Saturday of 5 Lent – April 4, 2020

Read Mark 10:46-52

Mark was apparently not a strong literary type.  Greek may have been a second language for him, and the example of his writing found in the Gospel did not show evidence of great learning on his part.  Compared to Luke’s Greek, in both the Gospel and Acts, Mark’s Greek is grammatically simple.  He was less interested in setting out a well constructed literary treatise than he was in faithfully transcribing Peter’s reminiscences, and presenting the Good News as he had experienced it.  So, it is interesting to see how the Holy Spirit inspired so much of what we have read through these five weeks.  And as we come to the conclusion of chapter 10 and Mark’s introduction to the Passion, it is interesting to see the story in today’s reading as a fine literary transition, as well as an uplifting story of our Lord’s healing power at work.

As Jesus and the disciples leave Jericho, they pass by Blind Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus is a model of Christian conversion.  He exemplifies persistence, opposition to the crowd, and giving up everything to follow Jesus.  When Bartimaeus first hears that it is Jesus leading the crowd passing by, he cries out to him.  The crowd rebuked the blind man and told him to be quiet.  But “he shouted all the more.”  He was persistent, and he wouldn’t be influenced by the crowd.  Then he made his most telling commitment. “Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.”  His cloak was laid out before him to collect money tossed to him by passers-by.  That represented his entire living.  He threw everything he had away to come to Jesus.

Bartimaeus came to Jesus and immediately he received his sight and followed our Lord on the way.  What a good transition to the Way of Holy Week.  Our Lord has prepared us.  He is asking that we lay aside our cloak and follow Him.  Knowing that Calvary is ahead, will we, with Jesus, say “Not my will, but Thine be done”?

Friday of 5 Lent – April 3, 2020

Read Mark 10:32-45

Many modern commentators claim that the details in this third Passion prediction hint at a transplanted Passion narrative, that Jesus could not have known that kind of detail before the fact.  That seems unlikely.  There really would be no reason for Mark to elaborate on Peter’s recounting of these events.  As Jesus and His band of disciples drew nearer Jerusalem He would want them to be more fully prepared for what was to follow.  He would not hide  the details, even though it would be uncomfortable for them.

When the Lord takes us out of our comfort zone, it is because He has something better planned for us.  The journey to Jerusalem, and on to Calvary, is an important one for all of us to make.  It is the test of our profession of faith.  But, like James and John, we don’t really want to go there.  We want assurances.  The brothers make a selfish request: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  Their request flows from the springs of their will.  They want to be near to the Lord, but their hearts reveal the selfishness of that desire.  “We want You to do OUR will.”

The Lord has just lovingly explained how He is going to Jerusalem to fulfill the Father’s will.  Nevertheless, Jesus will have His own deep distress as He fights with self will.  “Not my will, but thine be done,” He will pray in Gethsemane (Mk. 14:36).  He wants to offer Himself as the sacrifice that will bring life to James and John.  But the brothers cannot receive that love in the context given.  They want to avoid the unpleasantness of the suffering and death.

The Word of God is not always comforting; it is occasionally a harsh word.  But His Word is always given in love.  How we respond reveals our heart toward His love.  Is our prayer, as Jesus taught, “Thy will be done,” or “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you”?  We may hear, as the brothers did, an uncomfortable word.  How will we respond?

Thursday of 5 Lent – April 2, 2020

Read Mark 10:17-31

Undoubtedly our Lord did much more teaching in preparing the disciples for the Passion than is recorded here.  For example, Matthew and Luke have included additional teaching material in their respective Gospel narratives that is not found in Mark’s Gospel.  But Mark concludes this section of Jesus’ preparation with the story of the rich young man’s encounter with Jesus.  There is much that Jesus has to say to this young man, and to us through Mark’s relating of the story, but the key is found in Jesus’s response to the man’s declaration that he has kept all of the commandments.  Our Lord said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  The Lord’s message is simple.   Where is your focus?  What are the things that you hold dear?  Whatever it is, none of it compares to having a relationship with Jesus, the Son of God.  His final exhortation to the young man summarizes all of His teaching:  “Come, follow Me.”

Once again the disciples find that Our Lord’s words shatter their preconceptions about the kingdom.  “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”  They have been taught that riches are a sign of God’s favor.  How can it be that one favored by God will not enter the Kingdom of God?  Peter reminds Mark of the sacrifices that he and the other disciples made.  Mark records that Peter said to Jesus, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” And Jesus assures them that they will receive a greater reward, but it will come with a cost.  There will be persecutions in this life, but “in the age to come eternal life.”

The way is narrow that leads to eternal life, but Jesus assures Peter, and all who follow after him, that the sacrifices are worth the cost.  “Come, follow Me,” says the Lord.  His way leads to eternal life.

Wednesday of 5 Lent – April 1, 2020

Read Mark 10:1-16

Jesus has now arrived in the region of Judea, “and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them.”  Apparently, some of His teaching caused questions in the minds of the Pharisees.  This is not surprising.  Since Jesus is teaching about matters of discipline, they challenge Him on the matter of marriage and divorce.  “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” they ask.  They are not interested in the Word, rather they want affirmation of the traditions that have accompanied the interpretations given by the Jewish scholars and scribes.  But Jesus returns to the Word.  He knows, and wants everyone to understand that Thy Word is Truth.

We all want the Word to be accommodating to our preferred understanding and our fleshly desires.  But Jesus is telling us that the disciplined spiritual life is founded firmly in the Word of God.  Marriage and divorce is a good example.  Jesus is clear that divorce was never part of God’s plan for His people.  In reply to the Pharisee’s comment that Moses allowed for divorce, He states plainly, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”  There is no accommodation in Mark’s Gospel for divorce, as there is in Matthew’s (5:32).  Thy Word is Truth.  A disciplined spiritual life will be lived in accordance with the Word, not our will.

Jesus uses the occasion also to teach the disciples about the nature of true trust.  The people were bringing children to Him for a blessing.  He says, “I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  We can trust the Word of God to be true.  A humble trust is a childlike trust.

Tuesday of 5 Lent – March 31, 2020

Read Mark 9:42-50

As they wind their way south from Galilee toward Judea, Jesus begins to address some issues of discipline for a disciple.  At the end of yesterday’s reading Jesus made the statement, “anyone who gives you a cup of water in my Name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”  This is a basic tenet of living a life of charity toward others.  And in today’s reading He presses these disciplinary teachings further.  Just as we should strive for charity toward others, we should practice discipline in self restraint.  Nothing we do should ever be considered an occasion of sin for another.  

All of this teaching can sound harsh to our ear; however, what the Lord is trying to convey to the disciples is that Christian behavior is not something that comes naturally, because we are all fallen creatures.  We must learn it, practice it, and be disciplined in employing it in our daily living.  We will make mistakes.  We will fall short of the goal of living life in the model given to us by Christ.  But when we do fall short, we repent, turn to Him again seeking His grace, and start over.  It is when we make the conscious choice to ignore the call to holiness that Jesus says it would be better to cut off that limb, or pluck out that eye.

We will be tried in our attempts to live a life in holiness.  That is why in verse 49 He says that we will be tried by fire.  But fire can be purifying, burning away the behaviors that are not in line with Christ’s calling.  If we are not tried, we are not growing.  And the salt that He mentions in the last verse of today’s reading is best understood as our Christian character.  If the various aspects of our character line up with that of the character of Christ, that is good.  But it does require discipline—the discipline of continual relationship with Him.  If we lose our edge, neglect our walk with Christ, we have lost our saltiness.  Thus, “Have salt in yourselves.”

Monday of 5 Lent – March 30, 2020

Read Mark 9:30-41

As was indicated in the meditation yesterday, Jesus has begun moving toward Jerusalem, and on the way He twice more makes prediction of His death.  Today’s reading is the second of those Passion Predictions, and still the disciples “did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him.”  Halford Luccock, an early 20th century homiletics professor at Yale, said, “One can readily imagine that the disciples found it extraordinarily hard to accept a conception of messiahship which did such violence to all their ideas of what the Messiah would do and be.”  This time no one rebuked Jesus, as Peter did in chapter 8, rather they appear to have discussed it among themselves.  Ultimately, this discussion gave way to a contest between them of who is the greatest.

There are two dynamics happening here which are profoundly human.  First, their hopes for Messiah had been shaped by the teaching of the Jewish community for centuries.  The Christ would be a deliverer; and their concept did not include Him being killed as a common criminal by the ones from whom they were seeking deliverance.  And secondly, the curse of jealousy rears its ugly head.  Peter, James, and John have been accorded what the others considered special privilege.  Peter probably went to some effort to explain to Mark how that was not the case, and included this story in his teaching to help the young man understand the importance of humility in ministry.  The Lord didn’t simply use words to make His point, but action, as is His wont.  And it was not simply a lesson about attitude, it was an invitation to relationship.  “And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’”  To be with Jesus is to humbly receive Him and yield our will to His.  Just as a child submits to a parent, so we are called to submit to the Father—the One Who sent Jesus.

The Fifth Week of Lent: Sunday, March 29, 2020

Read John 8:46-59

The Gospel of Mark has been called a Passion narrative with a long introduction.  This week we come to the conclusion of that long introduction.  The Passion begins with our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem for the Passover in chapter 11.  But Mark leaves no doubt in the minds and spirit of the readers of his Gospel that the Good News is proclaimed most fully in the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord.  He gives us early hints of what our Lord will accomplish in the Passion by seeding three Passion predictions in the final three chapters of the introduction.  We had the first this past Thursday, and we will have the second and third on Monday and Friday respectively this week.

As we wind our way with Jesus toward Jerusalem this week, we are repeatedly reminded that our commitment to Jesus and to His unfailing Word of Truth must be firm.  For between the two Passion predictions, Mark has sandwiched reminders of those who have failed to make the greater covenantal commitment.  He references causing another to sin, breaking solemn vows, and selfishness.  But with God, Mark reminds us, there is always hope.  Mark failed in his early attempts, but Jesus redeemed him.  And in the Gospel reading appointed for today Jesus asks, “why do you not believe me?”  And then, He offers this encouragement:  “He who is of God hears the words of God…”  The readings from those mid-week days help us understand how to live a disciplined life in the Word.

Thy Word is Truth!  And Mark is the herald of that Good News.  May we always be hearers and doers of the Word of God.  And let us walk with Mark as he follows Jesus in His pilgrimage toward Jerusalem.