quickly or not. Jesus is then beset by crowds seeking their own good news, until he collapses in exhaustion. However he rises to renew the good news of God’s presence in himself through prayer, before moving on to spread the love.
Should Jesus have healed all the sick in Capernaum before moving on? If not, who should? What does good news look like for all the villages and cities and nations still waiting for Jesus to visit?
11 February – Transfiguration
The story of Jesus’ Transfiguration (‘metamorphosis’ in Greek) can be read in many possible ways. A commentary on its theological meanings would fill books. It has been used for personal prayer and reflection on our discipleship. Its symbols and mystery are ripe for art and meditation. Let’s try it here.
Symbols: What do mountains signify for Moses, Elijah and Jesus? What does God do or say up high? What mountains have you ascended? When is it time to come back down?
What about metamorphoses: was anyone else dazzling, or dazzled, in the Bible? What do ‘white robes’ symbolise for Christians? How do butterflies work? Are we transfigured, dazzling or transformed like Jesus, or is he unique?
Following: Imagine yourself sneaking up the mountain behind Peter, James and John. How is your body, soul, heart and mind impacted? Do you shine a little, or fall back into the shadows? When the others are silenced, what do you plan to do or say? How will this transform your life?
Jesus: How does Jesus’ ministry change after this event? Why are God’s words important at this turning point? Are Moses and Elijah superseded, or collaborating with Jesus in God’s plan? What does the resurrection add, if this story can’t be told without it?
18 February – Lent 1
As we begin Lent’s 40 days of reflection, repentance and spiritual discipline, we turn back briefly to Jesus’ baptism and testing. Mark’s snappy gospel ignores questions like, why should the Son of God repent and be baptised? Or what bystanders saw, heard or thought, and focuses on the transaction between Jesus and God.
Jesus alone perceives the Spirit-Dove and the voice of heaven. By word and Spirit Jesus is adopted into an intimate relationship with the one he will come to call Abba, my Father. Unlike other prophets Jesus receives no call or task, but is equipped simply by his relationship to the love of God; the Son joined to his Abba by the gentle Dove-Spirit.
Did I say gentle? As this happens the clouds of heaven are storm-tossed, torn apart. So heaven will fade and the Temple curtain be torn apart while Jesus dies. Likewise, the gentle Spirit ‘drives’ him into the wilderness as a stockman drives the cattle, to face his demons. A shadow falls over Jesus’ ministry from the beginning. And yet wild beasts wait with him, messengers of grace comfort him, and the heavenly voice still rings in his ears.
What stormy challenges and deep comfort will you experience during Lent?
Lent, and all of our discipleship, is the way of the cross. Dazzling Transfigurations and Divine adoptions are wonderful, but Jesus’ disciples must go the way of Jesus himself, or these glorious mysteries are meaningless.
For a short few centuries, Christians enthusiastically embraced the likelihood that they would lose their lives for Jesus’ sake. At other times in history that has also seemed possible, but we are a little more circumspect these days. Why would we prefer ‘divine things’ like carrying our cross, losing our life, walking Jesus’ way of rejection and suffering, to ‘human things’ like saving our skin and gaining the world? Some churches preach ‘prosperity’ as God’s plan for each Christian, in plain agreement with poor Peter. Get behind me, Satan! However we should admit that even without prosperity doctrine we remain a pretty safe and affluent bunch of disciples.
What would the Uniting Church look like if we all took Jesus’ words here a little more seriously? What would your own life look like? Is there one more thing this Lent which you could give up for the sake of Jesus and the gospel which will help you save your life?
Rev. Graham Perry is the Presbytery Minister of the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery.