Monday, January 23, 2017

Do not be afraid; only believe


 Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea.  And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name.  And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter lies at the point of death.  Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live."  So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him.

Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians.  She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment.  For she said, "If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well."  Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction.  And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My clothes?"  But His disciples said to Him, "You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?"  And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.  And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction."

While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue's house who said, "Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the Teacher any further?"  As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not be afraid; only believe."  And he permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James.  Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly.  When He came in, He said to them, "Why make this commotion and weep?  The child is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him.  But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying.  Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, "Talitha, cumi," which is translated, "Little girl, I say to you, arise."  Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age.  And they were overcome with great amazement.  But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.

- Mark 5:21-43

Yesterday, we read that after crossing a stormy Sea of Galilee, Jesus and the disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes.  And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains.  And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him.  And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.  When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.  And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I implore You by God that You do not torment me."  For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!"  Then He asked him, "What is your name?"  And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many."  Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.  Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains.  So all the demons begged Him, saying, "Send us to the swine, that we may enter them."  And at once Jesus gave them permission.  Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.   So all those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country.  And they went out to see what it was that had happened.  Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine.  Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.  And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him.  However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you."  And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.  

 Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea.  And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name.  And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter lies at the point of death.  Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live."  So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him.  We see the faith put into Christ, even by someone well-known and respected, the ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum.  He makes a desperate plea for Christ to save his daughter's life.  This is a very public event, with a great multitude following Jesus which thronged Him.

Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians.  She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment.  For she said, "If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well."  Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction.  And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My clothes?"  But His disciples said to Him, "You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?"  And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.  And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction."  My study bible says that the healing of this woman demonstrates Christ's power to cleanse and heal.  In the Old Testament, hemorrhage caused ceremonial defilement, which meant impositions of religious and social restrictions.  Contact with blood was strictly forbidden (Leviticus 15:25).  But this woman, who accounted herself unclean, approached Christ in secret but with tremendous faith.  Jesus tells her, "Your faith has made you well."  We note that she comes before Him and confesses the whole truth.  This is the fullness of a person who, in faith, comes to the light.  She neither is able to hide her touch from Him, nor is excluded from Him because of her illness.  He also blesses her with peace -- and she is brought before all as a way of teaching others to imitate her.

While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue's house who said, "Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the Teacher any further?"  As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not be afraid; only believe."  And he permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James.  Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly.  When He came in, He said to them, "Why make this commotion and weep?  The child is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him.  But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying.  Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, "Talitha, cumi," which is translated, "Little girl, I say to you, arise."  Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age.  And they were overcome with great amazement.  But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.  The power of life and death belongs to God alone; here is another sign of the divinity of Jesus Christ.  But more than that, it is a lesson in faith.  We note how carefully Jesus puts out those who ridicule His leadership in the situation -- and how carefully He creates and builds the faith of those for whom the situation is so dire, before the child is healed.

Today's reading gives us great lessons about faith.  It's important to know that the woman with the blood flow first approaches Christ with great faith.  Although she tries simply to touch His clothes, and to do so without His awareness, her faith is such that it makes the connection with Christ.  She is healed of the affliction, and He is aware that power has gone out of Him.  No matter what the circumstances, this result is a true fruit of her faith, a kind of testimony to the sort of faith she has.  And indeed, Jesus declares it:  "Your faith has made you well."  In a recent reading and commentary, we discussed the nature of betrayal or evil.  John's Gospel tells us, "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (John 3:20-21).  This woman is an example of one who comes to the light, that her deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."  She makes a full confession to Him, before everyone else in that crowd, of what she's done.  We can think about faith, in addition, by the actions that surround Jairus and his family.  It's interesting that he's the ruler of the synagogue, and we contrast that with the women who, for an incredible twelve years, has been a kind of outcast and rendered as unclean.  (Just imagine her shame.)  And yet her faith is greater than his -- he needs to be buoyed and helped by Christ.  He needs to be shielded from the ridicule of those who surround him in his own home, including those who've come to wail and mourn.  Christ also brings those closest to Him among the disciples, the three of His closest inner circle, those whose faith is the strongest.  It teaches us the power of our own efforts at discipline and self-care in the pursuit of our own faith.  We needn't put ourselves in temptation's way by surrounding ourselves or engaging those who are going to tear it down or ridicule it.  Rather, faith needs nurturing, shoring up, our utmost capacity to seek out and accept help.  These are messages to us from the Gospel today, and we need to take them seriously, and determine exactly what our goals are, and why faith is important to our lives and the outcomes in life.  Let us know the rock we stand on, with eyes wide open and discerning.








Saturday, January 21, 2017

My name is Legion; for we are many


 Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes.  And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains.  And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him.  And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.  When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.  And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I implore You by God that You do not torment me."  For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!"  Then He asked him, "What is your name?"  And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many."  Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.

Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains.  So all the demons begged Him, saying, "Send us to the swine, that we may enter them."  And at once Jesus gave them permission.  Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.   So all those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country.  And they went out to see what it was that had happened.  Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine.  Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.  And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him.  However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you."  And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled. 

- Mark 5:1-20

Yesterday, we read that after a day spent teaching in parables, when evening had come, Jesus said to disciples, "Let us cross over to the other side."  Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was.  And other little boats were also with Him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.  But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow.  And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"  Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!"  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful?  How is it that you have no faith?"  And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"

Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes.  Jesus and the disciples have come across a stormy Sea of Galilee, to the "other side."  This is an area in Galilee with many Gentiles who live among the Jews.  The Gentile influence in this story (the raising of the swine) is clear.  These are Jews who have taken on Gentile practices.  The raising of swine was forbidden by the Law (Deuteronomy 14:8).

And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains.  And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him.  And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.  When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.  And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I implore You by God that You do not torment me."  For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!"  Then He asked him, "What is your name?"  And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many."  Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.   We're always struck by the extreme isolation of this man.  He lives in the tombs, among the dead -- not in community among the living.  He's wild and uncivilized, frequently bound with shackles and chains which can't hold him.  He pulls apart the chains and breaks the shackles in pieces.  He is untamable, according to the text.  But the soul of the man knows Jesus, and falls down before Him (the word translated as worshiped means to prostrate oneself, as in a position of worship).  But the unclean spirit speaks; the spirit's name is Legion, for they are many who are tormenting this man.

Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains.  So all the demons begged Him, saying, "Send us to the swine, that we may enter them."  And at once Jesus gave them permission.  Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.   So all those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country.  And they went out to see what it was that had happened.  Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine.  Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.  In the Jewish perspective, the swine are unclean animals.   Some commentators see these swine-herders as Gentiles, but tradition generally sees them as apostate Jews.  Their own response to Jesus affirms a sense of a broken spirituality:  they care more about the lost income from the swine than the restoration and healing of the man who was possessed by the legion.  They beg Christ to depart from their region.  

And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him.  However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you."  And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.  The Decapolis was a Greek-speaking region of ten cities, of mixed populations of Gentiles and Jews.  The restored man is no longer isolated, wild, and abandoned to the tombs.  He becomes, in effect, a type of evangelist, witnessing to the great things the Lord has done for him. 

 The extreme isolation of this man tells us about his tremendous loneliness.  He's "occupied" by a legion of demons, an invading army, so to speak, of a hostile power.  The violence with which he's afflicted, and his out of control life, teach us about the destructiveness of this demonic influence (as does the mass suicide of the 2,000 swine).  But when Christ appears, the man immediately prostrates himself before Him, an act of adoration, of worship, and of obedience and loyalty.  His Savior has found him.  It's an awe-inducing thought to consider that Christ has led the disciples on this mission across the stormy night sea to come here to this man deserted by community and besieged by a host of demons.  In Tuesday's reading, Jesus taught, "Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother."  This man abandoned to the tombs finds community, even family, in Christ.  Christ is not only Liberator and Redeemer, freeing him from a legion of demons, but He's also the true Leader, the One who can bring this man back into community with a purpose and with belonging.  The formerly demon-possessed man doesn't just return to his friends, as Christ told him to do, but he returns with a mission, a part of something, a witness to the great things the Lord has done for him.  In that sense he's been "sent out," like the apostles will be.  The people marvel in response to his testimony, and through him more are brought to Christ.  If we think about this story in a modern context, we can find great parallels to mental illness.  Perhaps above all, we may come to understand the extreme isolation that comes with such affliction or with the pain of abandonment in many forms.  Christ as Lord, in His healing ministry, becomes a center that draws all into community and relationship.  The power of His love is the overriding energy that no other force can match.  My study bible tells us that this story demonstrates several things.  First, people are protected under God's providence -- otherwise, the demon-possessed man would have come to the same end as the swine.   It teaches us the great value of human beings to God.  It also shows us that demons have no power over creation, but are subject to the will of God, as they could only enter the swine at Christ's command.  But the restoration of this man is the great story of Christ as the One who comes to save, and to build His Church -- to establish a depth of relationship through faith.  There is no more profound call to wholeness than one of belonging and community.   In God's love is the capacity for restoration, whether we speak of abandonment or trauma or any other kind of desolation.   There is no more powerful remedy to isolation, because grace reaches deep into the places that need healing in ways that nothing else -- no other force, human or otherwise -- can go.  It is our Creator who gives to us a greater and deeper sense of community than the one that was lost to begin with (see Psalm 27:10).



Friday, January 20, 2017

Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?


 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side."  Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was.  And other little boats were also with Him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.  But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow.  And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"  Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!"  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful?  How is it that you have no faith?"  And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"

- Mark 4:35-41

Yesterday we read that Jesus continued to teach in parables.  He said, "Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed?  Is it not to be set on a lampstand?  For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."  Then He said to them, "Take heed what you hear.  With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.  For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him."  And He said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how.  For the earth yields crops by itself:  first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.  But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the  harvest has come."  Then He said, "To what shall we liken the kingdom of God?  Or with what parable shall we picture it?  It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade."  And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it.  But without a parable He did not speak to them.  And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side."  Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was.  And other little boats were also with Him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.  But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow.  And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"  Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!"  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful?  How is it that you have no faith?"  And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"  My study bible has several observations about today's reading.  First, it says that Christ allows the windstorm deliberately.  This happens while He's sleeping in order to build and perfect the faith of the disciples and to rebuke their weaknesses.  Eventually they must be unshaken by life's temptations in their mission as apostles.  Here their faith is still mixed with unbelief.  In faith, they awake Him, but express unbelief when they declare that they are perishing.  I always note in this story that several of these men are seasoned fishermen, used to fishing on this sea.  Jesus' mastery over creation is another sign that He's the Messiah, and also divine.  But as a man, He sleeps and needs rest.  He has assumed all the natural actions of the flesh, says my study bible, of which sleep is one.  This image of Christ and the disciples in a boat is as traditional one to illustrate the Church.  My study bible says, "God both permits storms and delivers us through them, so that we can see His protection more clearly.  Christ's rebuke of the storm is also an illustration of His calming the tempests in the human soul."

It's interesting to look at some of the Greek words in today's reading.  When Jesus says, "Peace, be still!" the Greek gives us two words that actually mean "silence."  The word translated as peace is a command to be quiet.  It gives us a sense of the roaring sea and storm.  It is clearly a command from someone in authority.  The word translated as be still is from the word for "muzzle."  It is a command for silence, to cease the fuss, the roar, and the noise.  In these words we have an image of God silencing a chaotic, clashing, and frightening world.  In a way, the "hush" conveyed through these words echoes the Spirit of the Lord hovering over the dark waters that covered the world in the beginning of Genesis (Genesis 1:1-2).  When Jesus challenges His disciples, saying, "Why are you so fearful?  How is it that you have no faith?", He's asking them, in a sense, where their trust in His leadership and guidance is.  To be fearful, in the context of the Greek word used here, is to doubt the future and the success of the current endeavor.  Faith, as discussed frequently in this blog, is another word for trustTrust is the fuller meaning of the word for faith in Greek, its root and heart.  Christ shows His authority as supreme, and also His knowledge in His guidance for the Church.   When He calls all of us to faith through His words to the disciples, He's assuring us that regardless of what we experience, we must trust in Him, trust in God.  As readers, we know what these disciples will experience when He is no longer living as the human Jesus in the world.  They will face persecutions and martyrdom, and make a host of sacrifices in their mission of the Church.  At the root of this trust in Christ we find the deep need for a kind of unity with our Creator.  That is, a depth of loyalty and love that endures through all the difficulties of life, the struggles that face us for that faith and that Church, the kinds of evils that may exist in the world.  That is a call for faith that goes far beyond a nominal acceptance of a way of thinking or viewing life, but into the depths of the most difficult kinds of struggle.  The image of Christ with the disciples in the boat, as noted above, is by tradition given to us as an image of the Church.  It places Christ squarely in the center as leadership, before all else.  Our trust and confidence is in Him, and in His peace, even as we may be guided through a sea of troubles.




 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given


 Also He said to them, "Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed?  Is it not to be set on a lampstand?  For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."

Then He said to them, "Take heed what you hear.  With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.  For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him."

And He said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how.  For the earth yields crops by itself:  first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.  But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the  harvest has come."

Then He said, "To what shall we liken the kingdom of God?  Or with what parable shall we picture it?  It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade."

And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it.  But without a parable He did not speak to them.  And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

- Mark 4:21-34

Yesterday, we read that Jesus once again began to teach by the sea.  And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea.  Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:  "Listen!  Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it.  Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth.  But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away.  And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.  But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced:  some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred."  And He said to them, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"  But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.  And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that  'Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand;  Lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.'"  And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?  The sower sows the word.  And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown.  When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.  These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time.  Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, immediately they stumble.  Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit:  some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred."

Also He said to them, "Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed?  Is it not to be set on a lampstand?  For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."   In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus uses these words to encourage His followers (in the Sermon on the Mount, see Matthew 5:14-16) to shine the light they are given into the world, to reflect the glory of God through their faith and the works it produces.  But here His teachings about light have yet another facet to them:  as the Light Himself, He is in the world to bring that light into the world for those who will receive it.  That light is His word, for those with "spiritual ears" to discern.  See yesterday's reading (above) for His reference to those who would hear, quoting Isaiah.  This is an encouragement to those who desire spiritual truth.  He is promising growth in their understanding, though He has begun to teach publicly in parables.

 Then He said to them, "Take heed what you hear.  With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.  For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him."  This teaching is connected to what He's just said.  My study bible names it a call to attentive listening and discriminating response.  A note reads, "We must not only hear, but hear properly.  More will be given to those who respond to Christ with open hearts; they will grow in understanding."  My study bible also quotes St. Mark the Ascetic:  "Do the good you know, and what you do not know will be revealed to you."

 And He said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how.  For the earth yields crops by itself:  first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.  But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the  harvest has come."  This parable is found only in Mark's Gospel.  The kingdom, says my study bible, refers to the whole span of God's dispensation or plan of salvation.  The man is Christ, and the seed is the gospel (see yesterday's reading, above, and the parable of the Sower).  The man's sleep indicates Christ's death, from which He will rise.  That the man does not know how the seed grows shows that Christ does not manipulate our response to the gospel, but rather each person is free to receive it and to let it grow in his own heart.  The harvest is the Second Coming, when all will be judged on their reception of the gospel.

Then He said, "To what shall we liken the kingdom of God?  Or with what parable shall we picture it?  It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade."  According to Theophylact, the mustard seed and the leaven represent the disciples, who began as just a few men, but "soon encompassed the whole earth.  They also teach us about the nature of faith entering a person's soul, causing an inward growth of virtue.  This soul, says my study bible, will become godlike and can receive even angels.  Both these parables, and the one above, illustrate a mysterious growth process of grace that we do not control, but which nevertheless produces its results for us to see and know its work.

And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it.  But without a parable He did not speak to them.  And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.  My study bible tells us that to unbelievers, the parables remain bewildering.  To those with simple faith, Christ's stories using common images reveal truth in ways they can grasp, as they were able.

What is this mysterious process of spiritual growth that Christ describes?  Why is it couched in the riddles of parables, and the hidden gems of meanings contained therein?  Why does He explain privately to His disciples but leave the public to wonder about the parables?  All of these questions are pertinent to the nature of this Kingdom itself.  A poetic irony, given that the parables are meant to illustrate the Kingdom, to draw those in who will want to learn more.  We're given two kinds of information in today's reading.  First Jesus teaches about illumination in the illustration of the lampstand.  The parables are meant to draw out our capacity for such truth, for this kind of enlightenment that He offers through His ministry of salvation.  Everything depends on our faith, our capacity to receive what He's offering.  Keep in mind that this follows His giving of the parable of the Sower.  The seeds He is sowing depend for their harvest on the ground upon which they're sown, what kind of root they can take up within us, and how they can survive the storms and difficulties of life, the cares with which the world will present us, the distractions and forgetfulness of life.  Secondly, the parables themselves in today's reading illustrate this mysterious process of growth that is unfathomable.  You can't watch it happen and you can't make it happen.  So much depends on a process that has its own pace and energy, its own power.  One can only see the "fruits" or the harvest.  My favorite parable is the story of the mustard seed:  a tiny golden seed sprouts up a sturdy great bush, one with so much to give that even the birds may nest in its branches -- a story of angels sent down and finding a home in the world.  This is a beautiful parable of the Kingdom, indeed, and the truths that Christ brings to us as they may nestle into our lives and we produce more harvest through our faith.  But the power of all this growth is contained in those seeds.  We are merely to do the work required for fertile ground:  patience, persistence, nurturing.  In such cultivation the discipline of attending worship service, participating in religious community, and our own practices (both corporate and private) of prayer and even fasting, reading Scripture and contemplating it prayerfully -- all these things go to the care of our souls and finding the fertile resting ground for the seeds and the mysterious process that is at work, if we but let it be, within us.   So where are you in this process?  How do you cultivate a receptive attention?  Jesus promises that where there is some that is received, more will be given.  We're given back in the measure with which we give.  This is a never-ending growth, the story of expansion and surprising results.  The branches that grow will shelter even the birds of the air, the harvest of beauty in the world, the grace of God's love and truth.







Wednesday, January 18, 2017

To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables


 And again He began to teach by the sea.  And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea.  Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:  "Listen!  Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it.  Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth.  But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away.  And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.  But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced:  some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred."  And He said to them, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.  And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that
'Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.'"

And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?  The sower sows the word.  And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown.  When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.  These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time.  Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, immediately they stumble.  Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit:  some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred."

- Mark 4:1-20

Yesterday we read that, after Jesus chose His twelve disciples, they went into a house.  Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.  But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, "He is out of His mind. And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebub," and, "By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons."  So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables:  "How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.  No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.  And then he will plunder his house.  Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation" -- because they said, "He has an unclean spirit."  Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him.  And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You."  But He answered them, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?"  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother."

 And again He began to teach by the sea.  And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea.  Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:  "Listen!  Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it.  Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth.  But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away.  And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.  But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced:  some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred."  And He said to them, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"  As Jesus' fame grows, and the word spreads about the many healings He's done, all kinds of people come to see Him.   We have also been told that now there is active hostility to Him by the religious authorities.  In this context and setting, Jesus begins to preach in parables.  This first parable, the parable of the Sower, begins Jesus' new way of preaching.  Jesus' parables draw upon images from daily life in order to illustrate the mysteries or "hidden things" of the Kingdom for those who have the capacity to hear.  In Hebrew and Aramaic, the words for parable also mean "allegory," "riddle," or "proverb."  The use of parables was known in Jewish culture long before Jesus, but His use of them is simply sublime -- 2,000 years later, they still communicate to us on many levels.  In this first parable of the Sower, Jesus gives an image of what it is to plant seeds, and the places in which those seeds may take root or not.  To understand, one must be able to hear a metaphor to one's own spiritual life, and to the ways of the Kingdom.  Parables are also a way of drawing in those who desire more; we each receive to the best of our ability.  But as indicated by this parable, that ability can grow.

But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.  And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that 'Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.'"  In some form or another, this quotation from Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10) appears in all Gospels.  Jesus quotes from it at different times and on varying occasions.  Therefore we must conclude its significance for this ministry.   Here Jesus gives the quotation from Isaiah to accompany the introduction of parables, a perfect occasion to suggest that our ability to comprehend and participate in this Kingdom isn't simply a matter of being "illuminated," but also rests with our own capacities and desires to know, our choices.  My study bible says that according to St. John Chrysostom, Isaiah's prophecy doesn't mean that God causes spiritual blindness in people who would otherwise have been faithful.  Rather, this is a figure of speech common to Scripture revealing that God gives people up to their own devices (as in Romans 1:24, 26).  "Seeing they may see and not perceive" indicates a kind of self-chosen spiritual blindness that is allowed, a sign of the free will allowed human beings.  All are permitted entrance, but entrance is by faith and choice, a kind of love.  No one is compelled to return the love of God; as such participation in this plan of salvation belongs to those who respond to that love.  This is a depth of choice that is often more profound than we can know or understand; hence God is the judge of such capacity, not human beings. We note that the disciples do not understand all things at once; rather they are those with the capacity to continue in this journey of faith.

And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?  The sower sows the word.  And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown.  When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.  These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time.  Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, immediately they stumble.  Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit:  some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred."  Jesus reveals Himself in this parable as the promised Messiah.  He's the sower who'd been foretold in Isaiah 55:10-13.  Here the associations with Isaiah's prophecy give us an ear for the poetry of Scripture:  the parable is a suggestion to those who already love what has been written and prophesied about the Messiah.  For those who will come later to the Old Testament Scriptures through Christ, Isaiah's words will help flesh out our depth of understanding of Jesus Christ.

Jesus' parable speaks of fruitfulness.  What does it mean to yield a harvest, or to bear fruit in this context?   In the overall context of the Gospels, Jesus speaks of bearing fruit also to illustrate how His followers will know who the false prophets are:  "By their fruits you shall know them" (see Matthew 7:15-20).  As in yesterday's reading, when Jesus illustrated His casting out of demons as a kind of war of kingdom against kingdom, we see inner spiritual struggle also in the context of different outcomes and goals:  there is good fruit, and there is bad fruit.  The good fruit comes from those individuals, in Jesus' words, who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit:  some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.  We should note that there is no judgment involved in the different levels of fruit borne here.  Each does to the capacity they are able.  The important thing is just that the word took root, and bore a harvest.  The rest, this mysterious process of how faith works and what it can produce, is really a matter of how grace works within us at depths we don't consciously know or fully control.  Even the choice we make for faith is a mysterious process for us.  It seems to me that the depth of the soul and the heart is something known fully only to God.  But there is a basic choice structure -- and freedom -- in place.  So much comes down to our own receptivity, our capacity for loving truth (even as a kind of absolute), our own ability and desire to come before God, to be cleansed and healed -- or the preference for appearance that covers all things (such as the wolf clothed as a sheep, in Jesus' illustration of a false prophet).  In John's Gospel, Jesus says, "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (John 3:20-21).  These are fairly absolute statements, but Jesus' entire ministry of healing is really about a lifelong process, a struggle for faith, in which this principle is illustrated.  To bear good fruit is to be willing to come to the light, to have the humility for correction and healing.  The metaphor of healing, as given to us by Christ in His quotation from Isaiah, means to be brought to true wholeness, to perfection, to healing in all possible dimensions of what it is to be a human being:  spirit, soul, body, mind.  To be healed is to be brought into right relationship in all ways; this is also the meaning of righteousness.  This is impossible for a person unwilling to come into that light of truth that shines in all our inner places, including our own ignorance and fallibility.  The depth of good ground for receiving the word is the same as receiving the light who is Christ.  That good ground is faith; it is trust in Christ, who is also the Word.   This mysterious process of fruitfulness Jesus describes is categorized by the Greek Fathers as synergy:  a working relationship between God and human beings, a mysterious "organic" partnership in which grace works in us and with us, with our trust, our faith.  Let us pray for this depth of grace to be at work in us, for the good ground in us that is open to the light of faith.






Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother


And they went into a house.  Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.  But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, "He is out of His mind. And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebub," and, "By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons."  So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables:  "How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.  No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.  And then he will plunder his house.  Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation" -- because they said, "He has an unclean spirit."

Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him.  And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You."  But He answered them, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?"  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother."

- Mark 3:19b-35

Yesterday we read that, after the Pharisees and Herodians began to plot together against Him (see Saturday's reading),  Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea.  And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him.  So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him.  For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him.  And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, "You are the Son of God."  But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.  And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted.  And they came to Him.  Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons:  Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is "Sons of Thunder"; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.  

And they went into a house.  Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.  But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, "He is out of His mind."  And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebub," and, "By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons."  So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables:  "How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.  No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.  And then he will plunder his house."  We see that Jesus' ministry has become so popular that the people crowd into the house because He is there, so much so that no one can even eat a meal.  But in response to what is happening His relatives question His sanity; this is unseemly for the person they know as the private Jesus, the son of Mary, before He began this public ministry.  And He's drawing extraordinary attention to Himself, not all of it favorable, particularly from the authorities.  The religious authorities are already planning action against Him.  In this spirit, the scribes have come down from Jerusalem (no doubt sent by the Pharisees), accusing Him of casting out demons by the ruler of demons, ascribing the signs of His ministry to demonic power, a kind of sorcery.  Beelzebub, or Baal, was the prince of "the dung heap" or lord of "the flies" -- the name being a Jewish slur or ridicule of  a god worshiped by the Philistines (2 Kings 1:2-16).  Here they call him ruler of the demons.  My study bible says that the impossibility of demons fighting against themselves illustrates the irrational pride and envy of the Pharisees in their opposition to Jesus.  Jesus uses His perfect logic to demolish the charge made against His work and ministry.  It is noteworthy to us to understand that He puts it in the language of warfare, an image of spiritual battle.

"Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation" -- because they said, "He has an unclean spirit."  Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit means blasphemy against the activity of the Spirit; that is, blasphemy against pure goodness.  The divine activity of the Spirit is already known from the Old Testament; although Jesus as Messiah is something new to them, to name the action of the Holy Spirit evil comes from a willful hardness of heart and a refusal to accept God's mercy.  Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit according to the Fathers of the Church, is not an "unforgivable sin" and Jesus does not call the sin "unforgivable."  Rather, St. John Chrysostom teaches that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would be forgivable if a person were to repent of it.  My study bible says that Jesus makes this declaration knowing that those who blaspheme the Spirit are calling pure, divine goodness "evil," and are beyond repentance by their own choice.

Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him.  And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You."  But He answered them, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?"  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother."  My study bible says that Christ's relatives have not yet understood His identity and mission.  (These brothers are either extended family such as cousins -- it remains common today in the Middle East to call cousins "brothers" -- or sons of Joseph from an earlier marriage.)  But Jesus points to a spiritual family, one based on obedience to the will of God.

Today's reading illustrates strong notions of alliance.  What, really, is the basis for our understanding of nation or clan or family?  How does it draw upon a spiritual understanding of life?  Presumably, the religious authorities in Jerusalem represent the Jewish people.  They are the authorities who regulate and enforce the spiritual life of the people, that religious life given to the "people of God" via revelation through Moses and the Prophets, and all the traditions built up around the Law and the worship in the temple.  But here, they accuse Christ of casting out demons by the ruler of demons.  In other words, they are ascribing all the powerful healing and spiritual work revealed through Christ's ministry to the power of demons.  One should understand that exorcism was also practiced in Judaism; this is not something unknown.  But people are amazed at Jesus, and gather to Him for healing and casting out such "unclean spirits."  Jesus, we note, gives us an image of battle:  that it takes one stronger than the "strong man" (Satan) to cast him out.  This is an image of kingdom against kingdom, or rather the force of one ruler against another, and Christ's is the stronger.  He then gives the image of the Holy Spirit, the force of the powerful work present in His ministry.  Jesus gives us a kind of cosmology here in the images both of battling kingdoms and also the work of the Spirit.  We're not given a kind of list of sins in social or community conduct, but rather an understanding that the real power of life, the pure goodness of God, is the center around which we live our lives.  The great sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  This is not about a particular work or a particular act, but rather about the power of God that is in our midst where the Holy Spirit is present.  It is the Spirit that worked through the prophets and gave their word power and truth.  All the eloquent speech in the world would not have the same effect, unless it were also part of the work of the Spirit.  When we speak of sinning, it's important to understand this concept of beauty and truth and goodness.  "Sin" isn't simply about someone crossing us or hurting us, it also must be understood in light of the presence of the Kingdom and our orientation toward it.  At the same time, these images we're given by Christ teach us about what we are to seek in life, what we are to seek to serve and be a part of.  He clearly names His "brother and sister and mother" as those who seek to do the will of God.  This is again a reference to the power of the Kingdom in our midst, and our commitment to participation in it.  We note in Jesus' illustration of the battle of kingdoms, of the strong man and the "stronger man," that there is no crossing back and forth, no soldier with one foot in both camps.  To do so is to be at war within or with oneself, a recipe for failure.  We're meant to choose sides in this struggle.  We're meant to have a clear understanding of where we stand spiritually, where our true allegiances are that focus our lives in the most profound relationship we will have.  Indeed, Jesus places it so deeply in the center of our reality that it creates in us relationship to Him as  "brother and sister and mother."  He doesn't negate the worldly relationships of family here, but He establishes a new sense of relationship in terms of spiritual kinship and loyalty to the will of the Father.  This permeates all of our lives.  It speaks to our choice and our freedom.








Monday, January 16, 2017

Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons


 But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea.  And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him.  So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him.  For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him.  And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, "You are the Son of God."  But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.

And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted.  And they came to Him.  Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons:  Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is "Sons of Thunder"; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. 

- Mark 3:7-19a

On Saturday, we read that Jesus and the disciples went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck he heads of grain.  And the Pharisees said to Him, "Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"  But He said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:  how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?"  And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath."  And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand.  So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.  And He said to the man who had the withered hand, "Step forward."  Then He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?"  But they kept silent.  And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand."  And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.  Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. 

 But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea.  And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him.  So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him.  For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him.  And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, "You are the Son of God."  But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.  My study says that Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea for more than one reason.  First, the authorities now see Him as an antagonist and plot against Him.  Secondly, there are other places to go and people to preach to.  We can see the crowds begin to gather to Him from Judea and Jerusalem and other regions closer to the center of religious authority, the temple at Jerusalem.  Jews are also coming to Him from the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon to the north of Galilee. Again we read not only about preaching and healing, but also the response of the demons, a kind of signal rising from the spiritual reality not obviously evident to us.  Jesus hides His identity for various reasons, as was predicted by Isaiah of the Messiah (Isaiah 42:1-4).   The growing hostility of the leadership to Him, the people's common expectation and misunderstanding that the Messiah will be a kind of political leader, and Christ's desire for genuine faith in response to Him that is not merely based on miracles (or "signs").

And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted.  And they came to Him.  Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons:  Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is "Sons of Thunder"; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.   That these twelve will be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons tells us the role of both disciples and apostles.  Disciple means "learner," and apostle means "one sent out."  The role of discipleship is like that of a child learning from its parent; they will be with Christ and close to Him for precisely this purpose.  Like children or heirs, they are given power that is Christ's, which He shares with them.  My study bible points out that the names of the twelve are not the same in all lists, as many people had more than one name.  Note that the name Matthew is now listed; in Friday's reading, as Jesus passed by the tax office and called him to discipleship ("Follow Me"), he was called Levi.  The change of name is perhaps indicative of the change in his life, a depth of repentance and the grace that is at work.  Matthew means "Gift of the Lord."  We note also that it is made clear from the very beginning of the discussion of disciples that these are those personally chosen by Christ, as He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted.  In the listing of the disciples, it is always noted that Judas Iscariot also betrayed Him.  In John's Gospel, Jesus will say, "Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (John 6:70).

We get an idea of what evil or the demonic is from the "hidden" places in the text that reveal it to us.  "Hidden" is another way of interpreting the word "mystery," which is Greek really means something like "secret."  We're given glimpses of this world in the responses of the demons to Christ, and also in the understanding that Judas, His betrayer, is one who was personally chosen by Him, wanted in the words of today's text.  Jesus has authority over the demons, He forbids them to speak and reveal His identity (another core of mystery).  In the quotation from John above, the word devil in the Greek is diabolos.  This word can have many meanings, and it's a reference to Satan.  It is associated with slander, false accusation, calumny -- one who does such things.  In the Greek it also means deceiver, or one who betrays.  In each case, the effort is to destroy another.  It is important, I think, to contrast the understanding of the Greek word for faith (pistis) with this meaning of betrayal and falsehood.  The real root meaning of pistis is "trust."  We put our trust in Christ, in the Lord.  Those who slander, who betray, who seek merely to destroy, are unworthy of such trust -- and it is we who suffer if we put our trust there.  This is what happens even to Christ as Son of Man; he is betrayed to Judas Iscariot.   Whether or not He knew this would happen in advance is another part of mystery; to us it is not disclosed.  But what we can perhaps infer or understand from the story of Christ's life and ministry is that as fully human He undergoes and suffers from evil as we do, to a depth we pray none of us has to face.  Everything the human race may be subject to, He is also subject to.  And as such this is part of His ministry of grace; God knows what we suffer.  And He is here to give us the way through a world that is not "perfect," and to give us the grace -- as He shares His power with the disciples -- to be a part of His ministry, a part of the struggle against evil.  In this picture we're given in the Gospel, it is perhaps most important to understand that evil is sneaky, tricky; the whole nature of deceit is not to be obvious.  In John's Gospel, Jesus' "brothers" taunt Him, telling Him that He should "show Yourself to the world" (John 7:3-9).   But Jesus knows this is a bad idea; He needs to be wary and careful of how His ministry unfolds for the true goals of God.  The notion of heresy gives us another clue about evil:  it looks good, it's not obviously bad.  Jesus affirms this understanding in the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30):  the weeds (or "tares") resemble the wheat -- they will grow together until harvest time.  If we are truly to understand the nature of evil, we understand that it's not what appears to us as obvious, not easily identified.   A betrayer, deceiver, or backbiter isn't someone we have foreknowledge about.  On the contrary, it's more likely someone we trust in our innocence or unknowing.  The question is, what do we do with our experience, and who do we trust to lead us through the journey of life and the work of faith?  These are the realities revealed by Christ in His life as Jesus.  These are the truths given to us about our world -- and also the mission, until His Return, at which time to harvest is His and so is the Judgment.  Jesus also tells us, "By their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7:20).  This is the way our lives are.  We are in the struggle that He showed us.  The real mission to follow Him is in understanding His way for us to go through it, and the choices we make to follow His commands rather than what we might assume is good.