Day 11 of Lent – The Gospel of Mark, Monday, March 21st
(Mark 4) Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Jesus’ preferred means of teaching was to tell parables — stories arising from every day life which often have include some sort of surprise. Parables are often confused with allegories. With an allegory, every item directly represents something else. Once you have the parts ‘translated’, the meaning is established once and for all. Parables, however, are more open-ended; we can receive new insights each time we hear them. They are designed to break us out of our usual way of seeing things.
The ultimate reality that Jesus was trying to point us to – often referred to as “the kingdom of God” – can’t be captured in human words, though people through the ages have attempted to do exactly that, arguing that their words are the right words. The form of communication that Jesus chose to use recognized what a mistaken path this is to take.
An allegorical interpretation of this story would ask, who is the sower in this story, and answer: God. Perhaps. But we, too, are sowers in our lives, and we know well the experience of having the seeds we attempt to plant come to nothing, and how frustrating that can be.
The striking thing about the sower in this story is he or she doesn’t seem to worry. There is an implicit trust. Many, many seeds make bear no fruit – or appear to bear not fruit. There will, however, be seeds that will bear a harvest far greater than we could have imagined. We cannot tell in the present which sowed seeds will be which.
So we just keep on sowing, and trust that God will bring a wondrous harvest.
Please pray for Terri and Lincoln Ferriss, Ruth Freerks, Gloria and Bob Fuechsel, Debra Gantert, Harold Gantert, Terry and Oscar Germann.
Day 12 of Lent – The Gospel of Mark, Tuesday, March 22nd
10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.'” 13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20 And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
Reading scripture has a lot of challenges. What, for instance, did Jesus in fact say and do, and what did others who came after him add? We don’t know for sure.
My interpretation of this passage would be that it expresses the discomfort that those who came after Jesus felt with parables.
If you followed what I had to say yesterday, then you recognize that what we have in these verses is an attempt to nail down the meaning of the parable with an allegorical interpretation.
Jesus taught in parables with the idea that they were open to everyone: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” The writer of the Gospel has turned this around; now the parables are designed to keep people in the dark, with the disciples set apart as the only ones who are given the true interpretation.
Despite this attempt to present the disciples as possessors of special understanding, the larger picture of the story is consistent with how the disciples are presented throughout this Gospel: they’re kind of dense! As such, they are just like the rest of us. Parables can seem pretty opaque until suddenly our way of seeing things shifts and we have an “aha!” moment.
The interpretation offered here of the parable invites us to ask: what kind of soil are we for the word of God? This can be a good question to ask, and yet, how would we know for sure?
Thank God the sower keeps on sowing those seeds, even when we don’t have a clue what’s really going on.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
I recently read a fascinating book entitled Finger prints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality, by the NPR religion correspondent, Barbara Bradley Hagerty. She describes her personal quest to find out what science has to say about the viability of belief in God, and her conclusion that the brain is hardwired to be in communion with God. She was raised a Christian Scientist by her family, and that although she felt compelled to turn away with from their practice of going without the assistance of doctors, she nonetheless was deeply affected by her roots.
Her mother came across an account that Barbara’s grandmother had written down on a yellow undated paper of a time when at the age of 41 she became deathly ill. Her daughter, Barbara’s mother was away at school, and “when she arrived at Granny’s bedside, she found her mother slipping in and out of consciousness. Granny was attended by two Christian Science practitioners and a medically trained Christian science nurse. They kept a fierce prayer vigil for nearly three days, but on Saturday morning, Granny ‘slipped out of this world and moved through a brief space of darkness,’ as she would later write, in a written testimony that my mother found after Granny’s death. According to the people by her bedside, ‘the eyes did not close but a film closed over them and all activities ceased.’
“But not for Granny. Granny was on the move. ‘I had passed through the portal called death,’ she wrote. ‘There was no fear and no anxiety. I seemed to be walking or going some place. I was conscious of the fact that I had left the world and those dear to me just as much as if you walked out of a room and closed the door behind you. After walking for a time, the light seemed to breaking through and everything seemed to be getting much lighter when suddenly a light that I had never seen anything like before broke before me, and I was completely surrounded by a brilliancy that blinded me, so that I could hardly see. A voice spoke to me and said, ‘Go back, you are needed there.’ As a soldier obeys a command spoken to him without question, so I obeyed this command.’
“An hour passed, and the friends next to Granny’s bed continued to hold vigil, unaware of Granny’s subterranean travels. Suddenly, “to the astonishment of them both, I opened my eyes wide” and began to speak.
“’I heard my own voice talking, and this is what was said as they took it down… ‘It is wonderful.’ ‘It is beautiful.’ ‘The darkness is all gone, there just isn’t any more darkness at all.’ ‘There is not death. You don’t have to die.’ Turning to the (friends,) I said, ‘You never have to be afraid again.’”
“At that moment, Granny threw off the covers. ‘I’m hot!’ she declared, and rose from the bed, brusher her teeth, and asked for some breakfast.” (pp. 216-7)
Please pray for Art Gibson, Mark Gibson, Bill and Amy Gripp and their daughters, Kelsey, Erika and Anna, Joshua Gropper and his wife Victoria, John Guerra and his son Johnny.
Please pray for Lois Kelshaw, Karen Kessler, Daniel Kinsley, David Kinsley and Darryl Sokolowski, and David’s parents, Eleanor and Charlie Kinsley.
Day 13 of Lent – The Gospel of Mark, Wednesday, March 23rd
21 He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
What God has given to us is not designed to be kept to ourselves. Whatever God has given us is intended to be a blessing not only to us, but to the larger world as well. When we are truly alive in the manner that God intends for us, being the person God designed us to be, then the world will be blessed.
Conversely, when we fail to be the person God intended us to be, then we are withholding a blessing from the larger world. And if our life is about hoarding our blessings, we will discover that they shrivel up and disappear.
But even if, at the present moment, we are struck by how shriveled our spirit seems: fear not! the scattered seed hidden away in the earth grows without our taking care of it or understanding the mechanisms of its growth, and the tiny mustard seed, sown into the ground, reaps a wondrous harvest that provides a blessing for the birds of the air who make nests in its shade.
God is God and we are not. Thanks be to God.
Please pray for Sangeetha and Raj Gunaseelan and their sons Santash and Eazhil, Carol Haeussler, Ann and George Hawkins, George and Monica Hawkins and their sons Alex and Valia, Keith and Emily Hawkins and their sons Keith and Kristopher.
Day 14 of Lent – The Gospel of Mark, Thursday, March 24th
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
(Mark 5) They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11
Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. 14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
The disciples cried out to Jesus, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Sometimes we, too, wonder if God cares as we find ourselves rocked by storms.
God absolutely does care. But this we must know: whether we live, or whether we die, we are in the arms of the Lord.
Jesus has the power to still storms – storms that arise around us, and storms that arise within us. The people in the country of the Geresenes begged Jesus to leave. They recognize that if he is going to still the storms of their lives, then in return they are required to give their lives to him. They want to remain the masters of their ships.
Do we want God’s peace, or do we want to be the master of our lives?
Please pray for George Haddad, Tammy Hasel and her daughter Olivia, Michelle Weiss Hess, Linda Honickel, Trudy Hunt, Connie and Bob Keller and their sons, Jon and Michael.
Day 15 of Lent – The Gospel of Mark, Friday, March 25th
20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed. 21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.
Day 16 of Lent – The Gospel of Mark, Saturday, March 26th
(Mark 6) He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Jesus invites us into a relationship; we need to be willing partners in this relationship. How sad that those who assumed they knew Jesus best, the people of his hometown, were least willing to enter into the kind of relationship with him in which he could yield his power to make people whole.
When Jesus displayed his power, people were amazed. When people refused to cooperate with the Spirit working through his ministry, Jesus was amazed.
How might we be refusing to let Jesus work in our lives?
Please pray for Andrew Klekanos and Darren Yacenko, Carol and Ben Korab, Lyn and Bob Krisa and their son Michael, and their daughter Tracy and her husband Jim Kempski, John and Rose LaForte and their children, Erica and John Paul.