Friday, November 04, 2011

Blogging Towards Sunday, November 6th     

Today’s passage of Mark tells of the increasing power of the ministry of Jesus and this of his choice to name a group of twelve disciples who will be his inner circle and constant companions. 

the spreading impact of jesus among the people | Mark 3:7-12

The people are overwhelmed with gratitude for Jesus.  His words, presence and healing actions seem to touch a need, to connect with a deep common longing for something unknown, promised and dreamed of.  Mark describes the crowd as if they are going to crush Jesus, as they press upon him and exert pressure upon him to respond to their needs and desires.   Interestingly enough the entire narrative is structured around the actions of Jesus.  He is not passive, but active, setting the tone, changing the conversation, challenging the status quo (v. 7, 9 12 are his actions which frame the story).

Mark details the crowd and their origins:  people from predominantly Gentile [non-Jewish] areas are beginning to be attracted to Jesus.  The six place names represent an increasing sociological distance from Judaism which was traditionally centered in Judaea and Jerusalem, to areas conquered and converted by Jews to Tyre and Sidon which had never been part of Israel.

The reaction of human sufferers to Jesus in 3:7-10 is paralleled by a demonic reaction in 3:11-12.  Mark thus seems to insist upon a connection between physical illness and exorcism of unclean spirits.  Curiously here Jesus allows the demons to confess his divine identity as “the son of God” 3:11 as compared to Mark 1:34.  Why does Jesus rebuke the demons, forbidding to make him known, to make known what  the heavenly voice also declared at his baptism in 1:11?  Scholars refer to this curious trait, specifically found in Mark, as the Messianic Secret.  It would seem that Mark is lifting up a literary motif of messianic secrecy in view of articulating that Jesus’ divine Sonship is hidden from human knowledge until the crucifixion and resurrection can make clear the exact way in which it is to be understood.

Hoi Polloi” is an idiom for the little people.  It’s actually a transliteration of the Greek words for “the people”.  In our current socio-political context an emerging idiom for the hoi polloi is the 99%
·       How is Jesus needed by them in the text?  How do they try to control him?  How does he respond?  Why? 
·       How is Jesus needed by the 99% today?  What message would Jesus have for our current socio-political context characterized by occupiers and tea partiers?

Jesus picks a team and organizes his movement | Mark 3:13-19

This pericope (or literary unit) closes the first major section of the Gospel of Mark [1:16-3:11] and opens the second section [3:13-6:6] with a commissioning narrative (cf 1:16-20).  Jesus scales a mountain.  The Israelites often considered high places or mountain tops to be places of experiences of the sacred.  In response to his growing popularity and the massive need of the 99% of his day, Jesus chooses twelve followers and sets them apart for special tasks and fellowship.  They will become the trusted organizers of his movement and his closest friends and confidents.

The pericope is composed of two parts: 1) Jesus ascends the mountain and summons his disciples 3:13-15 and then 2) the list of the Twelve 3:16-19.  Jesus ascent of the mountain reminds a good Bible reader of Moses’ ascents of Mount Sinai through the Pentateuch (Exodus 19, 24, 34; Number 27; Deuteronomy 9-10, 32).  Twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel, an anciently significant number in the culture, language and religious identity of the Jews.  In a sense the number 12 represents completion or fullness.

Jesus calls the disciples to him  He summons them.  He does the choosing.  There seems to have been many more than twelve.  But Jesus chooses these twelve.  From here forward Mark portrays Jesus as one who is almost constantly surrounded by a circle of disciples; he does not exist primarily as a solitary individual but as a being-in-community. Living the Christian life means “being with him”.  What then does it mean to follow him as a disciple?

It was common to give nicknames or special names to beloved followers.  Choosing to follow a new master or teacher, signified a radical transformation not just of education but of personal identity.  Our relationships define our being.  With the group of Twelve there seems to be a smaller prominent group of three: Simon (or Peter), James and John.  Why?  Was Jesus playing favorites?  Curiously the First Testament often talks of three patriarchs, naming the God of the Bible as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Is there a connection here?  Obviously the list is written after the fact, as Mark adds foreshadowing to the list describing among things the choice that Judas will make in the end after having been chosen by Jesus.

·       What strikes you in these stories?  How does it interact with your life today?
·       What does it mean to be a Jesus follower?  Is that different than being a Christian?
·       How do you explain following Jesus to other people?  How would you to a stranger if they asked you to do so? 
·       How is God calling you – us as a church – to follow him? To be church today?

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