Proper 21, Year B: Mark 9:38-50: Stay Salty

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 21, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus’ disciples are upset that a man was using the name of Jesus to exorcise demons. Jesus told them to let him be–if he is not against them he is with them.

The disciples were offended because this guy was not part of their group. They don’t like someone working in the name of Jesus who is not like them. How much this reminds me of certain churches who think they are the only ones who really know Jesus and that they can’t work with other churches! Jesus, though, is not trying to exclude people. He welcomes anyone, as we should.

The next part is hard to paraphrase, so I will just put it here:

“If one of these little children believes in me, and someone causes that child to sin, it will be very bad for that person. It would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck and be drowned in the sea. If your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to lose part of your body and have eternal life than to have two hands and go to hell. There the fire never stops. If your foot makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to lose part of your body and have eternal life than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. If your eye makes you sin, take it out. It is better for you to have only one eye and enter God’s kingdom than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. The worms that eat the people in hell never die. The fire there is never stopped.

“Everyone will be salted with fire.

“Salt is good. But if it loses its salty taste, you can’t make it good again. So, don’t lose that good quality of salt you have. And live in peace with each other.”

Mark 9: 42-50 (Easy-to-Read Version)

This passage strikes me as poetic, full of hyperbole–drowning, cutting off body parts, fire, etc. It can be hard to understand, especially for someone like me who is trying to get beyond the literalism I grew up with. I read in the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible that “Priests salted some sacrifices as well as cooked them”. So perhaps this is a call-back to previous passages about sacrifice and service. We are to offer ourselves to God, wholly committed and salty. We don’t have to be part of a certain group (listen up, disciples and those like them) or act a certain way–we gotta stay salty. And we are to live in peace with each other–not excluding others.

Proper 20, Year B: Mark 9:30-37: Serve Others

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 20, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Galilee, but they are avoiding people because Jesus wants to teach the disciples privately. He tells them that the Son of Man will be handed over to the authorities and will be killed, but he will rise again. The disciples are confused, but afraid to ask more.

They arrive at a house and Jesus asks the others why he heard them arguing on the way. They didn’t want to answer, because they were arguing about which of them was the greatest. Oh brother, this is one of those points reading scripture when I just shake my head at the disciples being dumb.

Jesus knows what their nonsense was about. He tells them that whoever wants to be the greatest must make themselves the least and be a servant. Jesus loves to flip the script on his not-always-bright followers–and on us–we are not always bright either.

Then Jesus brings a small child in front of the followers. He tells them that anyone who accepts children in his name accepts him and anyone who accepts him accepts the one who sent him.

As in previous passages, the challenge is passed on to us–the paradox of the least being the greatest. Our command is to serve others and not to exalt ourselves.

 

Proper 19, Year B: Mark 8:27-38: “Who Do You Say That I Am?”

 

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 19, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage Jesus and his followers are traveling around and he asks them who people say that he is. They respond with various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah returned, one of the prophets. He then asks who they say he is and Peter says, “You are the Messiah.”

He tells them not to tell anyone and explains that he will suffer many things–that he will not be accepted by the leaders and that he will be killed and rise again after three days.

Peter takes him aside and criticizes him (like a friend might criticize another for being negative, I suppose). But Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get away from me, Satan! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.”

Jesus tells the crowd they have to stop thinking only of themselves. He tells them to save the life they have, they must lose it. They must take up the cross to follow him. “It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost. You could never pay enough to buy back your life.”

This whole passage very much puts the focus on Jesus as Messiah. But it also puts the focus on our response to the Messiah. Who do we say that Jesus is? Do we live as though we know Jesus is the Messiah? Do we take up our cross to follow him?
We are to deny ourselves and sacrifice in following  him. I don’t think this means that we are called to hate ourselves but that we are called to love others and to be unselfish in our love. What does this mean in your community? Who is your neighbor?

Proper 18, Year B: Mark 7:24-37: Healing

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 18, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage Jesus is trying to stay hidden (because he is so often surrounded by crowds begging for healing). A Gentile woman finds him and asks for healing for her daughter. He seems reluctant at first, telling her that the children must eat all they want before their bread is given to dogs. She replies that even dogs eat the crumbs under the table that the children don’t eat. He approves of this answer and says that her daughter is healed. It sounds harsh and I think that’s partially a cultural thing that’s hard for us to understand, but the woman seemed to have both humility and assertiveness in her response. Jesus is reluctant, yes, but he does extend his love and healing beyond his own people.

Then Jesus moves on and people bring him a man who is deaf and unable to speak clearly. Jesus leads the man away and heals him quietly. He told people not to tell anyone, but they do not stay silent and spread the word about him.

Jesus in these stories is not seeking out the crowds but his compassion is so great that he continues to heal and help people, even though that makes it hard to keep a low profile. He is continually loving and healing people. This makes me think of the healing ministry of my church that was recently expanded to include individual prayers during or after the Eucharist. It’s a lovely way to follow in the steps of Jesus.

Proper 17, Year B: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23: Rules of God vs. Rules of Men

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 17, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about his followers eating without following particular hand washing rituals. We know from previous passages that they aren’t asking this question casually but are no doubt trying to trap Jesus again. They are angry his followers aren’t following ancient tradition as they think it should be followed. (Am I the only one who wants to sing the “Tradition” song from Fiddler on the Roof every time I think of tradition?)

Jesus claps back as only Jesus can and calls them hypocrites and quotes Isaiah saying they only honor God with words and not in reality. He says they prefer man-made rules instead of God’s commands.

This reminds me of so many Christian leaders today who are vocal in our culture with rules that they think everyone should follow–such as rules regarding sexuality or gender. The hill they will choose to die on is whether or not homosexuality is a sin or whether or not women should be equal to men, rather than to care for the poor and to seek to correct injustice. They choose to follow narrow manmade rules that oppress rather than life-giving abundant rules to work for the good of all humanity.

Proper 16, Year B: John 6:56-69: A Choice

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 16, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In today’s reading, Jesus says again that he is sent from the Father and that people must  eat his flesh and drink his blood and they will live forever.

He heard his followers complain of this (admittedly weird-sounding) teaching and challenged them. He asks what will they think when they see him go up to where he came from. He tells them it is the Spirit that gives life and the body is of no value. I think this is maybe a clue that even though he has been talking of the physical (body and blood), the key is in the spirit. With this hard teaching, many followers left him and he asked the twelve apostles if they want to leave also.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe in you. We know that you are the Holy One from God.”

John 6: 68-69 (Easy-to-Read Version)

We can choose to turn away when it gets hard to understand or hard to follow Jesus, or we can choose to follow Him, whose words give eternal life. We can choose to believe and live as he would live. What do you choose?

Proper 15, Year B: John 6:51-58: Living Bread

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 15, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

Today’s passage just carries on from the previous week–Jesus expounds on being the  living bread that came down from heaven” and talk more about the bread being his body and drinking his blood. One can only imagine who weird this must have sounded at the time. It sounds a bit weird now if you step outside of a knowledge of church. The people basically wondered if he wanted them to be cannibals.

This is a very challenging passage, and I’m not sure how to explain it fully–I know it is of a piece with recent passages that all deal with the Eucharist experience. It is a mystery and a communing with God and with one another. It is difficult to explain the love and faith and beauty of such an experience. There is nothing simplistic and tidy about it.  Our Christian life is visceral and physical even as it is spiritual. God is with us. In him we live and move and have our being.

Proper 14, Year B: John 6:35, 41-51: Bread of Life

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 14, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In today’s story, people begin to complain that Jesus said he was the “the bread that comes down from heaven” but they know him as a local boy, son of Joseph. Jesus tells them to stop complaining. He goes on to talk about being sent from the Father and that anyone who believes has eternal life. He compares the bread of life to the manna sent down for the Israelites in the Old Testament.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my body. I will give my body so that the people in the world can have life.”

Those of us who participate in the weekly Eucharist are familiar with the imagery of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, but it can sound strange to people new to it, as it did to the people of that time. It can be a hard teaching–to understand and share the full and loving life Jesus calls us to, and the community we experience together in the Eucharist–a community reaching out to each other and up to a God who loves us and breaks bread with us.

Proper 13, Year B: John 6:24-35: Spiritual Bread

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 13, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

After Jesus feeds the five thousand, he leaves the people behind. Then the people go looking for him and find him on the other side of the lake. He asks why they are looking for him–if it is only because they saw miraculous signs. He tells them they liked that he fed them, but earthly food doesn’t last long. He tells them to work for the food that gives them eternal life.  The Son of Man will give you that food. He is the only one qualified by God the Father to give it to you.” 

So the people ask what God wants of them and he tells them to believe in the one God sent. Then they ask for more miracles and talk about the manna God sent the Israelites in the desert.

Again, they seem focused on miracles but also mostly on physical food. As I said about last week’s passage, Jesus does care about their physical well-being, but he also cares about their souls.

I can assure you that Moses was not the one who gave your people bread from heaven. But my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. God’s bread is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

John 6:32-33 (Easy-to-Read Version)

So the people say,  “Sir, from now on give us bread like that.” I think they still probably don’t get it.

Jesus responds that he is the bread that gives life, and those who come to him will never be hungry or thirsty. This, again, seems to be about spiritual hunger and thirst, rather than physical. And again, this passage forecasts our Eucharist, when we receive physical bread but also the spiritual bread of Christ and his grace.

Proper 12, Year B: John 6:1-21: Abundance

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 12, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

Most people know the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, so I won’t repeat it here. (You can click the link above if you do want to read it.) Instead, I’ll just talk about what it shows us. First, it shows us how large the crowds were following Jesus. People were hungry for what he was offering–healings, teaching, hope, love, grace. Second, it shows that Jesus had concern for people’s physical well-being as well as their spiritual well-being. He wants people to be fed. Third, it shows that he saw the value of one child’s contribution–so little could mean so much. Fourth, the miracle shows his great generosity–not only did everyone get fed, they even had leftovers. As another passage said, he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. This is a great story of abundance. Fifth, it shows that when he thought the people wanted to make him king, he left as he wasn’t seeking an earthly kingdom. He spoke a lot about the kingdom of God and about the evils of the domination system of his time, but he did not seek to be a king of that sort. Sixth, it is a precursor to the Last Supper and our Eucharist–breaking bread together in the presence of Christ.