Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday, week six: A request from his friends (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

When a leper approached, Jesus laid his hand upon him and cleansed him.

When a group of people lowered their paralyzed friend in front of Jesus, he forgave his sins and restored the strength in his legs.

When Jairus requested that Jesus come and heal his daughter, Jesus raised her from the dead.

When the Syropheonician woman asked Jesus to cast the unclean spirit out of her daughter, Jesus healed her from a distance.

When the masses brought their sick friends, Jesus cast out every demon and cured every disease.

It seems Jesus does whatever anyone asks of him.

So James and John, the fishermen from Galilee, come to him with a request of their own. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They are sure they know how everything is going to turn out. They know Jesus does everything well, so they ask for what they want, too. They want a place of honor and security once everything’s said and done.

But those things are not Jesus’ to give.

The request itself infuriates the other ten disciples, and a division opens amongst them. Jesus steps in as quickly as he can. Rifts, divisions, and competition are common amongst the rulers of nations of the world, but the rulers of Jesus’ empire will be known for their humility and service. Those who wish to be first must be least of all, serving all.

Jesus heals the opening rift and tells them: The only honor available here is to die on behalf of others.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
The Kingdom of God is experienced through selflessness.

Things to do:
Give thanks to God to those people in your life who have made sacrifices for you.

Jesus, bring your Kingdom near to others through me.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thursday, week six: What makes one rich? (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

If keeping the commandments automatically led to the joy and life of the Kingdom of God, the rich young man would never have approached Jesus at all. But they don’t. Keeping the commandments can lead to the Kingdom, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes there are obstacles.

Knowing that, Jesus looks for whatever might be in this man’s way. It’s obvious: the man loves his money more than life.

Jesus tells him to sell everything. Get yourself free and follow me.

He can’t do it, so he turns away in sorrow. What was clear to Jesus is now clear to everyone.

Jesus begins to talk about how hard it is for adults to experience the Kingdom of God. Adults get attached to their possessions, power, and relationships. They hold onto those things at the expense of the things that matter most.

Then Jesus predicts his own death again.

The Scribes and Pharisees will approach Jesus, too. But they don’t care about the obstacles in their own way. They will approach him with challenges and questions, attempting to discredit him. They will attempt to uphold the illusion that keeping the law leads to the things that matter most.

The things blocking their way are just as obvious to Jesus as the things that are in the rich man’s way. Jesus will point that out to them, too.

But this discovery won’t cause grief. It will cause violence.

The Scribes and Pharisees are going to hand him over to the Roman authorities.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
At the beginning of Mark’s gospel, Jesus announced, “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” The Kingdom of God is near all the time. What’s in the way?

Things to do:
Seek the Kingdom of God.

Jesus show me what’s in my way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wednesday, week six: Divorce and children (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

The religious leaders question him on the law: Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife or not?

Well, what did Moses say?

Moses allowed a man to present his wife with a written bill of divorce.

Jesus tells them Moses allowed divorce only because their hearts were hard. Hard hearts find forgiveness impossible. Hard hearts aren’t capable of intimacy. Moses allowed divorce because he couldn’t reconcile their hard hearts and they couldn’t reconcile with each other.

Jesus turns that written decree on its ear. He says there is an order to creation. People fall in love and are bound to one another. No matter what happens next, even the hardening of hearts, that bond cannot be undone. Love is love. It doesn’t die and it cannot be broken. He says two that join together become one flesh. Trying to divide that flesh is adultery.

While Jesus is laying down the law, children try to enter the room. The disciples talk sternly to them, but Jesus becomes indignant. He says, “Let them come to me,” and scoops them up in his arms. “It is to children that the Kingdom of God belongs.”

Children don’t divorce one another, nor commit adultery, nor test one another.  Children don’t care much about writing or keeping laws. Children recognize goodness and life when they see it, and run toward it. Children follow their hearts.

Jesus blesses the children and says, “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Keeping the law does not gain you entry into the Kingdom of God, but receiving the Kingdom like a little child does.

Things to do:
Notice the places in your own life where you have elevated the law above goodness and life.

Jesus, help me receive the Kingdom like a little child.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday, week five: Another exorcist? (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Jesus isn’t the only one with power. Apparently, there is another exorcist enjoying modest success. That has the disciples a little on edge. John tells Jesus that they even tried to stop him.

Jesus responds with a news flash: Casting out unclean spirits is not a competition. All healers are on the same team.

Then Jesus begins to talk about little ones and children. The child he held in his arms in Capernaum is still in the room, and Jesus begins to talk about the disciples’ influence upon her.

Children, he says, will look up to them. Children will look to them as examples of faith, healing, and action. Children will look to them for good news. Whatever they say and do will be the model others follow.

So, if you say healing is a competition, it will be. If you say it is a team effort, it will be.

Jesus implores them to analyze what they are doing, keep the things that are effective, and eliminate the rest, for everyone’s sake. They are beginning a ministry together, and whatever they say and do will set the standard for everything that follows.

It’s better to do the difficult, painful work now, than for the whole endeavor and everyone involved with it, to end up on the garbage heap with the worms and the burning trash.

Everything Jesus has worked for is at stake. This new empire, the proclamation of the good news of the nearness of the Kingdom of God, and the miraculous healing that takes place in it, rest with these twelve getting it right. Everything and everyone will be tested with challenges and trials. If the foundation is not solid, nothing and no one will stand. There won’t be any second chances.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Young people and people new to faith are watching you as an example of faithful living.

Things to do:
Identify your bad habits and confess your sins. Pray Psalm 51.

Jesus, give me integrity.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday, week five: Who’s your friend? (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Jesus has called himself the “Son of Man” half a dozen times already. 

This time he says the Son of Man will be betrayed and killed. Then after three days, the Son of Man will rise again. His disciples have no idea who or what he is talking about. Worse than that, they are afraid to ask him anything about it. Although Jesus has given them his own power and authority, they failed to heal a convulsing boy. Maybe that failure has something to do with their silence on the matter. So, as they journey through Galilee, they talk to one another, but not to him.

They arrive back at Capernaum, the Galilean town where Jesus first cast the unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue. Capernaum is the town where he healed Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever. In this town the crowds first gathered and from here his fame began to spread.

They enter the house and Jesus discovers that while he has been talking about his own death and walking along in silence, his disciples have been arguing with one another about their greatness. Jesus is facing the certainty of his suffering and death, and they are having a fight about who among them is his best friend.

Jesus says they know nothing about friendship. They think Jesus’ power and notoriety are going to land them in a palace somewhere. They think friendship with him will be glitzy and glamorous. They think his empire will make things easier for them.

Jesus seizes the moment. He sits them down and breaks the news to them. Friendship with him doesn’t make anything easier. Friendship with him means putting others before yourself. It means putting everyone before yourself.

Friendship with him means humility, service, compassion. Friendship with him means noticing the people no one notices. Friendship with him means extending welcome. It means crossing boundaries and challenging your own prejudices.

Jesus says that when you’ve done that, you’ve welcomed God.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Our prejudices are in our blind spots.

Things to do:
Welcome somebody you wouldn’t ordinarily gravitate toward.

Jesus, help me welcome others as you have welcomed me.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday, week five: In his absence (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Jesus, Peter, James, and John reunite with the rest of the disciples at the bottom of the mountain. There is a great commotion, for the disciples have been attempting to heal a convulsing boy, without much success.

There is great doubt that anything at all can be done for the boy, even by Jesus. “You faithless generation,” Jesus responds. “How much longer must I put up with you?”

It seems that people have short memories, constant demands, or little faith. Or maybe all three. The minute Jesus is gone and a challenge presents itself, people begin to think, “He healed those people then, but what has he done lately? Can he do anything about this?”

Frustrated, Jesus rants and them and then says, “Bring me the boy.” He asks the father to tell him all about this illness. The father complies. Then he says, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”

If you are able.

Now there’s a terrible phrase in the life of a believer. Jesus has never had a problem with ability. The only time he has been impotent was when he was in his home town. When people thought they knew all about him and perceived him to be small, he could do next to nothing.

Everywhere else, people have believed. They have demanded that he be big and bold. People have been throwing themselves headlong into his mystery and into his expanding compassion and no one has come away disappointed, except those who want to control him. (They are necessarily disappointed, because there’s no way to control him.)

He steps away for a moment, to go up the mountain and pray, and just like that, doubt is the order of the day.

How does Jesus respond? By saying, “All things can be done for the one who believes.” He responds by healing the boy.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Jesus has infinite power over the things that cast us into water and fire and threaten to destroy us. He calls us to believe in him and his power, especially when it seems like he is absent.

Things to do:
Pray for faith to be present in the believing community.

Jesus, help my own unbelief.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday, week five: The truth about the Messiah (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

After Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus begins to talk about suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. Every insurrectionist crosses this dangerous terrain. These things are no secret. Even the resurrection part. Insurrectionists live on in infamy, at least in the legends told amongst the people.

Peter isn’t buying any of it. Of course not. He thinks Jesus is going to crush the opposition like a bug. After all, if you have the power to heal, don’t you automatically have the power to destroy?

If things haven’t been made plain enough to the disciples and the crowds, Jesus now tells them openly, If you want to follow me, you’d better be ready to pick up your cross. I am headed for execution. “Those who want to save their life,” he says, “ will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of my euangellion, will save it.”

Then he calls Peter, James, and John, up a high mountain, where they see Jesus’ body glow, are met by Moses and Elijah, and hear a loud voice from a cloud. “Listen to him!,” the voice bellows.

The whole scene is terrifying, this talk of death and these supernatural visions.

Jesus reveals what his Messiahship is all about. It’s ordained by God, undergirded by the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets. It has the power to transform everything. But very little of any of that can be seen with the naked eye.

They trek down the mountain, with the revealed glory, all that talk about death, and even their terror at these revelations behind them. They see no one but Jesus, just as he is and as he has always been, with the meaning of the Messiah hidden.

He will suffer, be rejected, die, and be resurrected. And not a single soul will understand.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
It has been prophesied that the Messiah will bring peace.
Even though the disciples have been with Jesus all along, they do not understand.

Things to do:
Challenge your own understanding of who Jesus is and what his ministry accomplishes.

Jesus, transform my mind.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday, week five: What Peter knows (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Jesus and his disciples are on a short healing tour. From Bethsaida, north of the lake, they cross the Jordan River and head into the small villages clustered along the water’s edge.

Along the way, Jesus asks them, “Who do people say that I am?”

The disciples answer him, according to what they have heard.

Some people are saying that he is John the Baptist. He is teaching and healing. He hangs out in deserted places like John did. Maybe John escaped Herod’s jail. Maybe he didn’t, and is now resurrected. That could explain his increased power and authority.

Some people are saying that he is Elijah, who escaped death and ascended into the heavens on a chariot. Jesus certainly speaks like him. If Elijah had returned from the heavens, wouldn’t his ministry look like this?

Other people are saying he is one of the other prophets. He is mighty in words and deed and his teaching calls for repentance. Maybe Jesus is a new prophet.

Jesus takes it all in and pauses before asking, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.”

It’s a correct answer, but with an incorrect understanding. Peter answers rightly, but he thinks Jesus is going to topple the Roman government. Peter has been witnessing the beginning of a new empire. He has a front row seat for this euangellion, this imperial edict, as it unfolds and he is convinced it’s going to run like a steamroller right through the heart of Jerusalem.

“Don’t tell anyone else that,” Jesus says. The last thing he needs is a crowd riled up and ready for revolution. He’s the Messiah, all right, but he hasn’t come to take the world by force.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Jesus is starting a revolution, but it doesn’t have the characteristics of any revolution that has come before it.

Things to do:
Consider the attributes of Jesus’ empire. Notice how those attributes are still alive in the church, two millennia later.

Jesus, lead your revolution in all the places I have power.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thursday, week five: Spit with the power to heal (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Jesus heals everyone who begs. He heals people who beg for their own healing. When people beg for the healing of others, he heals them, too.

Word has definitely gotten around about him, so it’s no surprise that the people in Bethsaida beg him to heal a blind man. He can, after all, do anything.

Jesus leads the blind man by the hand out of the village to a private place.  For some reason, Jesus doesn’t want anyone else to see or hear what’s about to happen.

Perhaps Jesus is protecting the man’s dignity. After all, this is not a side show.

When they are alone, Jesus spits on the man’s eyes and lays his hands on him. “Can you see anything?” he asks.

The blind man looks up. It’s as if some sort of fog hovers in front of him. He can tell there are people in the distance and he can tell they are moving about, but nothing is clear.

Jesus lays his hands on the man once again. The man concentrates and tries to focus. Suddenly everything becomes clear. People look like people.

Jesus tells him to go home. “Don’t even go into the village.”

What a strange thing to say after an even stranger sort of healing. Won’t the whole village know about what has taken place anyway? And what about the people who begged Jesus to heal the man in the first place? Don’t they deserve to celebrate?

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
We may be able to see, but that doesn’t mean we are able to see clearly.
Perhaps the healing Jesus gives takes forms we cannot see.
Maybe Jesus is more interested in the healing that takes place than in what people think or say about it.

Things to do:
Beg for the healing you, your friends, your family, and the world need.

Jesus, spit in my eyes and help me see.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday, week five: How much is in the boat? (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

The disciples have been with Jesus as he has traveled throughout the region, across a territory spanning about 40 miles. They have witnessed the crowds pressing in on him everywhere they go. Twice the disciples have witnessed people forget their own hunger, being so enamored with Jesus’ teaching. On both occasions, they stood by as Jesus fed thousands, with next to nothing at his disposal.

They have clearly lacked the compassion for the crowd that Jesus has. Mark stops short of describing their disdain for the crowds, but it`s not hard to imagine them saying, What were they thinking, traveling all this way without food to sustain themselves?  Who did they think would pay for their dinner? 

And now the disciples find themselves in the same boat, both literally and figuratively. They have traveled back and forth across the lake with Jesus five times already. But on this journey, they get to the middle of the lake only to find they have but one loaf of bread to share amongst thirteen people.

Jesus says, “Beware of the yeast of the religious leaders,” but aware of their own lack of food, the disciples think he’s talking about bread. He’s not talking about a loaf of bread, but about the bread that fuels power. Jesus is talking about demands for signs, proof, and legitimacy. Jesus is saying that healing and wholeness don’t matter to some people. He’s saying that for people in power it’s not enough to make a difference for people who suffer. Those in power will always demand permission slips, certifications, and adherence with the law. For some people, the deeds are worthless without the credentials.

The disciples understand nothing of what he’s said or done, not even that he can take their one loaf and feed everyone in the boat with it, and everyone else in the world besides.

They are thinking about scarcity and rules. He is demonstrating abundance and grace.

His mercy is about to meet its match, and their minds are stuck on bread.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
People tend to dwell on scarcity rather than create abundance.

Things to do:
Share something you have with someone who doesn’t have it. Notice what happens.

God, multiply my resources.