Last Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 9:2-9: Transfiguration

Bruges - Transfiguration of the Lord  in st. Jacobs church

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

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday—it’s all about Jesus’s transfiguration—suddenly appearing sort of more than human—glowing brightly and then being joined miraculously by Moses and Elijah, ancient forefathers of the Jewish people.

Jesus climbs a mountain with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John.  While they were watching, Jesus changed before their eyes.  The Bible says, “Jesus was changed.His clothes became shining white—whiter than anyone on earth could make them. Then two men were there talking with Jesus. They were Elijah and Moses.

Peter (always quick to speech and action, not always thinking so hard about it first) said to Jesus, “Teacher, it is good that we are here. We will put three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Peter was ready to worship the three of them right there and then.  But then they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the one I love. Obey him!”

Imagine how surprised they were at all this. When they looked again, they saw that Jesus was alone. As they went down the mountain, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they saw until “after the Son of Man rises from death.”

There’s a lot of weird, miraculous stuff happening here, but I won’t attempt to explain it much.  A quote on the Worshiping With Children website says, “this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.”  I like that and it seems like good advice.  The most I can say is imagine if George Washington and Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing in front of you (well, that’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but it might help) and your friend and teacher was glowing from within in a miraculous way. How would you react? How would you think God was at work?

Continuing the theme of Epiphany, this passage highlights the authority and unique preeminence of Jesus. Mark wants us to know Jesus is not like other teachers. And the same voice that called out at his baptism calls out again to single him out as the Son of God.

 

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 1:21-28: Called to Teach and Heal

Jesus Drives Out a Demon

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

In today’s passage, Jesus and his friend arrive in the city of Capernaum. Jesus goes to the synagogue to teach people on the Sabbath. They were amazed by him. The Bible says, “He did not teach like their teachers of the law. He taught like someone with authority.” A  man possessed by an evil spirit is also at the synagogue. The man shouted at Jesus:

“Jesus of Nazareth! What do you want with us? Did you come to destroy us? I know who you are—God’s Holy One!”

Jesus, his voice full of warning, said, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The evil spirit made the man shake. Then the spirit made a loud noise and came out of him.

Mark 1: 24-25 (Easy-to-Read Version)

Pretty dramatic stuff! Mark says the people are amazed as this is something new happening and at his authority to command even evil spirits. Again, the idea of him having authority unseen before. So the news about Jesus spreads all through Galilee after this.

 

I struggle with reading about demonic possession in the Bible–like what does it mean in our more scientific time? As a college student,  I actually attended a service where the leadership started to attempt to cast out a demon, but I found it disturbing and weird, so I got up and walked out and didn’t go back to that church. What was actually happening when Jesus cast out demons? I don’t know. Perhaps it was just a first-century understanding of a severe mental illness and that’s what Jesus was healing.

I think there are two important elements in this story that explain why it’s part of our Epiphany readings, which have so far all about how special Jesus is and about calling us into following him. First, note how the people marveled at his authority–he was not like other teachers, because he taught and acted with authority–Jesus was unlike anyone else. Like the rest of the Epiphany readings, we see Jesus as unique and set apart.

Second, this story is about Jesus beginning his ministry and a major part of his ministry was going out among the people, teaching and healing–in this case a spiritual kind of healing. Our work in following him is also a ministry of teaching and healing. We are called to go out into the world to share the good news of his kingdom and to bring healing and love with us to help his kingdom come.

Proper 21, Year A: Matthew 21:23-32: A Question

Jesus portrait on fresco of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, from 4th century in Mtskheta, Georgia. UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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

Jesus has returned to Jerusalem. While Jesus is walking in the Temple area, some religious leaders come up to him and ask him what authority he has to do these things (these things meaning his main activities of teaching and healing and forgiving).

As he so often does, Jesus responds to a question with a question. There’s a nice teaching tip for teachers out there–challenge your students with a question in response. It’s what my favorite professor often did.

“I will ask you a question too. If you answer me, then I will tell you what authority I have to do these things. Tell me: When John baptized people, did his authority come from God, or was it only from other people?” 

Matthew 21:24-25 (Easy-to-Read Version)

The leaders didn’t know how to respond. They knew if they said that John’s authority was from God, he would ask why they didn’t believe John, but if they claimed it wasn’t from God, the people would be angry because they revered John.

Tricky question, so they said they didn’t know.

So Jesus tells them that he won’t tell them who gave him the authority.

 

Jesus follows this up with another vineyard parable. This one has a vineyard owner with two sons. He tells one to go and work in the vineyard. At first he refuses to go work, but later he goes. Then he tells his other son to go and work in the vineyard. That son says he will go work, but he doesn’t go. Jesus asks which of the sons obeyed their father. The religious leaders responded that it was the first son.

Then Jesus slams him with some hard truth. (This is the kind of story that really makes me love Jesus.)

“The truth is, you are worse than the tax collectors and the prostitutes. In fact, they will enter God’s kingdom before you enter. John came showing you the right way to live, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes believed John. You saw that happening, but you would not change. You still refused to believe him.” 

Matthew 20: 31b-32 (Easy-to-Read Version)

 

Jesus is comparing them to the outcasts of their society. They think they are the most correct and religious, but they are actually worse than the worst. In fact, those they think are the worst are closer to God than they are, because they believed in John and repented, while the leaders would not change.
How is this relevant to us today? Don’t be caught up in your religious trappings and believing your way is the best way. Be open with your heart and open to change from God.