Blogging Towards Sunday, December 4th
Today’s passage of Mark follows the Jesus’ teaching about how God works in the world with several parables. Beginning with the Sower and the Seed (Mark 4:1-20) the parables portray the mysterious aspect of the dominion of God which starts slow, unexpectedly in ways that we overlook as human beings, yet it grows – despite us – and emerges to completely transform the universe. Mark tells us that Jesus repeatedly told stories in parable form, untying the confusing knots that people seemed to have tied themselves up into as they sought to understand God.
the sky is falling and our boat is sinking
Mark 4:34 ends with the portrayal of Jesus explaining everything to the disciples, and yet once their boat starts to sink they don’t seem to know anything. Jesus suggests that they cross the Sea of Galilee (from the Israelite Western side near Capernaum) to the other side (the Easter Pagan/Gentile side). They embark from what the familiar land that they know towards an unknown one to discover. While on this journey a storm comes up, as scholars tells us that they often do on the Sea of Galilee. But what are they so afraid? Aren’t they fisherman? We often forget that the Israelites weren’t big water people. They were farmers and shepherds, people of the land. Throughout the First Testament we see that their enemies are costal sea-going people or masters of maritime commerce: the Egyptians and the Philistines. Genesis 1 tells of creation from the primordial waters of chaos that existed before God began to create. Leviathan – the monstrous representation of the evil that wrestles with and against God and God’s creative initiative – inhabits the ocean and seas – the arena where God strove against the dark chaos that threatens creation and humanity. [Isaiah 51:9-10; Job 26:11-12, Psalm 18:15].
The story is simple and reminds us as readers of the story of Jonah, which is similarly constructed: 1) a departure by boat, 2) a violent storm at sea, 3) a sleeping main character [Jesus and Jonah], 4) badly frightened sailors, 5) a miraculous stilling related to the main character, and 6) a marveling response by the sailors. But unlike the troublesome prophet Jonah, Jesus is not fleeing from God, rather Jesus is accomplishing God’s will, heading towards the Gentiles. Moreover the disciples don’t ask Jesus to intercede and beg God to save them. Rather they call upon Jesus to save them.
Jesus is portrayed as God. Sleeping on a cushion, most likely some sort of apparatus needed in the boat he reminds us of the common Near Eastern vision of God as sleeping, needing to be roused by our prayers to intervene [Psalm 44:23-24, 35:23 & 59:4] and the rebuker of the destructive powers of the sea [Isaiah 51:9-10; Job 26:11-12, Psalm 18:15] and also the helper of Israel [Psalm 46 & Zech 2:10-3:2]. The panic of the disciples leads to an exchange of questions and answers between them [v. 38, 41] and Jesus [v. 39 & 40]. Does Jesus rebuke and calm the seas, or the disciples? How could they be so surprised by this divine power emanating forth from Jesus after they’ve already seen so much of him [Mark 1:1 until now]? Haven’t they had their eyes and ears open? Were they not paying attention when Jesus was explaining everything to them? How can they not know him?
2nd week of advent texts – looking for good news from god [ Isa 40 & Mk 1]
The other passages for today, the second week of advent, recall the majestic prophetic poetry of Isaiah in which God declares that he will save and deliver his people from their catastrophic exile and captivity in Babylon in the 7th century BCE. Where all seems lost, dark and twisted, God will raise up a path, straight, clear, navigeable in order to bring his people home to the kingdom he intends for them. They understood that to be the return to Israel. We, in the light of Christ, read that prophecy as also pointing to Jesus, and to the ministry of John the Baptizer who prepared the people for the message of Jesus . It’s in Mark 1:1-8 that we witness that. Jesus has come to declare good news. More than just the radical affirmation that God loves us. It’s a gospel proclamation that God’s justice has won, that the providence, purpose and passionate grace of God is bigger than the destructive and dehumanizing powers of evil in our cosmos. Eugene Peterson translates the description of baptism in Mark 1:8 as “a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit – it will change you from the inside out.”
Nowadays it seems like we hear regularly hear good news and bad news lumped together. Interest rates are low, but people are losing their homes. Jobs are being created, but unemployment is growing faster. The Fed is bailing out the European Union, but the Euro could be dead in the water by next month. We look to our government and representatives for guidance and pragmatic solutions, and get scapegoating and complicated policies. Our texts for today remind us that God in Jesus is different than what we expect, coming not as we imagine, but accomplishing more than we could ever ask. How can you welcome the surprising simplicity of God into your life today? How might God be inviting us as a church community to join in with the unepexteced ways in which God is working for good news in our city, church life and our neighborhoods? How do you need God to deliver you from what might feel to you like a sinking boat today?