Monday, January 13, 2014

Mark 12:38–44

Mark 12:38–44 (ESV): Beware of the Scribes, and The Widow’s Offering

Passage

This post combines two short ESV section headings together.

The first is very simple: Jesus simply warns his followers to beware of the scribes, because they like to be recognized as being super-spiritual and be given places of honour, they like to make long prayers, and they like to “devour widows’ houses” (verse 40 (ESV)). Because of these tendencies, Jesus states that the scribes “will receive the greater condemnation” (verse 40 (ESV)).

Jesus then sits down in front of the box where people are putting their offerings for God/the temple, noticing a number of wealthy people putting in large sums of money, until he sees a poor widow coming and putting two small coins, worth only a penny (give or take). He then calls his disciples and tells them that this widow put in more than all of the others who had contributed to the box; they all “contributed out of their abundance,” while she, “out of her poverty,” had put in all she had to live on (verse 44 (ESV)).

Thoughts

I didn’t find any notes on how the scribes would “devour widows’ houses,” so I’m not sure if Jesus is referring to a specific practice here or just the general concept that the scribes like to think they’re holy yet don’t care about widows. I do find it interesting, however, that Jesus mentions devouring widows’ homes in the same breath as he mentions making long prayers.

When Jesus says that the scribes will receive the greater condemnation, I believe it’s because they should have known better than others. These are people who devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures; if anyone should have known about being humble and having compassion, it should have been them. But instead they did the opposite, enjoying praise from others and using their position for material gain. We should be careful not to do the same in our own lives! It’s a consistent message in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments: the more you know about God’s will, the more harshly you will be judged for ignoring it.

I don’t think the passage about the widow giving all that she has to the collection box indicates that we are always to give God all that we have, leaving ourselves nothing to live on. However, we should be giving enough back to God that, at the very least, we can feel the impact. The wealthy people who had donated before the widow got there put in a lot of money, but compared to the wealth they had it was a drop in the bucket; they wouldn’t even feel it. It would be (to quote the Kids in the Hall), like a soft breeze blowing through their bank account. Plopping $10,000 into the collection plate might seem like a lot of money—and it might impress the people around you—but if you’re a billionaire that 0.001% of your money isn’t really all that impressive at all. You can drop $10,000 into that collection plate week after week and never even notice it, the way I can drop in a quarter. But if that’s all you’re giving, can you really say that you’re prioritizing God with how you spend your money?

And let’s be clear, that’s what this is about: priorities. When the Old Testament Israelites sacrificed an animal and ensured that the best parts of the meat were burned up on the altar for God, it’s not because God was hungry, it was about making sure that God gets the best, because His needs/wants/demands are more important than yours. It’s about deciding that you’d rather give the best part of the meat to God—even if that means burning it in a fire—than to keep it for yourself. Similarly, if you’re giving so little of your income to God that you don’t even feel it—regardless if you made a billion dollars last year or a thousand—then it’s likely that God is such a low priority in your life that you don’t see the importance of handing over your money to him.

Whenever I read this passage I’m reminded of an episode of The Simpsons where they’re at church, the collection plate comes around, and Homer drops in a coupon. “But Marge,” he says, when scolded, “we can afford it, we’ve been blessed!” Obviously he’s purposely misunderstanding her, as if she’d claimed he put in too much; he’s trying to make his miserliness seem like generosity. Equally obviously God wouldn’t be fooled by such a trick, but neither is he fooled when we’re stingy with our money.

When the widow put in all that she had to live on it was because she was prioritizing God’s needs above her own. We can debate whether she was foolish or not, we can debate whether it would have been better for her to have kept her money—it’s not like that extra penny would have done so much good for the church that it was financially worth it, speaking from an earthly perspective—but you’ll notice that Jesus had only praise for this women. He didn’t rush over to the collection box, take the money out and give it back to her, he simply praised what she did: she put God first.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mark 12:35–37

Mark 12:35–37 (ESV): Whose Son is the Christ?

Passage

In the last passage Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment and his answer shut the conversation down to the point that nobody dared ask him anymore questions. So in this passage he asks them a question.

His question is how the scribes (the teachers of the law) can claim that the Christ is the son of David, when David calls the Christ his Lord? Jesus is referring to Psalm 110:1 (ESV):

The LORD says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
So, Jesus asks, if David himself calls the Christ “Lord,” then how can the Christ be David’s son?

The passage doesn’t relate the religious leaders’ reaction to this question, but we are told that the “throng heard him gladly” (verse 37 (ESV)).

Thoughts

The question Jesus asks here is a difficult one—or at least, it would have been for the crowd Jesus was speaking to in this passage. The Old Testament Scriptures clearly say that the Christ will be a descendent of David—calling a descendent his “son” is a figure of speech—but then we also have this passage from Psalm 110 where David calls the Christ “Lord,” which wouldn’t make sense if the Messiah is David’s descendent. It’s not Jesus’ intent to try to prove that the Christ is not David’s son, he is just trying to show the scribes that the situation is more complicated than they realize.

In fact, the Old Testament passages talking about the Christ don’t really make sense until we look back at Jesus’ life in retrospect; when we see how he was born, how he’s related to David, but also keep in mind that Jesus is truly God incarnate, it starts to make sense that yes, he is both David’s “Son” and his “Lord.” I don’t think any of the religious leaders contemplated God Himself being born as the Christ; if it had been suggested they probably would have considered it a blasphemous idea. How can God, the creator of all the universe, come and be born as a person? They definitely thought the Christ would be blessed by God, but they never thought he would be God—but, as Jesus points out, if you believe that the Christ will be just a man, then Psalm 110:1 no longer makes sense.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Mark 12:28–34

Mark 12:28–34 (ESV): The Great Commandment

Passage

In the last passage Jesus swatted down some Sadducees who wanted to fight about the resurrection. In this passage we are told that one of the scribes overheard that conversation and was impressed with the answer Jesus gave, so he asks Jesus a further question: Which commandment is the most important one?

Jesus goes him one better and offers two commandments:
  1. He first quotes Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (ESV), saying: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
  2. He then says that the second most important commandment is from Leviticus 19:18 (ESV), which tells us to love our neighbour as ourself.
The scribe tells Jesus that he agrees with him, and says that to love God with all heart, understanding, and strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, are much more than any burnt offerings or sacrifices (verse 33 (ESV)). Jesus then tells the man that he is not far from the kingdom of God, after which nobody asks Jesus any more questions.

Thoughts

I’m not 100% sure if this scribe is testing Jesus or if he’s really honestly asking. He seems to be testing Jesus, and his response to Jesus’ response indicates that he thought he knew the answer all along. (In retrospect, it seems very condescending for him to have told the Word of God that he is correct in his answer, as he would have if Jesus were a student.) The only thing that makes me hesitate is Jesus’ attitude toward the scribe; when asked the question he seems to be answering it seriously, and when the scribe condescends to tell Jesus that he was correct Jesus replies positively: this man is not far from the kingdom of God. I’m wondering, therefore, if this man really was engaging in an actual dialogue with Jesus, not just testing him. At the very least, even if it was a test, Jesus sees into the man’s heart and knows that the conversation is going to end in a positive place.

What’s interesting to me—and I honestly don’t know if this would have been surprising for Jesus’ listeners or not—is that when asked about the most important commandment Jesus doesn’t give any of the ten commandments, which are the ones that so many of us consider to be the “big ones.” This kind of goes toward what the scribe said back to Jesus: loving God supremely, and loving others as much as you love yourself, are more important than any sacrifices, more important than any laws, even the ten commandments.

Actually, there’s another interesting point on the commands Jesus lists: If you actually go to Leviticus 19:18 (ESV) and read the whole verse, loving your neighbour is only part of that verse:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Interesting! Loving your neighbour is just part of a larger command, that the Israelites were not to take vengeance. In fact, it’s simply given as contrast to the vengeance. What’s the opposite of taking vengeance? Loving your neighbour as you love yourself. So the command, as given to the Israelites, is that they shouldn’t take vengeance but should love people; when Jesus is asked about the greatest command he gives only the second half of that: love people. In reading the original command I would have seen the emphasis as being on the prohibition against vengeance, and the concept of loving people as just reinforcing the point; apparently Jesus sees loving people as actually being the primary focus of this command, and not taking vengeance as something that comes from loving people properly.

It has been said many times that all other laws fall out of these two laws; that if you were to keep these two rules perfectly you would, by their very nature, also be keeping all of the other rules. Actually I guess I wouldn’t go quite that far; I think that statement applies to Christians, but maybe not to Israelites under the Old Testament laws. For example, if you love God supremely and love your neighbours as yourself then it would naturally follow that you wouldn’t murder anyone, you wouldn’t steal, you wouldn’t commit adultery, there are a bunch of things that would naturally come from that, but there are, for example, some dietary laws that you wouldn’t obey unless you knew the law and made an effort to obey it. You can love God supremely and love your neighbour as yourself, but it wouldn’t follow naturally to not eat pork unless you were specifically told not to eat pork. But maybe I’m splitting hairs on that.

I sometimes hear Christians talking about this passage as if loving God supremely were the easy part and loving our sinful neighbours is the hard part, but I don’t know that I agree with that. I mean, I definitely agree that it’s sometimes difficult to love our neighbours; we have a habit of holding them accountable for their sins in a way that we don’t hold ourselves accountable for our own, and of course when we do that it’s difficult to love them properly. But I don’t know that I agree with it being easy, or easier, to love God as we should. Because of the great sin we carry around with us, I think it’s sometimes difficult to see God for who He is, and I think we sometimes instinctively pull away from getting too close to him. I’m guessing that most Christians who read that statement would mostly disagree—“of course I want to be close to God!”—but that there might be a small part of their mind (which they’re trying to ignore) which says that, yeah, it’s kind of true, it can be uncomfortable to get too close to God because the closer you get to Him, the more you compare and contrast yourself to Him, and the more terrible you look in your own eyes.

I think there is also a fear of the consequences—fear of what He might ask of us. I heard a sermon by Timothy Keller recently in which he was mentioning a conversation he’d had with a woman in his church, the general argument of which was that Grace is actually a scary thing: if it were up to us to get to God, if we got there on our own merit by following particular rules or by doing particular things, then there would only be so much that He could ask of us, but if it’s all due to Grace, if we did nothing to deserve it and He did everything, then there is no limit as to what He can ask of us. When we come to terms with that, when we realize that God is not only loving toward us but also has the right to make demands of us, loving Him might not seem like such a no-brainer.

Thanks to Grace, however, it is something that our new natures crave, even if our old natures cringe from it. This is part of the struggle the Christian faces: our new nature wants to get close to God, wants to love Him, and anything He asks of us our new nature wants to do, knowing that doing so will make us more like Him, and draw us closer to Him; our sinful natures, on the other hand, are very much afraid of what He’ll ask of us, what He’ll ask us to do, what He’ll ask us to give up.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mark 12:18–27

Mark 12:18–27 (ESV): The Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection

Passage

I wrote about the parallel passage for this in Matthew 22:23–33, and there’s not much to add over what I said there. The Sadducees come to Jesus with what they believe is a gotcha question, trying to make him look foolish for believing in the resurrection, and Jesus doesn’t even bother to engage in the discussion with them—he just tells them a number of times that they’re wrong. They’re wrong because they know “neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (verse 24 (ESV)), they’re wrong because they misunderstand what the resurrection will be like (verse 25 (ESV)), and they’re wrong for not believing in the resurrection in the first place (verses 26–27 (ESV)). They are, overall, “quite wrong” (verse 27 (ESV)).

Thoughts

It’s fun to see Jesus going after the Sadducees in this way; he doesn’t just dispute them, he shuts them down. In North America we like clean, crisp answers, and Jesus’ response to the Sadducees leaves no room for interpretation, no wiggle room: Yes, there is a resurrection, and you’re “wrong” for not believing so. Period. Done.

We should recognize, however, as Christians, that there are very few conversations we enter into with non-believers that should go this route. When we enter into a conversation with non-believers it’s rare that our approach should be to shut them down the way that Jesus shuts down the Sadducees in this passage; almost always our approach should be one of having a dialogue, understanding where they’re coming from, the intent being not to prove them wrong (or make them shut up) but to show them the truth of the Gospel. It’s very true that they will probably have to give up some of their incorrect beliefs in order to see the truth of the Gospel, but our intent is only to get past that so they can absorb the truth. By all means disagree with people when you need to because they will believe things that aren’t correct, but then move past that as quickly as possible to get to the heart of the issue, don’t dwell on it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mark 12:13–17

Mark 12:13–17 (ESV): Paying Taxes to Caesar

Passage

This passage is pretty explicit as to what’s going on: some of the religious leaders (the Pharisees and some Herodians—meaning followers of Herod) want to “trap” Jesus and get him in trouble. After some blatantly fake compliments they ask him if Jews should pay taxes to Caesar or not. The reason this would get Jesus in trouble is that they believe there’s no way he can answer the question that won’t get him in trouble with someone:
  • If he says yes, Jews should pay taxes to the Romans, the Pharisees believe the people will turn on Jesus. The Jews aren’t happy about being under Roman rule, and so the idea of paying taxes to the Romans is loathsome to them. Add to this the fact that they believe Jesus is the Messiah—and that their understanding of the Messiah is that he’s a military leader who is about to overthrow the Romans—and the religious leaders think this will be enough to get the people to turn against Jesus.
  • If he says no, the Jews should not pay taxes to the Romans, the Pharisees believe they can have Jesus tried for treason against the Romans.
Jesus, of course, sees immediately what’s going on. “Why put me to the test?” he asks (verse 15 (ESV)), and then has them show him a Roman coin. He points out to them that the face and the inscription on the coin are Caesar’s, and then renders his thinking on the matter: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This seems to shut the Pharisees and Herodians up, they simply “marvel” (verse 17 (ESV)), and don’t ask any further questions.

Thoughts

The religious leaders see this as an either/or situation, which is why they thought they had Jesus trapped. He could get himself in trouble with either the people or with the Romans, but he couldn’t please both: you either support the hated Romans or you support God and the Jewish people. Jesus pointed out that, no, it’s not either/or: you should pay your taxes and support the work of God.

I also talked about this in the parallel passage in Matthew 22:15–22, but this type of thinking can also creep into our modern-day perspective as well. “Why should I be supporting the government,” we sometimes think, “instead of helping the poor and giving to my church?” To which Jesus would reply that you should be doing both: the government demands taxes and you should be paying them, and you should also be helping the poor and giving to your church.

I wrote this at a time when Barack Obama, a Democrat, was President of the USA, and a lot of Republicans (many of whom would call themselves Christian) didn’t want to pay taxes to someone they didn’t vote for, but Jesus wouldn’t accept that argument. The Jews definitely didn’t vote for the Romans, but that didn’t factor into Jesus’ thinking on the matter!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mark 12:1–12

Mark 12:1–12 (ESV): The Parable of the Tenants

Passage

In the last passage the religious leaders had questioned Jesus’ authority to do the things he was doing and say the things he was saying, but he turned the question around on them and showed that they had relinquished their own responsibility as leaders by not behaving as they should in spiritual leadership of the people. This parable continues this point.

This is a fairly straightforward parable, I think, the link above to the passage will bring you to the text, but it helps to have the “cast of characters” in your head as you read it:
  • The man who planted the vineyard is God
  • The vineyard is the nation of Israel
  • The tenants are the Jewish religious leaders
  • The servants which were sent are, I think, the Old Testament prophets
  • The man’s son is, of course, Jesus
And I’ve talked before that when the Bible talks about “fruit,” it’s talking about good works. In the Old Testament context, that would mainly mean obedience to God’s laws and precepts.

With this in mind, we have a very straightforward telling of the history of Israel:

God created a nation, and put in charge religious leaders to guide the nation and help them obey God. When God sent His prophets to inquire about this obedience the religious leaders beat or killed the prophets, or otherwise sent them away empty-handed. Finally God sent his own Son, but the religious leaders still didn’t produce the obedience they were meant to produce—instead they killed the Son. And for this reason God is taking the nation of Israel away from the Jewish religious leaders, and giving it to others. (Spiritually speaking.)
The religious leaders definitely saw this meaning, or something like it, because they want away after this parable seeking to have Jesus arrested, knowing that he had told it against them.

Thoughts

The one additional thought I had was on the phrasing in verse 6 (ESV):

“He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’”
It probably goes without saying, but this is not indicating that God was taken by surprise when He sent Jesus into the world, thinking that the religious leaders would accept Him and then suddenly realizing that, “Oh no—they’re going to kill him!” The man in the parable talks that way for the sake of telling the story; in the real version, God knew—and intended!—all along what would happen to Jesus. It was the plan from the beginning.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mark 11:27–33

Mark 11:27–33 (ESV): The Authority of Jesus Challenged

Passage

In this passage Jesus and his disciples return once again to the temple, where it turns out that the religious leaders have had enough: They demand to know by whose authority Jesus is doing and saying the things he’s doing and saying. But rather than answering directly Jesus decides to give them a test: if they can tell him whether the baptism of John the Baptist was from heaven or from man—in other words whether it was ordained by God—then he’ll tell them under whose authority he is acting.

The religious leaders discuss it amongst themselves, and have a bit of a dilemma: they can’t say the baptism came from God, or Jesus’ response will be that they should therefore have believed John, but they are afraid to say that the baptism only came from man because the Jewish people believe that John really was a prophet, and the religious leaders are afraid of the people’s response. So they wimp out and tell Jesus that they don’t know the answer, and so he refuses to tell them by what authority he does the things he does.

Thoughts

There is a bit more than just clever word games going on in this section. What Jesus is really pointing out—to the people more than to the religious leaders, I think—is that the religious leaders have given up their moral authority. They clearly believe that John the Baptist was a false prophet, but if they, as religious leaders, truly believe that, then they should stand up and say so. For the sake of their own consciences, as well as for the sake of the people! If John was a false prophet then it would be up to the religious leaders to protect the people from his false teachings.

So one of two things is going on here: either the religious leaders aren’t able to discern whether John was a true or false prophet, or they have made a determination but are unwilling to stand up and say so. Either way, they are not suited to be religious leaders of the people of Israel.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mark 11:12–25

Mark 11:12–25 (ESV): Jesus Curses the Fig Tree, Jesus Cleanses the Temple, The Lessen from the Withered Fig Tree

Passage

I’m combining three ESV sections together into one post, because the episode with the fig tree is broken up into two pieces, with another passage in between.

In the last passage we read about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, actively proclaiming himself as king, though, as I’m always so quick to point out, not the type of king the crowd was expecting. (“You’re God, the Creator of all the universe? Who cares, I just want you to defeat the Romans!”) But when he arrived in the city it was late, so they just looked around a bit and left for Bethany. In this passage Jesus and the Apostles are coming back from Bethany to Jerusalem, and on the way Jesus notices a fig tree in leaf so he goes in search of figs but finds none because it’s not the season for figs. He then says to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (verse 14 (ESV)).

They then continue on to Jerusalem, whereupon Jesus enters the temple and starts driving out the people who are buying and selling there and overturning the tables of the money changers and people selling pigeons. Of course, he tells them why:

And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (verse 17 (ESV))
The chief priests and scribes don’t share his zeal for “cleansing” the temple, however, and try to figure out a way to “destroy” him because they are afraid of how astonished the crowd is at his teaching.

At the end of the day Jesus and his disciples leave Jerusalem again, and when they come back the next morning they pass by the same fig tree, now withered completely, which Peter points out to Jesus. As usual, Jesus takes the opportunity to take things to a deeper level:

And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (verses 22–25 (ESV))

Thoughts

Once again, the ESV Study Bible notes have helped me understand a passage with context I didn’t have; the episode with the fig tree is more laden with symbolism than I had realized. Even though it is not the season for figs, the appearance of leaves on the tree should have indicated that there was fruit on the tree, but there was not. I’ll quote the rest of their note on verses 13–14, since they put it much better than I ever could:

Jesus’ actions here have symbolic importance, signifying the hypocrisy of all who have the appearance that they are bearing fruit but in fact are not. The specific reference, though, is to Israel, since in the OT the fig tree often serves as a metaphor for Israel and its standing before God (e.g., Jer. 8:13 (ESV); Hos. 9:10 (ESV), 16 (ESV); Joel 1:7 (ESV)). Here the cursing of the fig tree signifies the judgment of God on the “fruitless” Jewish people (cf. Mark 7:6 (ESV)), who had turned away from God into empty ritual and legalism (cf. Hos. 9:10–17 (ESV)). It is a visual parable to signify Jesus’ unrequited search for the true fruit of worship, prayer, and righteousness in the Jewish nation and its religious practices.
Then Jesus gets to the temple and throws out all of the people who are there making money off of God’s work, and the reaction of the religious leaders shows their true hearts. In this blog there have been times when I’ve done my best to see their point of view, and there are times when I think they are truly trying to do the right thing. They misunderstand the Scriptures at times, obviously there is never a case where I think they’re right and Jesus is wrong, but there is a difference between honestly trying to do the right thing but being wrong and not even trying to do the right thing. This passage is definitely a case of the latter, not the former. People in the temple are clearly profiting off of the worship of God, and the religious leaders should have a problem with that, but they don’t seem to. What they do have a problem with is the fact that people are listening to Jesus, and rather than thinking about whether Jesus actually has a point, they’re only worried about getting rid of him so that they won’t lose their influence with the people.

So what is Jesus so angry about? I wrote about this a bit when I posted on Matthew 21:12–17, but the short answer is that people are buying and selling in God’s temple, where He is supposed to be worshipped. Worship of God should never be a source of wealth. (Oh, how readers in North America will react against that statement.) I notice especially verse 15 (ESV) where it describes Jesus overturning tables of money-changers as well as “the seats of those who sold pigeons.” When the Old Testament rules for sacrifice were handed down there were certain animals that had to be sacrificed for certain reasons, but sometimes special provisions were made for the poor who couldn’t afford a particular sacrifice; for example, Leviticus 12 talks about offerings to be made after a child was born, and allows either pigeons or doves to be used, and then further allows birds to be used instead of a lamb. (When Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph offered pigeons, which indicated that they were not well off.) When someone was in the temple making a profit off pigeons that person was directly targeting the poor.

I struggle with how to talk about verses 20–25 (ESV), when Jesus talks about having faith in God and receiving what you ask for. It would be easy to come away from a surface reading of this passage thinking that what Jesus is telling us is that you just have to “believe hard enough,” and you can get whatever you want. Based on wider context of the New Testament I don’t think this is what Jesus is really saying—but at the same time I definitely do not want to detract from this passage, or remove anything that is being said here.

The key, however, is the very first thing Jesus says to them: “Have faith in God.” In the Bible, “faith” is not just believing that something is true, and having faith in God is not just believing that He exists. The Bible’s definition of “faith” is much more than that. I think it’s pretty clear (based on the context of the rest of the New Testament) that when Jesus says to the disciples “have faith in God,” he is not saying to them, “have faith that God will give you whatever you want like a magic genie,” he is saying “Believe God is who He says He is, listen to His Word, and do all that it commands of you. Be like Him.” When you read the word “faith” like that, reading a passage that says, “Have ‘faith’ in God, and then if you pray for something and truly believe it will happen, it will,” takes on a whole different meaning. If you have proper, New Testament-style faith in God, what are you going to pray for? Jesus talks about mountains jumping into the sea to make a point, that nothing is too big for God to do, but when you’re really in tune with God, I doubt that’s what you’ll be praying for. Neither will you be praying for lots of money or a fancy car. You’ll be praying, “Lord, now that I know you, help me to know you even more.”

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Mark 11:1–11

Mark 11:1–11 (ESV): The Triumphal Entry

Passage

For much of Jesus’ ministry on earth he set aside his rights as God and ruler of all creation to become a servant. In this passage, however, he acknowledges that he is king, even if only for a brief moment—and even if the crowd probably misunderstands what’s going on.

As Jesus and his followers get close to Jerusalem he sends two of his disciples into a nearby village where he tells them that they will find a colt; they are to bring it to him, and when they are asked why they are doing this they are to say that the Lord has need of the colt, but that they will bring it back immediately. They go to the village in search of the colt, and of course it all works out the way that Jesus said it would.

Upon their return they spread their cloaks on the animal and Jesus rides it. As he goes others spread their cloaks and palm leaves on the road for the donkey to walk on. Lots of people start shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (verses 9b–10 (ESV)).

When they arrive at Jerusalem it’s already late, so Jesus only really has time to look around a bit at the temple, and then he and the Apostles go to Bethany.

Thoughts

There’s some symbolism going on here that might not be obvious, so I’ll just quickly run through what I’ve culled from the ESV Study Bible notes:
  • Riding a donkey: This is done in reference to Zechariah 9:9 (ESV), prophesying the coming of Israel’s king (understood to be the “ultimate” king, meaning the messiah), who would come “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” A militarily-minded king would come riding on a horse, so when the king comes riding on a donkey it symbolizes a king who is bringing peace instead of war. Very symbolic of Jesus’ role as saviour, saving us from the wrath of God—bringing us peace with God, where previously there had been enmity.
    • In parallel Gospel passages where this story is recounted we are told that there are actually two animals, this colt as well as an older donkey. Obviously Mark only cares about the animal Jesus actually rode on, though it’s interesting that they actually did bring the two animals, echoing the repetition in Zechariah 9:9 (common in Hebrew poetry).
  • Spreading cloaks and palm branches on the ground: Spreading cloaks on the ground symbolized the crowd acknowledging Jesus as king, and similarly with the palm branches except that they were also symbols of Jewish nationalism.
Any time I think about this event in Jesus’ life I remember that he was very close to his crucifixion, and that some of the people in this crowd are probably going to be in another crowd, crying for his execution. And one of the main reasons is that they are only praising him now because of a false assumption about what he’s going to do: they’re assuming he is going to set himself up as political king over Israel, gather an army, and smite the Romans. They clearly understand half the symbolism of him riding a donkey—they understand that this is pointing back to the Zechariah passage and that Jesus is therefore claiming to be the prophesied king/messiah—but they are forgetting the other half of that symbolism, mentioned above: riding a donkey instead of a horse symbolizes a king who is bringing peace, not one who is bringing war. The crowd may be assuming that Jesus is going to smite the Romans, but they’re only assuming that because it’s what they want to happen, not because anything in the Scriptures or in Jesus’ words or actions are leading them to believe it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mark 10:46–52

Mark 10:46–52 (ESV): Jesus Heals Blind Bartemaeus

Passage

This is one of those passages that just seems so… normal, for the Gospels. Jesus heals a blind beggar. There’s not even a twist to it; no secret lesson, no taking the disciples aside later to explain a deeper truth to them. Jesus is going along the road, being followed by a crowd, and a blind beggar (Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus) hears who it is that’s passing, and cries out to him: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (verse 47 (ESV)) Some of the folks in the crowd tell Bartimaeus to be quiet, but he keeps crying it out, until Jesus stops the procession and has the man brought to him. The man is brought to Jesus, and Jesus asks what he’d like done. Of course Bartimaeous responds that he’d like to have his sight recovered, so Jesus tells him that his faith has made him well. And of course that is the case, his sight is immediately restored, and he follows Jesus along the way with the rest of the crowd.

Thoughts

It’s difficult to come up with thoughts on this particular passage because it seems so straightforward. I suppose that the man following Jesus after his healing is sort of a metaphor for the Christian life, but other than that, what do you say about a passage in which Jesus heals a blind man? Once again he shows concern for the poor and marginalized of his society, but he constantly does so throughout his ministry here on Earth.