Proper 10, Year B: Mark 6:14-29: Kingdom of God vs. Kingdoms of Men

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 10, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

King Herod heard rumors about Jesus. One of the rumors was that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead. He was disturbed by this one because he had executed John the Baptist.

He had first just put John in prison to please his wife, Herodias (because she had previously been married to Herod’s brother and John condemned their marriage). Herodias wanted him dead but Herod protected him because he knew John was a holy man and he liked listening to John.

Then Herod had a big birthday party for himself with all the bigwigs from the government and army. His wife’s daughter (seems like she was not his daughter but rather his stepdaughter but then also his niece since his wife was previously married to his brother) danced what was probably a sensual dance, because Herod was so pleased with her that he offered her anything she asked for after her dance.

The girl went to her mother to find out what she should ask and her mother said she should ask for the head of John the Baptist.

So she asked for John’s head on a plate. King Herod felt bad, but felt he couldn’t break the promise he’d made in front of his guests. So he sent a soldier to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. So the head was given to the girl on a plate and she brought it to her mother. John’s disciples heard about it and came to take his body and bury him.

I find it interesting that this rather horrific story is nestled among stories of healing and miracles. This kingdom of Herod (not even a real kingdom as he is a tetrarch ruling on behalf of Rome–a collaborator with the oppressive conquerors) is in stark contrast to the kingdom of God presented by Jesus–a kingdom of healing, acceptance, and love. It’s a kingdom that will be hosting a picnic for 5,000 in the very next passage. It’s a dark foreshadowing of what happens when someone proclaiming the kingdom of God comes into conflict with the earthly powers of Rome as well as a contrast of the kingdoms of men with the kingdom of God.

Even today proclaiming the love of god can be in conflict with the domination system of our day. We must stand up to the domination system and proclaim that there is a better kingdom of mercy and love, and stand against hatred and bigotry.

 

 

Proper 9, Year B: Mark 6:1-13: Ministry of the Twelve Disciples

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 9, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus goes back to his hometown with his followers. He teaches in the Sabbath and people are amazed by him, questioning how he got such wisdom and power to do miracles. They know him as the local carpenter, so they can’t accept him as more than that.

Jesus says that “People everywhere give honor to a prophet, except in his own town, with his own people, or in his home.” He isn’t able to do miracles there other than a few healings, because his local people lack faith.

Then he calls his disciples together and sends them out in groups of two to minister. He tells them to take nothing but a stick for walking–not even spare clothes. They are to rely on others for any needs, but if a town refuses to accept them or to listen, they are to leave and “shake the dust off your feet as a warning to them.”

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says that Proper hospitality included offering water for guests to wash their feet; here the travelers’ feet remain conspicuously unwashed.” Shaking the dust off their feet was significant symbolism and a kind of rebuke.

So they headed out to talk to people and call on them to repent and change. They cast out demons and anointed people with oil and healed them.

Here we see Jesus making a major change in his ministry. Prior to this he has been traveling all over and preaching and healing, with his own entourage in tow. Now he sends his disciples out without him to extend his ministry to more places at once. In previous weeks we’ve read about the kingdom of God and how quickly it grows–this is how Jesus began to encourage its growth.

Proper 6, Year B: Mark 4:26-34: Love is the Seed

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 6, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage we have two parables about the kingdom of God.  God’s kingdom is like a man planting seeds and the seed grows night and day. The man doesn’t understand it but the seed grows and grows into a plant and when it’s ready, he harvests it.

The kingdom of God is also like a mustard seed, which is so tiny but grows into a large plant where birds can be protected from the sun.

So the kingdom of God grows and grows and we don’t always understand it.

 

Interestingly, the passage ends by saying that Jesus often used stories to teach people but explained more to his disciples. I sometimes wish a few more explanations had been included in the scriptures.

 

My own interpretation for today is that we can go plant those seeds with love. Love is the seed of the kingdom of God–what else could grow so beautifully?

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Year B: Mark 14:1-15:47: Expanding the Kingdom

Palm Sunday

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

Today’s lesson is a very long one, so I think I’ll focus just on one part.

Then Jesus cried out loudly and died.

When Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn into two pieces. The tear started at the top and tore all the way to the bottom.

Mark 15:37-38 (Easy-to-Read Version)

So much of Jesus’ ministry was the expansion of the Kingdom of God. He was always reaching out and inviting people in. He despised following strict statutes at the expense of helping people (for instance, he healed on the Sabbath). He associated with sinners and tax collectors (those marginalized and despised by “respectable” people). He talked to women in ways other men of his time did not. He was constantly expanding the invitation of God’s love. And at his death the Temple curtain was torn in half. The temple curtain symbolized the separation between God and humanity and Jesus. In Christ there is no separation; we are all drawn to God. As we learned in last week’s lesson–when Jesus is lifted up he draws all men to him.

Proper 23, Year A: Matthew 22:1-14: Extending the Invitation

Sermon on the Mount Stained Glass

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 23, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This week’s parable is a difficult one. In this story Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a wedding feast given by a king for his son. He sent out invitations and when it was time for the feast, he sent his servants out to bring the invitees, but the invited people refused to come.  So the king sent more servants, but the people still refused to come. Some even attacked the servants sent to ask them to come–beating them and killing them. So the king was angry and sent his army to kill those who had killed his servants. This is some mess of an invitation at this point.

So the king sends servants out again, this time to bring everyone they see–anyone out on the streets, good, bad, anyone. So they filled the feast with guests of all kinds.

Then the king saw a man not dressed in his wedding clothes (at that time there was a tradition of the host providing special clothes to guests for the wedding, so this guest had refused to comply even when handed the clothing to wear). The king had the man thrown out into the darkness.

Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Many people are invited. But only a few are chosen.”

Wow, that’s some story. Since Jesus specifically says this is like God’s kingdom, the king is obviously God, and it seems those who refuse to attend the feast are like the religious leaders who at that time were rejecting Jesus and plotting against him–or all people who turn against God’s kingdom. So God extends the invitation to all–which is a trend in the Bible–it moves from exclusivity to inclusivity over the arc of history. God’s kingdom expands that invitation to everyone, beyond the original descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus makes clear how far that invitation extends. And the wedding guest who does not wear his proper clothes is like someone who gives lip service to being a follower of Jesus, but does not truly follow the way of Christ.

This parable can seem harsh, but it’s also hopeful in that so many are invited to the feast, no matter who they are.

Proper 22, Year A: Matthew 21:33-46: God’s Vineyard

Vineyards in autumn harvest

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 22, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus again has a parable for his listeners. In this parable, a man owns a vineyard. He prepares it with a wall and a hole for a winepress. He builds a tower on it. Then he leases the land to farmers and leaves town. When it’s time to pick the grapes, he sends servants for his share of the grapes on his own land.

As it turns out, the wicked farmers grab the servants, beating one, and killing two others. So the man sends more servants to the farmers, but the farmers do the same thing. Finally he sends his own son, thinking they will have more respect for his son than his servants.

But the farmers see the son and think that if they kill the son, the vineyard will be theirs, since he is the heir to the vineyard. So they kill the owner’s son as well.

Jesus asks his listeners, “So what will the owner of the vineyard do to these farmers when he comes?”

The leaders and priests say that he will kill the evil men and lease his land to other farmers, who will give him his fair share as promised. 

Then this:

Jesus said to them, “Surely you have read this in the Scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders refused to accept
    became the cornerstone.
The Lord did this,
    and it is wonderful to us.’ 

“So I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you. It will be given to people who do what God wants in his kingdom. Whoever falls on this stone will be broken. And it will crush anyone it falls on.”

Matthew 21: 42-43 (Easy-to-Read Version)

When the leaders heard all this, they knew Jesus was talking about them and they wanted to find a way to arrest him. But they were afraid because the people believed that Jesus was a real prophet.

In this parable, I think the landowner is God and the vineyard is the Kingdom of God. The religious leaders are the faithless and murderous farmers. The servants God sends are the prophets and the son is, of course, Jesus. It’s a simple allegory of the history of God sending prophets who are mistreated, until he sends even his own son. Of course, the leaders do not take it to heart when Jesus basically tells them that they will kill him and then be crushed. They go from this to looking for a way to arrest him. They will not learn. Others (the apostles and all of us who follow them) will experience the Kingdom of God, not these religious leaders who refuse to listen to Jesus.

Proper 18, Year A: Matthew 18:15-20: Community and Conflict

Paper cutouts of colorful people holding hands in a circle

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

This is some very practical teaching about community from Jesus. The Kingdom of God is all about being in relationship with God and with others.

Here’s a great breakdown from a lesson found on the Episcopal Digital Network:

Remember the steps to Conflict Resolution:

  • Step One: Go directly to that person.
    • Remember the Greatest Commandment – Love the Lord your God and Love your Neighbor as yourself.
    • The Golden Rule – treat others how you would want to be treated.
    • Be Respectful and responsible.
  • Step Two: Bring along another person or two.
  • Step Three: Bring the situation to the church (or this may mean to your school, work, or community depending on the situation.)
  • Step Four: Walk away from the situation and take a breather. Continue tocommunicate with the person and when they are ready to come into the community, welcome them.

We can use this kind of advice in a lot of situations, not only within church. I have been in situations where someone had a problem with me or what I was doing, but instead of coming to me with their concern, they seemed to tell other people and it got back to me. I admittedly can think of situations where I complained about another person’s actions without confronting them about it. It’s good to remember that the best choice is to talk directly to the person first (unless they are physically abusive and you need protection from them–in which case you should seek help and not confront someone alone).

 

The Kingdom of God is the community of God–people working together to love their neighbors as themselves.

Proper 12, Year A: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52: Mustard Seed

Sermon on the Mount Stained Glass

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

Jesus continues with parables about the Kingdom of God.  Interesting, as a child growing up in the evangelical church, when I heard God’s Kingdom, I thought it was talking about heaven, but that’s not really what he’s talking about if you actually read it.

Here are all the things Jesus says God’s Kingdom is like in this reading:

  1. Mustard seed–starts small, grows into something huge)
  2. Yeast–little bit of yeast makes all the dough rise
  3. Hidden treasure in a field–worth selling everything else to gain it
  4. Fine pearls–again, worth selling everything to gain it
  5. Fishing net–catches so many people, good and bad–good gathered up and evil to be thrown into the fire

That’s a lot to unpack. The kingdom of God starts out as something tiny but grows into something huge and worth everything else in life. And it will gather up both good and bad people and throw out the bad.

I like this part:

Then Jesus asked his followers, “Do you understand all these things?”

They said, “Yes, we understand.”

Matthew 13:51 – Easy-to-Read Version

Do they really understand? Do we?

Finally Jesus says that teachers of the law who have learned about the Kingdom of God now has new things to teach. It’s like he has new and old things in his house and he “brings out the new with the old.” There is value in both the new teaching of Jesus and the old teaching of the law.

Who are you in the Kingdom of God? Are you helping the mustard seed to grow into something amazing? Are you spreading the love of Christ? Or are you doing evil? Go into the world and do good today.

Proper 11, Year A: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43: Weeds in the Field

Man holding open Bible in a wheat field

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 11, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This week we study another parable Jesus told his followers. It’s a challenging one for a modern reader. In this parable, Jesus talks about God’s kingdom being like a man planting wheat seeds (somewhat like the last parable we studied).  While the man sleeps, his enemy comes and plants weeds among the wheat–pretty nasty thing to do. So the weeds and wheat end up growing together in the field. His servants ask if they should pull up the weeds but he says not to, because they might pull up the wheat as well. He says they should leave them until the harvest and then separate the weeds to be burned.

This time, Jesus does not tell all the people he’s teaching the meaning when he’s done. However some of his followers came and asked him to explain it.

I’m going to quote this explanation in full here:

He answered, “The man who planted the good seed in the field is the Son of Man. The field is the world. The good seed are the people in God’s kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the Evil One. And the enemy who planted the bad seed is the devil. The harvest is the end of time. And the workers who gather are God’s angels.

“The weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire. It will be the same at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will find the people who cause sin and all those who do evil. The angels will take those people out of his kingdom. They will throw them into the place of fire. There the people will be crying and grinding their teeth with pain.Then the godly people will shine like the sun. They will be in the kingdom of their Father. You people who hear me, listen!

Matthew 13: 37-43, Easy-to-Read Version

Wow! That is some wild and scary stuff. I think the point to take away for us today is that it’s not our job to judge our fellow human beings (gosh, this is a hard lesson–I can be so judgmental), but that God is the judge in the end. He can sort the wheat from the weeds. He knows the human heart.

I do think it’s o.k. to call out if we see someone proclaiming God’s kingdom in a way that seems inconsistent with the teachings of Christ. But in the end we cannot determine what’s really in their hearts and how God would judge them.

Proper 10, Year A: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23: Parable of the Sower

Christ Sowing Seeds, Stained Glass Window

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 10, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In today’s lesson, Jesus gets into a boat to speak to a crowd on the shore (because they were really crowding him on land). It’s a cool visual to think of him sitting in a boat speaking to a crowd lining the shore.

Then he spoke to them in parables–parables are just little short stories that teach a bigger spiritual lesson. I think of them as fictions that reveal truth (things can be true without being factual–admittedly hard for me to say as I am obsessed with getting facts right and not spreading false information–I have a whole other blog about that).

Anyway, his story today is one that may be very familiar–about a farmer sowing seed.

Here’s the story (Easy-to-Read Version):

“A farmer went out to sow seed. While he was scattering the seed, some of it fell by the road. The birds came and ate all that seed. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where there was not enough dirt. It grew very fast there, because the soil was not deep. But when the sun rose, it burned the plants. The plants died because they did not have deep roots.Some other seed fell among thorny weeds. The weeds grew and stopped the good plants from growing. But some of the seed fell on good ground. There it grew and made grain. Some plants made 100 times more grain, some 60 times more, and some 30 times more.You people who hear me, listen!”

The great thing about this particular parable is that Jesus goes on to tell his audience the meaning. The seed that fell by the path is like people who do not understand what they’ve learned about the Kingdom of God. The seed that fell on the rocky ground is like people who accept the teaching of the Kingdom but they don’t go any deeper–they follow for a time but then fall away from it. They give it up easily. The seed that fell among the weeds is like people who hear the teaching but let their anxieties and love of money grow up and choke out the growth. Then there’s the seed that fell on good ground–that’s like people who hear and understand. They grow and produce “a good crop, sometimes 100 times more, sometimes 60 times more, and sometimes 30 times more.” 

So what is the good crop they produce? That can be found in studying more of Jesus’ teachings. Here’s one good summation from Jesus himself:

He said, “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”

Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ All of the law and the writings of the prophets take their meaning from these two commands.”

Matthew 22:36-40 – Easy-to-Read Version