The Lenten Journey – Reading the Gospel of Mark
Parsippany United Methodist Church – 2011
During the forty days of Lent, we are invited to walk with Jesus as he makes his way to the cross. This year I am inviting you to read the entire Gospel of Mark with me during these forty days. The Gospel of Mark was written approximately thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was the first of the four Gospels to have been written down, and it is the shortest Gospel – only 16 chapters long. Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, adding material that they had available to them, which consisted primarily of teachings and stories told by Jesus. Consequently, Mark’s Gospel is the bare-bones story: Following an initial time of ministry in Galilee, the Gospel focuses all its attention on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem where he goes with the intention of giving his life on the cross.
Each day during Lent there will be a part of the Gospel of Mark to read, followed by some comments of my own. Each day I will also invite you to pray for specific members and friends of our church, so that by the time we reach Easter, we will have prayed specifically for everyone of us. We will go in alphabetical order.
May God bless you as you seek to walk more closely with Jesus.
Pastor Jeff Edwards
Day 1 of Lent – the Gospel of Mark, Ash Wednesday
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The Gospel begins by reminding us that at the heart of our faith is a specific person named Jesus. Christianity isn’t so much a set of ideas or doctrines as it is a contemplation of a specific person who lived on this earth 2000 years ago, and the invitation to follow in his path. It declares that what we are about to read is good news – liberating news.
Please pray today for Bob Adams, Grace Agre, Lynn Agre, Tom Albert, Jean Montecuollo, and Kathryn Montecuollo.
Day 2 of Lent – the Gospel of Mark, Thursday, March 10th
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is 2coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Living out in the wilderness, John saw things that those of us caught up in the stresses of life in this world miss. He saw that somehow everybody was missing the boat. His call to repentance wasn’t just for some (the “bad” people) but for all people.
What are we missing as we hurry through life?
Please pray for Diana and Sal Anastasi, Kathy Andersen, Barbara Anderson, Diane Anderson, Brian and Debbie Armstrong, and their children: Heather, David and Dawn. Lori Wilk Atkinson and her husband Bill.
Day 3 of Lent – The Gospel of Mark, Friday, March 11
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The baptism of John symbolized death and resurrection. As Jesus gave himself over to John to be dunked under the water, he embraced the death that every one of us must die. In yielding himself up in this way, he became open to the Spirit, and the voice of God that gave him his truest, deepest identity.
During Lent, we are all invited to embrace the same death, and to hear the voice of the One who would give us our enduring identity beyond all the identities the world would offer us
Please pray for Anita Baldwin, Lynn and Bob Barbarite, and their sons, Tom and Bobby, Dawn Barhite, Jared Gropper, Joshua and Victoria Gropper, and Ken Barhite.
Day 4 of Lent – the Gospel of Mark, Saturday, March 12
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
It is striking that the Spirit led Jesus into the solitude of the wilderness before he began his ministry. Apparently it was necessary for Jesus to face the darkness. As a human being, Jesus had the same temptations to make it all about himself, rather than make it all about the will of God. If he didn’t confront his desires for personal glory, he would never have been able to live for the glory of God.
It is also striking in Mark’s short version of the wilderness temptation story that the barren wilderness is transformed into a place of blessing: Jesus is there in harmony with the wild beats, and the angels are watching over him.
When we can find the courage to face the darkness of our own personal wilderness, there is an assurance here that the darkness will give way to light; the wilderness will become a garden.
Please pray for Newton and Reiko Barreto, and their daughter, Maya and Karina, and Kristina and Shawn Beckler, and their children, Kayla Hook, Julia and Marcus.
Day 5 of Lent – the Gospel of Mark, Monday, March 14
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
We marvel at Simon and Andrew, James and John leaving their nets to follow Jesus, doubting that we could do the same. These four men were quite ordinary – no different from ourselves. We understand the story better if we marvel instead at the extraordinary grace that was manifest in Jesus that would make it possible for these ordinary men to suddenly follow.
Similarly, if we sense that within ourselves there are destructive forces at work that are sabotaging the living of our lives, can we stay open the good news that the God revealed in Jesus is more powerful than that which would cast us down?
Perhaps when we least expect it, the grace of God will appear in our lives in ways that will suddenly make it possible to let go of something that we would find impossible to let go now. Don’t despair about what seems impossible now; simple trust that when the time is right, and we keep our eyes and ears open, invitations to new life will meet us as well.
Please pray for John Bidwell and Vicki Haggerty, Gail Booth, Tim and Jessica Booth, Tracy Booth, Jessica and Scott Calise, Len Bostwick, Barbara Bradley and Doris Bradley.
Day 6 of Lent – the Gospel of Mark, Tuesday, March 15th
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. 40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Take note of the fact that Jesus himself needed time away from the crowds and the busyness to be with God. He needed quiet time to restore his soul. We do too.
Note also that Jesus didn’t assume that he was personally responsible to take away every ailment and problem that existed in the community. Unlike we often find ourselves, he wasn’t anxious to live up to the expectations every one was quick to place on him. He was following his own inner compass.
In the times of silence, in prayer we discover our inner compass as well.
Note that when someone is being the person called them to be, rather than anxiously meeting the expectations of others, that person becomes inherently attractive to others.
Please pray for Charlene and Steve Castellano and their son Steven, Ben and Janet Chauhan and their sons Mark and John, Barbara and Earl Christofferson, and their children Earl Jr., Kayla, and Ryan, Hwa Chun, Steven Chun, and Esther and Keith Meeks.
Day 7 of Lent – the Gospel of Mark, Wednesday, March 16th
(Mark 2) When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the paralytic– 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
What a wonderful story! Notice the creativity of the friends who, acting on faith, are able to think outside of the box. They tear a hole in the Jesus’ roof, but they trust that Jesus will care more about their friend than with his house.
Notice that the friends who carry the paralytic are the ones who possess the faith at this particular moment. This is why it is so important to be a part of church community where people truly are willing to carry us in our times of need, and we can carry them in their times of need. No one is strong all the time; everybody’s faith is plagued at times by doubts and fears. Friends are gold.
Notice also how focused Jesus is on releasing the man from the paralysis of his guilt. The God who is revealed in Jesus finds no pleasure in having people living life with timidity, undercut by perpetual feelings of unworthiness. “Stand up and take your mat and walk!”
Notice also how easy it is for religious people to misrepresent God.
Please pray for David Cicchelli, Eleanor Cochrane, Jim Cochrane, Justin and Alison Cogan, and their children, Eddie, Cassie, Beth, TJ and Marissa, and Fred Coleman.
Day 8 of Lent – the Gospel of Mark, Thursday, March 17th
13 Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14 As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples–for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. 21 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
We are quick to make distinctions between people we would label as “good” and people we would label as “bad.” Jesus, when he was calling disciples, didn’t seem to be bound by these distinctions. He saw potential in tax collectors. For whatever reason, we don’t hear him calling one of the Pharisees to be a disciple. They were the people most people thought of as “good.”
The Pharisees seem intent on criticizing Jesus. They seem unable truly encounter him because they are so weighed down by their preconceptions about what is proper behavior. Here’s how Richard Rohr puts it: ““Jesus offered us himself more than any moral conclusions or ritual practice… Mutual presence feeds the soul. Propositions feed the mind’s need for control and the ego’s need for satisfaction.”
Please pray for Dawn and Len Colletto, and their children Gregory, Leigh, and Jessica, John BI Collins, Nancy Gallagher, and their daughter Kylie, Sharon and Dan Coughlin, and Ian and Loretta Crawford.
Day 9 of Lent – the Gospel of Mark, Friday, March 18th
(Mark 3) Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
7 Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; 8 hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. 9 He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; 10 for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. 11 Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” 12 But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
13 He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, 15 and to have authority to cast out demons. 16 So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
How easy it is to lose sight of the simple truth. It is a good thing for a man who has a withered hand to receive healing. Somehow, the Pharisees have lost the capacity to celebrate something so obviously good. This is part of what is meant when we speak of person losing his or her soul: they can’t rejoice in the presence of that is good and true.
The ordinary people – the peasants who don’t have a religious system to defend, are able to recognize the goodness for what it is. They are drawn to Jesus like bees to honey.
Can we rejoice in the simple things that are good and true?
Please pray for Keith and Audrey Crowningshield, and their daughter Emma, Cheryl Cutrale, Fred and Betty Davis, Steven and Susan DeJessa and their children Joseph and Amanda, Jeff and Sarah Edwards, and their children, Andrew, Kate and Bobby.
Day 10 of Lent – The Gospel of Mark, Saturday, March 19th
Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying,
“He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”– 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Sometimes Jesus says things that we can find distressing. He has harsh words here for his family. He speaks of blasphemy against the holy spirit as being an unforgiveable sin. What did he mean by this? We don’t know for sure.
We sense a man who is under a great deal of stress. He is accused of being evil. His family thinks he’s out of his mind. He speaks passionately.
Perhaps it is better not to try discern any absolute principles here from this words, but to appreciate that Jesus was a real man who, not unlike ourselves, was deeply frustrated and pained by the disruptions he experienced in relationships of his life. He knows our life from the inside.
Please pray for Anna Egorova, Susan and Greg Elbin and their daughter Rachel, Maidie Erikson and her partner Jessica, Olivia Evans, and Ruth and Charles Faulend.