Thursday, July 19, 2012

Questions for going deeper 
with the Scriptures for Sunday, July 22nd   

Show and Tell.  That’s both the game and the expression that keeps bouncing around in my mind while I wrestle with this text from Mark’s gospel telling.  Increasingly it seems that the best way to talk about faith in Jesus is to show it – to live what he taught, practice what he preached, draw close to the people, needs and purposes to which he drew close.  It seems like there are too many words – too many things spoken and said – in our culture inundated with words, images, status updates, tweets and programs.  What we hunger for is an encounter, human interaction.  And yet while a picture says a thousand words, and an encounter can be expressed in a novel – words still are vital, the bedrock of how we communicate, share what we know and name what we live.  Where is the balance between showing and telling faith in our pluralistic postmodern image inundated society?

Theological Themes:
The story of Mark 14 lifts up the theological themes of hospitality, how we proclaim the good news (which we often call hermeneutics or evangelism) and praxis (how we live our faith).

Jesus is in the home of Simon, an ex-leper.  In ancient Israel according to the law lepers were unclean.  Consequently their homes were unclean.  Research tells us that oftentimes, even after being healed, a strong stigma remained upon ex-lepers who were excluded although well.  Jesus goes to his home, into it, staying there.  He’s proclaim a reversal of the established ways of understanding who is holy, righteous, whole and worthwhile.

The act of this woman is recorded without words, at least on her part.  Her action is a radical proclamation of the gospel, of her faith and hope in Jesus, her desire to trust and come close to him as the most important force in her life.  It’s an action that is portrayed as a world-wide proclamation of evangelism – and yet she doesn’t say anything (at least in the text!)  What then are we do to in terms of talking of and about our faith (hermeneutics)?  It’s it a question of showing, or telling, or both?

There is a troubling statement about the poor always being with us as part of our society.  Yet Jesus seems to fight consistently against the exclusion and destruction brought about by poverty of resources and relational inclusion.  So what is he saying?  How are we to act?  Praxis is the five letter theological word for how we act.  What does this text say about the current struggle to understand what Christianity is about which is being articulated around two poles: orthodoxy (believing the right things) and orthopraxis (doing the right things)?

Textual Curiosities:
Today’s text isn’t included in the regular lectionary reading list, a three-year cycle often used to read through the whole Bible in worship.  Why is that?  It’s similar to Luke 7:36-50; Matthew 26:1-16; John 12:1-11.  Are these the same story retold differently or different stories?  Who is this woman?  Is it Mary Magdalene, an unnamed former prostitute, or an anonymous woman whose story is not recorded?

The text forms a sandwich, the beginning [verse 1-2] and end [verses 10-11] deal with the efforts to arrest and then the betrayal of Jesus, while the middle section verse 3-9 present this story that will not be forgotten.  The text focuses on the central figure (Jesus) and a memorable saying or deed of his.  Other persons involved in the narrative fall into the background and not usually given much personal attention.  Here though we are told that the women’s deed will serve as a memorial to her wherever the gospel is preached, and yet she is no more named than the disciples who objected to her extravagance.  It is what she did for Jesus, more than who she is, that is of consequence in the biographical text.  What do you hear as the main point or points of this text?

Questions for wondering and exploring:
• What is Jesus saying to us and our church community today through this challenging text?

•How is this example of generosity of the woman related to the story of the widow who gave all that she had (Mark 12:41-43)? In early Jewish culture there were a variety of reasons for anointing a person.  Anointing the scalp or skin with oil usually did not serve the same purpose as anointing someone with perfume, especially expensive and fragrant perfume.  The latter was saved for romantic or cosmetic purpose or for burial purposes.  The worth o the perfume may indicate that it was a family heirloom, something that could be sold in times of financial need.  If so, this woman is acting very much like the widow with the two lepta, using all her social security for an act of devotion.

•The act of the woman is interpreted as preparation for burial.  Mark may see the woman playing a priestly or prophetic role, for it was they who performed such royal anointings.  Mark describes it as a beautiful deed, a paradigm or act that his audience is to emulate.  What does that look like for us today as we live and work here at the crossroads of Berkeley, Oakland and Piedmont?

[Image:: "Mary Magdalene" by He Qi]

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