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.

All Saints’ Day, Year A: Matthew 5:1-12: Blessings

The Sermon On The Mount (The Beatitudes), IsraelYou can see all the lectionary readings for the All Saints’ Day, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This section of scripture is usually called the “Beatitudes,” which means “statements of blessing” (probably loosely translated). Beatitudes were a sort of literary form in Judaism–proclamation of what behavior drew blessings. Another example is in Psalm 1: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked”, etc. 

Jesus goes up and sits on a hill and speaks to the people. I’m just going to share here the blessings here straight from the Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible:

Great blessings belong to those who know they are spiritually in need.
    God’s kingdom belongs to them.
Great blessings belong to those who are sad now.
    God will comfort them.
Great blessings belong to those who are humble.
    They will be given the land God promised.
Great blessings belong to those who want to do right more than anything else.
    God will fully satisfy them.
Great blessings belong to those who show mercy to others.
    Mercy will be given to them.
Great blessings belong to those whose thoughts are pure.
    They will be with God.
Great blessings belong to those who work to bring peace.
    God will call them his sons and daughters.
Great blessings belong to those who suffer persecution for doing what is right.
    God’s kingdom belongs to them.
Great blessings belong to those who work to bring peace.
    God will call them his sons and daughters.
Great blessings belong to those who suffer persecution for doing what is right.
    God’s kingdom belongs to them.

I think it’s worthwhile to meditate on each of these in turn for some time. So many of us who proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord fail to work to bring peace or be humble. So many of us want many other things besides doing right. So many of us do not strive to show mercy or to make sure our nation as a whole is merciful rather than vengeful. I like to read these in this version for a little way of seeing them in a new light. God will bless us if our hearts are right–maybe because right hearts can make the world a better place.

Easter 2, Year A: John 20: 19-31: Peace and Forgiveness

 

Jesus Christ Answers Doubts of Saint Thomas

Jesus Christ Answers Doubts of Saint Thomas – Source: iStockphoto.com/wynnter

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

The Gospel story this week starts in a locked room where the disciples are hiding away after Jesus’ death.  They were terrified the authorities might come after them next.  They didn’t know what was going to happen next, and they’d heard from the women who’d been to and seen Jesus’ empty tomb.  We can only imagine how scared they must have been.  Did they believe the women? Did they believe Jesus was alive? They certainly didn’t act like it (contrast it to how they act later in the gospels after they’ve seen the risen Christ).  So this is the situation we start with.  Then Jesus appears among them (it seems he just appears in the locked room) and as is typical of his loving attitude, he doesn’t condemn them for hiding nervously in a locked room, he says, “Peace be with you.”  I’m sure peace is probably what they wanted most at that moment and it’s what he gave them.  I love that this is also what we say to one another every Sunday as we pass the peace on.

Now this part I’m going to quote verbatim because I wouldn’t know how to paraphrase it: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Woah.  So here is when he gives them the Holy Spirit to be with them.  And he breathes the Spirit on them.  That’s kind of cool, I think.  I read while studying up on this passage that in their language one word meant breath, wind, and spirit.  Interesting, right?  I also read this online and I like it: “In this short passage Jesus gives the disciples (and us) two Easter gifts (the Holy Spirit and peace) and one Easter task (forgiving others as God has forgiven us).”  (Found here on the Worshiping With Children blog).

Most of us probably know the story of doubting Thomas (poor guy is forever known by that name just because of the one incident).  He’s not there when Jesus visits and he says he won’t believe Jesus is alive until he touches him (and his wounds–bit gory, that). Then again they are in a locked room and Jesus appears among them, and this time Thomas is with him.  Jesus again grants them peace, then allows Thomas to touch him and proves that he is no ghost, but flesh and blood.  He tells Thomas to believe and “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'”

Another bit I love from the link I included above is this:

In describing Thomas, remember that he was the disciple who cared enough to interrupt Jesus when he did not understand what Jesus was saying (John 14:5).  He really wanted to understand Jesus.  Thomas was also the one who after telling Jesus he was nuts to go to Jerusalem where his enemies were out to get him, replied to Jesus’ insistence that he was going anyway, “Let us go and die with him” (John 11:7-16).  He was that loyal.  Finally, upon seeing Jesus’ wounds after the resurrection, Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God!”  That was his statement of faith.

Thomas wasn’t the only confused, questioning disciple after Easter.  List the responses of Mary, Peter, John, and the others as they encounter the risen Christ.  Everyone was so confused that they were frightened.

I love this.  Thomas gets sort of a bad rap for being a doubter, but we can see him instead as someone who just really wanted to know the truth and wanted to understand.  It’s o.k. to ask questions of God. And I really identify with Thomas. I am a big believer in rock solid truth and I like evidence before I believe a story (I’m notorious for being the kind of person who fact checks other people’s Facebook posts–I can hardly help myself).

So I’ve rambled on a lot about this passage. There’s so much to it–forgiveness, peace, doubt, truth, faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit. I’d just like to emphasize again the lovely idea I found on the Worshiping With Children blog (an invaluable resource when I am teaching church school):  “Jesus gives the disciples (and us) two Easter gifts (the Holy Spirit and peace) and one Easter task (forgiving others as God has forgiven us).”  Let us go forth and share the peace and forgiveness of Christ.