A bitesize look at the first verse of the Gospel of Mark in the Bible. ‘The beginning of the Good news about Jesus the Messiah, the son of God’ is a direct challenge to the Roman Emperor and Roman religion. We compare the Priene calendar inscription about Emperor Augustus and the papyrus about Emperor Nero with the opening line of the Gospel of Mark.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:1-3)
In this chapter, we see Mary as a picture of the fullness of the life of discipleship. Her act of washing Jesus’ feet shows the love that is the hallmark of discipleship in John’s Gospel. Mary’s act of washing Jesus’ feet anticipates Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in the next chapter. Mary pours out a perfume that is worth a year’s wages. We know that Lazarus, Martha and Mary are not rich for its Martha that is serving the food as they have no servant. The perfume is a major expenditure, a major financial sacrifice. Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, this is significant since well-kept hair contributed to a person’s dignity in the ancient world. Women took pride in long hair, which was considered attractive, and damage to one’s hair was considered degrading. Mary in this act shows her love for Jesus, not only in acting as a servant in washing his feet but also she makes a major financial sacrifice and sacrifices her appearance and status in the eyes of the world.
Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. (John 12:7)
Mary has used that perfume that was intended for Jesus’ burial, here again, is an anticipation of what is to come. It is Mary that has understood where Jesus was going and what was about to happen. The 12 Apostles still did not understand what was going to happen to Jesus, Peter, Jesus’ closest disciple did not understand what Jesus had been teaching and explaining to them. He did not realise that Jesus had to go to Jerusalem and to die on the cross.
The power of the witness of Mary’s discipleship in this story is that she knows how to respond to Jesus without being told. She fulfils Jesus’ love commandment, by washing his feet, before he even teaches it to his disciples. She embraces Jesus’ departure at his hour before any of his disciples understand what Jesus had been telling them.
Mary is the first follower of Jesus that really gets what being a follower of Jesus really means, a great example to us all.
A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. (John 13:34)
Feasting and Fasting, we can consider them as the two ends of the spectrum, they are opposites. George Herbert wrote a poem called Lent, and the opening line says:
‘Welcome dear feast of Lent’
Not welcome dear fast of lent. Welcome dear feast of lent. What this line from George Herbert is getting at is that although lent might be a time for fasting for the body, it is also a time of feasting for the soul. What is the purpose of fasting? What is our motivation behind it?
In Judaism at the time of Jesus Mondays and Thursdays were days where you would fast. These were also market days, and into the towns and especially into Jerusalem, crowded the people from the countryside; the result being that those who were fasting would on those days have a bigger audience to see and admire their piety. there were many who took deliberate steps to ensure others could not miss the fact that they were fasting. they walked through the streets with hair deliberately unkempt and dishevelled, with clothes deliberately disarrayed. they even went to the length of whitening their faces to accentuate their paleness. this was no act of humility; it was a deliberate act of spiritual pride.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)
Jesus condemns these hypocrites and says they have already received all the reward they will get. Indeed many Rabbis would have condemned them to. There is a great Rabbinic saying one of my favourites which says:
‘A person will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every good thing which they might have enjoyed, and did not’.
We should not fast just for the sake of fasting, or as a display of our piety to others.
Jesus does not command us to fast neither does he tell say ‘if you fast’. Jesus says ‘when you fast’. there is an expectation in His words that we will want to fast. He tells us to go and wash our faces and anoint our heads with oil so that people don’t know we are fasting.
It is all about priorities, and the central priority is God Himself. He is our priority, but in our busy lives they can be lots of distractions, and we have other things that become priorities. Fasting from some of these distractions can help us to put God back at the top of our list.
Fasting then is a private thing between us and God. Fasting is a feast for the soul, a chance to control our appetite for the world, to stop and focus on God. To move closer to the heart of God.
In December and January, we have moved through advent, Christmas and epiphany. At various points, you will probably have read each part of the whole of the first two chapters of Luke at various different services. What is interesting is that by the time you have read the first two chapters Luke’s gospel almost every reader will have found someone in the story with whom they can identify.
First, we had an older couple Zechariah who was a priest and Elizabeth the parents of John the Baptist who are surprised to have a child in their old age. We have seen a teenage Mary even more surprised to have a child so soon, and a young Joseph alongside her. In chapter 2 we have seen the poor hard working Shepherds being the first to hear about the coming Messiah and then rushing off to find Him, and we have seen the rich Magi travelling from afar to bring their gifts. Also in chapter 2, we have Simeon an old man and Anna an old widow both are towards the end of their lives who spend their time worshipping God and praying faithfully for the people’s salvation. At the end of chapter 2, we see a 12 year Jesus on the threshold of young adult life.
What Luke shows us in the first two chapters of his Gospel is that everyone is welcome whatever your age, stage of life or background, Everyone is invited to be apart of the story of Jesus and His Church, all have a part to play in God’s plan. (NT Wright)
‘Jesus wept.’ (John 11:34)
Jesus wept But this does not quite capture what Jesus was feeling, in the original, the Greek word translated as wept might be better translated as ‘shuddered with anguish’. Jesus shuddered with anguish as he wept. Real physical emotion that shakes us when we lose someone close.
Jesus wept. Tears are important. Pope Francis said
“If you do not know how to weep, you are not a good Christian,”
When we applied to lead our current church, one of the questions at our interview was ‘when was the last time you cried?’ It was a good question to ask, an important question to ask.
How often do you cry, I think our relationship with tears is uncertain in our society and even in our churches. Tears are more likely to be suppressed than expressed, hidden rather than gathered. And if do end up crying in front of others we feel we have to apologise. But throughout Christian history tears have held a special place. There was even a practice in Victorian England, where people would collect their tears in little bottles as an expression of mourning for those who had died. Gathered tears were a sign of their devotion and the pain of separation. Gathered tears were a way of remembering, of paying attention, and of being faithful. An expression of the simple longing to be close to one who was absent. (Runcorn)
The idea comes from the book of Psalms, where in Psalm 56 the struggling psalmist says:
‘you have kept account my misery; put my tears in your bottle’.
The psalmist found comfort in the conviction that God too collects our tears and keeps a record of the stories of our pain.
Jesus wept at the death of his friend. God wept. We weep and God gathers our tears and holds them, and holds us in His all loving embrace.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Mark 10:13-14)
It was natural for Jewish parents to want their children to be blessed by a Rabbi, it was tradition that the child be blessed on or around their first birthday by a rabbi. Here we have the parents trying to bring their babies to Jesus to be blessed, and the disciples trying to stop them.
The disciples were Jesus’ closest friends and helpers, we basically see them here acting as bouncers for Jesus. They viewed the children as disruptive, and a distraction.
A theologian called George Macdonald once said that He doesn’t believe in a person’s Christianity if the children are never to be found playing in their churches.
The message for all of us is a simple one, there will always be people putting up obstacles, often it will be those inside the church like the disciples who think they are doing the right thing but are in fact just putting up obstacles, obstacles that will get in the way of children and people coming to Jesus, obstacles that make the church and Christianity look like a stern, serious and gloomy place rather than how Jesus wants His church to be. Jesus wants His church to be open to all, obstruction free, a place where children can play games and be not be considered disruptive.
Jesus doesn’t need us to act as His bouncers, He wants everyone to come to Him unhindered. Tear down the barriers that stop or slow people coming to Jesus.
Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35)
It is interesting that in John’s Gospel there is no account of the Last Supper itself. John’s Gospel does talk about Jesus washing the disciple’s feet, teaching and praying; but there is no mention of bread and wine in chapter 13. But throughout John’s Gospel, the Eucharist is there in the many chapters that talk about Jesus as the bread of life and the true vine. About feeding on him and the importance of his blood. It’s here very clearly in chapter 6:
‘For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.’ (John 6:55)
We need more than just physical food, Jesus is telling us that we must feed the souls. When we feed on Jesus we feed our minds and our souls. We need spiritual food not just physical food.
When we come to church we get that kind of nourishment, in the songs we sing, in the profound liturgy we say, in the prayers, in the bible readings, in the sermon. In the sharing of communion with our church family and in the fellowship afterward.
But it’s not just on Sundays at Church that we can get spiritual nourishment. We can feed on the words of Jesus, by reading the Bible a little every day, by talking about our faith with others. We can feed on Jesus through praying together or by ourselves. We should never stop learning about God’s love, we should never stop feeding on Jesus.
And he could do no power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (The Gospel of Mark 6:5-6, my translation).
Haha. That’s funny. Most churches today would be ecstatic with joy if they witnessed a few healings! Evidently there is a difference between run of the mill healings and power healings (miraculous healings?). The Holy Gospel of Mark is a 1st century biography of Jesus in the Greek language. The Greek word used in Mark translated above as “power” is dunamis from which we get “dynamite”! In the language of Jesus, the Hebrew behind dunamis is ha-gevurah.
It must be significant that Jesus was limited by the level of faith in the crowd. I wonder if Jesus is still limited today by the level of faith in many churches! Conversely, The Holy Gospels also inform us that where there is faith in Jesus amongst the people then a connection is made and the dunamis is able to flow through Jesus from heaven to earth.
Revd Dr Peter Pimentel
“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)
A mustard seed is tiny it’s about 1mm thick and from this tiny seed a mustard plant would grow often reaching well over 6ft in one year and would attract lots of birds who would come and perch in its branches and eat its seeds. Have you ever wondered why Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed?
The mustard seed – one of the smallest seeds that grow into ‘the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches. The image should make us stop and think, perhaps Jesus is being slightly satirical. I would think a more appropriate image would be a mighty oak tree growing from a small acorn. Or perhaps a more biblical tree, like a mighty cedar tree, in fact in Ezekiel in the old testament it says:
God says ‘I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it … it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches’.
But here Jesus doesn’t compare the kingdom of God to the tallest and strongest of trees. Jesus likens the kingdom of God, the church to something that sprouts up quite quickly from almost nothing and the develops into an ungainly spindly shrub. This should make us smile, Jesus is giving us a humorous picture of the kingdom of God that contains a deep meaning.
Churches I think can take comfort from the lips of Jesus. Like the mustard plant, a church can be an untidy sprawling shrub. But Jesus is saying something quite profound about the church; It will be a bit a messy and jumbled but in the mess is real life, and perhaps it isn’t easy to find your place in neat and tidy systems. But in Jesus’ church, that is a bit messy and tangled, there is a place and room for everyone (Martyn Percy).
we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2Cor 4:14-18)
Paul is writing to vulnerable communities of faith who were on the edge of losing heart. In this passage, he is unusually personal. He talks of wasting away outwardly. The struggles of life. What are we to do when faced with the struggles of life?
Paul answers us in v16:
‘we do not lose heart, though outwardly we are wasting away’
And why because our hope is on what is unseen, we are to fix our eyes on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal. Our hope, and christian resilience is built upon the fact that God raised Jesus christ from the dead. Our hope in the face of adversity and pain is not rooted in any human capacity for optimism or natural strength of character. It is based upon something God has done.
By God’s gift and choosing, we find ourselves part of a bigger story, God’s story. And so we see throughout history communities of Christians, spreading the good news, and the hope they have in Jesus, even though they are struggling, and under persecution.
For Paul he knows he is part of God’s story, something so big and wonderful, something so amazing as being part of the family of God, because Jesus died and rose again, that he can describe his present sufferings as a slight momentary afflictions by comparison. That hope he has in the God of love shown in Jesus’ life death and resurrection gives him the strength to face the struggles that he now faces. We to are part of that bigger story and are part of the body of Christ, our hope is found in Him, Jesus is our sure foundation.