Easter Day, Year B: Mark 16:1-8: He is Risen

Jesus Tomb in Holy land

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

I love the simplicity of this story in Mark. Three women, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James come to the tomb of Jesus just after sunrise on the first day of the week. As they approach the tomb they realize they will be unable to move the stone covering the entrance to the tomb. Just then they look up and see that the stone was already moved. They walk into the tomb and see a man in a white robe. They are afraid, but he tells them not to fear.

You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, the one who was killed on a cross. He has risen from death! He is not here. Look, here is the place they put him when he was dead. Now go and tell his followers. And be sure to tell Peter. Tell them, Jesus is going into Galilee and will be there before you come. You will see him there, as he told you before.”

Mark 16:6-7 (Easy-to-Read Version)

The women are afraid and baffled. They run away from the tomb and don’t tell what happened out of fear. And there it ends. There are later additions to Mark that tell more of the resurrection story, but this is where the original ends (though some scholars think there was more to the story and that part is missing). It does seem to end very abruptly.

I enjoyed this note from the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible:

16:8 They said nothing to anyone. Ancient audiences appreciated irony. Sometimes in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus warns witnesses of miracles not to tell anyone, yet the witnesses proclaim it widely (1:45; 7:36); here, when finally some people are commanded to tell (v. 7), they remain silent!

I love that the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women, at a time when women were not considered reliable witnesses and weren’t allowed to testify in court. But in the story of Jesus, they matter. If Mark were just making up this story, he wouldn’t invent the first witnesses to be women; he would make them fine upstanding men.

In  Marcus Borg’s Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of Mark, he invites readers not to argue about whether the resurrection was a bodily one or not, but to ask the question of meaning:

What does the story of the empty tomb mean?

For early Christians generally, Easter had two primary meanings. Jesus lives–he is a figure of the present, not simply of the past. And Jesus is Lord–one with God, raised to God’s right hand, vindicated by God as both Lord and Christ, and thus vindicated against the powers that put him to death. All of these are present, explicitly or implicitly, in Mark’s story of the empty tomb.

You may notice that I often put the Gospel stories in the present tense as I recount them–it’s because I do like to make the stories of Jesus immediate and present. He is risen and he is with us. He is Lord of now, not just of then. He is risen, he is risen indeed!

Third Sunday in Lent, Year B: John 2:13-22: Temple of Injustice

Granada - fresco Jesus Cleanses the Temple

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

In this week’s passage, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. He creates a big scene in the temple there, overturning tables of the money traders, driving out people and animals, and cracking a whip (literally). It’s an amazing story about a Jesus usually seen as gentle and compassionate.

I really like what I read about this incident in The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I highly recommend the book to anyone for a deep dive into Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. Christians have often been taught that Jesus is objecting to the sellers and money changers themselves, though what they are doing is legitimate business that helps people purchase animals for sacrifice–it’s part of the rituals of the temple for people to achieve purification. They were probably very busy close to Passover. They point out that the phrase “den of robbers” (usually in the English translation) doesn’t mean a den where people are robbed, but rather where the robbers go to hide out after robbing. Jesus is condemning the temple in a different way–for it’s collaboration with the evil domination system and the injustice of the time rather than for the particular rituals being carried out at that moment. In fact, Jesus declares that if they tear down the temple, he will rebuild it in three days.

But the temple Jesus meant was his own body. After he was raised from death, his followers remembered that he had said this. So they believed the Scriptures, and they believed the words Jesus said.

John 2: 21-22 (Easy to Read Version)

This made me think about Christians today. Some of us collude with those who would oppress the marginalized and with racist and sexist systems. It’s disturbing to see Christians siding with cruel injustice instead of standing up for the oppressed. It’s something I will examine in my own motives and actions.

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B: Mark 8:31-38: The Path of Death

Ash wednesday cross, crucifix made of ash

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

We really see the themes of Lent in today’s passage. Jesus is teaching his followers that he will suffer and will not be accepted by elite leaders and priests. He tells them he will die. But Peter doesn’t like this teaching and basically scolds Jesus for saying such things. Jesus responds, “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.”  Ouch. Peter is one of his most devoted followers, but even he does not understand–perhaps cannot understand until after Easter.

Then Jesus goes to call his followers to him and tells them:

Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me and for the Good News will save it. 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.

Mark 8: 34b-37 (Easy-to-Read Version)

So we continue to observe Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, discovery, and heart preparation. We must be willing to carry the cross–meaning to give up ourselves and follow Jesus. What is getting in the way of our service to God and to others?

I like this thought from Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of Mark by Marcus J. Borg:

The way of the cross is about life and death; to avoid it in order to save one’s life is to lose one’s life, and to embrace it is to save one’s life. The path of death is the path of life.

I love a good paradox and I love to let it speak for itself. Dwell on this paradox.


First Sunday After Christmas, All Years: John 1:1-18: The Word and the Light

Stained Glass

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

I’ve always thought of John as the intellectual Gospel, with its more complex theology and imagery than the synoptic gospels. This is evident from the very beginning of John, which starts at the very beginning of time (whereas Matthew and Luke start with the birth of Jesus and Mark starts with John the Baptist).

The first verses are beautiful and poetic even in a simple translation:

Before the world began, the Word was there. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was there with God in the beginning. Everything was made through him, and nothing was made without him. In him there was life, and that life was a light for the people of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not defeated it.

John 1:1-5 (Easy to Read Version)

I found something about this in Evolution of the Word by Marcus J. Borg:

What John says about Jesus and the Word is sometimes misunderstood. For many Christians, Jesus and the Word of God have become identical and interchangeable terms. Thus they understand John’s opening words to mean, In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.” But that is not what John says. What was in the beginning with God was the Word/Wisdom of God. But Jesus wasn’t there in the beginning; that which became flesh in him was. Jesus is the embodiment and revelation of what can be seen of the Word/Wisdom of God in a human life.

Borg also says that the “‘word of God’” in Judaism is closely associated with the wisdom of God, and that God created the world through wisdom, wisdom spoke through the prophets, and wisdom (like the Spirit of God) permeates everything.

Then the Gospel introduces John the Baptist–reiterating what we know from the other Gospels–that John was not the light but came to tell people about the light (Jesus).

So Jesus is both the light and the Word and the passage goes on to say that “the Word became a man and lived among us.” The imagery is all beautiful and moving. For me it cuts straight to the heart. And the deeper theology is also at the end of the passage: “The only Son is the one who has shown us what God is like. He is himself God and is very close to the Father.