Notes and readings (for the week commencing 27th February, 2012) are shown below, with a PDF version available here. The sermon topic this Sunday (04/03/2012) will be “Who then can be saved?”.
Day 1: Read Mark 10:1-16
We begin the week by being reminded of the frequency (i.e., his ‘custom’) with which Jesus responded to the crowds by teaching them. We’re equally reminded of the escalating conflict directed at Jesus, especially in the form of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. In chapter 8 they tried to test Jesus by asking him for a sign; this time they’re testing Jesus with a legal riddle regarding whether or not it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. In fact, it is less a test, and more a trap (note that Jesus gives a more detailed answer in private, not in front of the Pharisees). Remember, Jesus is now in the region where John the Baptist used to work (who lost his head for criticising Herod Antipas for marrying his brother’s wife) and his words now could be found as treasonable. Therefore, the Pharisees are less interested in testing Jesus’ wisdom or knowledge, and more interested in escalating the conflict in order to put Jesus at risk.
Focusing on the content, it’s important to note that Moses, who didn’t actually command anything about divorce (note how the Pharisees twist words) did permit it within certain circumstances and with sufficient control to ensure that the woman would not be exploited (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Whilst in Matthew 7 and 1 Corinthians 7 we find more detailed information about the circumstances in which divorce is permissible, Jesus directs the conversation towards what is actually more important: the original intention and nature of marriage (by quoting Genesis 1:27; 2:24), as not just a joining together of two people, but the creation of a new person. When Jesus speaks to the disciples in private, he points out that the permission given by Moses was not the standard God had originally intended, but a way to accommodate human weakness. Thus, Moses sought to reduce the harshness of the consequences of divorce, not to make it acceptable or lawful. The same is of course true today. Divorce is not part of God’s original intention for marriage, but it is a reality of a broken world. This means that there are circumstances in which divorce is possible. This is sad and hard, and we long for that perfect future when human brokenness (and its consequences) will be no more. In the example of divorce (but not limited to it), Jesus is reminding us of the stark reality in which the hardness of hearts reflects the inability of humankind to be perfectly in tune with God’s intentions. It also seems abundantly clear that the cure for a hard heart, is Jesus.
Day 2: Read Mark 10:17-31
As we read through Mark, I hope that you’re picking up on lots of lessons concerning true discipleship. In today’s reading, the ultimate question “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” surfaces more overtly. The conversation that ensues between Jesus and the rich young man is delightful in what it reveals, yet also tragic. When Jesus responds to the title ‘good teacher’ with the words “why do you call me good…no one is good – except God alone”, the rich young man really fails to seize a critical opportunity to identify Jesus in full. The rich young man instead declares that he must be good (that’s the implication), because he has kept all these laws. Jesus was trying to get the man to recognise that his only hope was a total and utter reliance on God, not the outward signs of legal conformity that he was able to demonstrate. Jesus in an act of love – not humiliation – encourages the man to look deep into his own heart. The stumbling block for the man, is his reliance upon his wealth. For the man, his wealth was his God (the thing which took the primary place in his heart). In order to follow Jesus, Jesus must be the primary focus (the ‘treasure’) of our hearts.
Whilst Jesus’ comment regarding the man are obviously specific to his situation (i.e., the particular condition of his heart), we should not be so deluded to think that our wealth can equally be a significant stumbling block in putting Jesus first in our lives. It is easy, especially amidst a wealthy society, that the reliance on our resources can slowly encroach upon our reliance on God. Jesus’ warning concerning the camel and the eye of the needle (be it literally a needle, or Jerusalem’s gates) should therefore be heeded by all. Do not think that the riches of the age will be relevant in the future kingdom. Equally, do not think that a giving up of riches in this age won’t be rewarded with (true) richness in the next. The point is this: everything is possible with God, therefore make him the centre of your life, not the things that will perish and rust away.
Day 3: Read Mark 10:32-45
We begin the reading today with yet another (the third) foretelling by Jesus of his own suffering, death, and resurrection. The determination with which Jesus goes to Jerusalem – having indicated his trajectory to the cross – is both baffling and terrifying for those around. Perhaps still thinking that Jesus is about to begin a revolution and overturn the Romans, James and John try to get a guarantee from Jesus about who will be his ‘left-’ and ‘right-hand man’. This comes only briefly after the disciples were caught arguing about who is the greatest (8:33-37)! The disciples of course do not know for what they ask. Sitting at the right-hand and left-hand of Jesus will not mean either side of a throne, but hanging either side of a cross. They will both share Jesus’ fate (that’s what the phrase ‘drinking the cup I drink’ means), but they will not hang besides Jesus or be necessarily granted such a position in the fullness of time (that is for the Father to decide). Upon hearing about this, the other ten are of course indignant! (Perhaps they too had desired positions of prestige and power.) Accordingly, Jesus reminds them of the lesson taught previously in chapter 8: the power structures of the world are not the power structures of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, if they desire to be great, they must be last – servants and slaves of all. Jesus of course perfectly embodies this – not having come to earth of be waited upon, but instead giving his life for all, a ransom for many.
Day 4: Read Mark 10:46-52
This episode – with the blind man instantly recognising the importance of who is travelling by – is a stark contrast with the rich young man who failed to recognise who Jesus really is. Can you imagine the depth of anticipation that Bartimaeus felt? Here he was, blind and begging, only to have Jesus – whom he had obviously heard about – come by. This is only the second allusion to ‘David’ in the Gospel of Mark (the first was in Chapter 2) and the first time that Jesus has been referred to as ‘Son of David’. In fact, this blind man is the only person in the entirety of the Gospel of Mark who addresses Jesus in such a way (note that he even does it twice!). The title means Messiah. Note the way that the blind man inextricably links the title of Messiah and his own desire for mercy. Where healing and mercy (note the lack of mercy shown by the other people gathered around) was impossible for man, it is here possible with God – Jesus. Mark once again drives the point home that it is only by trusting in Jesus that he can express his power in our lives. The foretaste of that forgiveness (for Bartimaeus) was his sight, the fullness of that experience will be eternal life with God. As we set our eyes on the cross during Lent, let’s rejoice in the foretastes of the Kingdom of God that we have received, and like Bartimaeus, follow Jesus on the road he now takes.