It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mission Work, Reflection on Mark 6:7-13

Healings have not been working. The people around them just don't believe. The disciples themselves have been shaky.

Jesus sends them out. They go. They have limited resources. A lot of people don't respond well to them. And yet, miracles occur.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Questions raised by Acts 1:1-11

If you had been living in that time and place where the itinerant healer and preacher was crucified, would you have been able to foresee that his teachings would be remembered 2,000 years later? How likely would it have seemed to you that from a small bunch of scared followers, a world-wide religion would develop?

How did it happen?

A clue is in this passage from Acts. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples he had chosen to be his apostles. He told them that they were going to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Instructions, a Reflection on Acts 1:1-11

He was a man who taught and worked and died. He appeared to travelers and disciples. We don't experience him in the way that they did. Yet, we continue to experience him.

They had listened to his teaching. They had asked him when things would be the way they wanted them to be.

He told them that the Holy Spirit would visit them and bestow power upon them.

He vanished from their sight.

But not from their lives.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Mark 16:1-20

When the sabbath was over, the three women who had witnessed the crucifixion brought spices to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. On the way, they wondered who would roll away the heavy stone blocking entrance to the tomb. When they got there, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. Entering the tomb, they were frightened when they saw a young man sitting there. He told them not to be afraid and for them to go tell the disciples that he would be in Galilee when they got there. They were too afraid to tell anybody.

Morna Hooker, in her commentary on Mark, points out the irony. Throughout this gospel, Jesus has been telling witnesses not to say anything about what they have just seen, and they disobey him. Now, when he says it is time to tell, the witnesses are too scared to say anything.

Some ancient authorities end the Gospel of Mark at this point. Others add verses telling that the women did, after all, tell the disciples. Still other authorities add other verses relating an appearance by Jesus to Mary Magdalene and that nobody believed that he was alive and that she had seen him. He also appeared to the eleven disciples and upbraided them for that unbelief.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Crucifixion, a reflection on Mark 15:16-39

In Mark's gospel, the Jewish council violated several of their own laws. Luke's gospel deletes many of these violations. John's gospel leaves out the trial before the council. We're left to ponder the decisions each of the gospel writers made.

Mark continues to show the Jewish leaders trying to silence Jesus. They press the crowd to call for Pilate to release a murderer rather than Jesus.

Mark tells us their motive was envy.

Pilate's motive was to satisfy the crowd.

We might well reflect on the motives that underlie our own decisions. What effect does envy have on what we do? Whom are we most ready to satisfy? Whose approval means the most to us?

The first reaction to the crucifixion of Jesus was mockery. Mockery by passers-by and by the chief priests and the scribes. "If he's the Messiah, why doesn't he do some Messiah-like thing?" Even the two bandits being crucified next to him taunted him.

Mark is making an important point. What does Messiah-behavior look like? What do we expect of a savior, of an anointed one chosen as our leader? What does it mean for us that our Christ has suffered and died? What does it mean for us that our Christ was rejected by religious experts and deserted by his closest followers?

And what does it mean for us that a centurion, an officer of the occupying Roman army, recognized that this man was God's Son?

What does it mean for us to remember that Jesus had women disciples? ones who were not hiding away at this frightening time but were witnesses to the crucifixion?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Gratitude, a Reflection on Psalm 116:12-19

I can't remember my first prayer. I don't even remember who first told me about prayer or suggested words that might be used. I'm guessing that grace before meals and those bedtime prayers were the first. But, I don't remember who taught me about prayer in time of great difficulty. Somebody must have, because I have been praying that kind of prayer throughout the tough times in my life.

One source of instruction for all of us is, of course, the Psalter.

The psalm chosen for the lectionary reading this week is a thanksgiving psalm.

And, as a thanksgiving psalm, it also gives the need for the prayer that the Lord has answered.

The psalmist remembers the time of distress and anguish and calling on the Lord for help. And, having received that help, the psalmist then gives thanks.

Notice that the psalmist is not being totally private, but is promising to be a witness to the care and support that the Lord gives.

I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Deserters, a Reflection on Mark 14:26-42

In Mark's Gospel, the last words that Jesus speaks to his disciples are, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand" (14:41-42).

When I was an accounting professor, I would warn my students that the persons likely to embezzle would be trusted employees--after all, they would be the ones most likely to have access.

This phenomenon is not new. Read Zechariah 13:1-7.

The men that Jesus chose as guards were three of his closest associates. They went to the sleep on the job. The one who sold him out to the Romans was also one of the twelve.

The work of the resurrected Christ continues. Who's sleeping on the job? Who is betraying the message?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Betrayal and Communion, a reflection on Mark 14:22-25

Jesus is living under threat--and not just from external enemies. In a Passover meal with his closest disciples, Jesus tells them that one of them is going to betray him.

Then he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them, saying "This is my body." He takes a cup, gives thanks, and gives it to them, saying, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." We continue to remember this supper as disciples continue to gather.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Overcoming, a reflection on Psalm 118:21-27

This is the day, a Reflection on Psalm 118:24-29
I often used to begin the worship service by quoting the first part of 24, "This is the day the Lord has made," and the congregation would immediately respond, "let us rejoice and be glad in it."

The "us" is important. Everyone in that congregation had known some kind of pain or rejection. Yet, they could rejoice.

But, even in that rejoicing over what had been overcome, we still need the strength and support that God gives us. This is the day. Every day is this day.

We wouldn't need victory if we didn't already know rejection, but our lives have both. As we look toward Easter, we don't have to pretend that our lives haven't had and don't have grave difficulties. But, in Easter, as well as the rest of the year, we can remember and be thankful what the Lord has done and continues to do for us.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Anointment, Betrayal, Communion, Reflection on Mark 14:3-9

Jesus is living under threat. As he is sitting at supper, a woman approaches him with a jar filled with an expensive ointment. She breaks the jar and anoints his head with the ointment. When Israel had kings, they had been anointed by prophets (See 1 Samuel 16; 1 Kings 19:16). The word we translate as "Messiah" means anointed.

The other dinner guests do not do this scriptural exegesis. They don't think, "She must be a prophet. Ergo, he must be a king." Rather, they focus on what seems to them to be the foolish waste. And the contents of the jar were expensive--almost a year's pay.

Jesus reminds them of what they surely already knew--they are going to have many opportunities to use resources in what seems to be the right way--taking care of the poor. After all, the poor are not going away. Circumstances will continue to foster poverty.

Jesus points out to them that what this woman has done in this place on this day is is to prepare his body for burial. Yes, kings were anointed, but also are those persons who are to be buried.

The irony in Mark's version is that Jesus then says that wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will be told in remembrance of her. Yet, Mark doesn't tell us her name.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Hope beyond Hope, a reflection on Psalm 102:12-17

When I looked up commentary on this psalm, I came across discussions of when this psalm was written; i.e., what particular national crisis had happened, which foreign power had overtaken them. And I could see that. Zion--the name for the whole country.

Yet, we can read this psalm as a model for prayer for more particular circumstances, including a personal crisis. The psalmist's argument (rationale) for asking God for help is that God has provide help before and can provide help again.

A second yet--Back to the national, God has and can provide help for a nation.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Keep Awake, a Reflection on Mark 13:32-37

Looking back at the beginning of chapter 13, we see that Jesus is talking privately to four of his disciples--Peter, James, John, and Andrew. They are sitting on the Mount of Olives looking at the temple. By the time that Mark wrote this gospel, the temple had been destroyed. His first audience would have recognized the allusions to the destruction of the first temple and their exile.

Jesus said "Keep awake."' These words are meant for them, and they continue to be intended for us.

God had created a good world. We human beings had failed at our responsibilities. The old ways have to go. A new way is coming. God desires for us to live in a world transformed. Keep awake.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Disaster and Rescue, a reflection on Mark 13:24-31

They would have recognized the imagery of earthquakes and wars being triggered by the failure of the sun and moon (again quoting  from Morna Hooker who posits that Mark is quoting Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4. She also cites Ezekiel 32:7;; Joel 2:10; 5:15; Amos 8:9).

She raises the question of whether these signs are to be taken metaphorically or literally.

In any case, we are promised that at the time of disaster, our rescuer will appear. And that appearance will be as inevitable--forseeable--as figs ripening on a blossoming fig tree.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Destruction is coming and deserves to be, a reflection on Mark 13:1-8

Destruction of the temple seems inevitable. Morna Hooker in her excellent The Gospel according to Mark, suggests two possibilities: one, Rome will get fed up with the threats of revolt by the Jews; or, two, Divine judgment will punish the Jews because they have not been listening to what this messenger has been telling them (for other examples, see Jeremiah 7:14; 26:6; Micah 3:10).

Jesus warns them, "People claiming to be followers will say things that are not true to what I've been telling you." and "Wars will come, as will earthquakes and famine." Hooker points out that these catastrophes were understood as a model of divine punishment (wars: Jeremiah 4:17-22); Zechariah 14:2; earthquakes: Isaiah 13:13; Jeremiah 4:23-27; famines: Isaiah 14:30; Joel 1:1-12).

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Remember and Remind, a Reflection on Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

Psalm 89 begins with a promise to the Lord, "I'll sing of your steadfast love forever. I'll tell everybody. I'll tell them, old and young, that what you've been doing for us, you'll keep doing for them."

When do we need to hear this reminder? What prompts us to remember to give it?

Do we have to be living in bad times to be able to appreciate good ones?

Whom do we trust enough to receive comfort from what they tell us?

The original psalm may have been helpful to people living during the Babylonian Exile. They were dislocated, their king had been ousted, but they could hear reassurance that the Lord was still in charge, and the outcome for them was going to be all right.

And knowing this, believing this means telling what we know and believe:
Happy are the people who know you. They exult in your name all day long, and extol your righteousness (89:16).

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Piety without Love, a Reflection on Mark 12:35-44

Jesus' harshest criticism is not against heretics but against hypocrites.

He's describing religious people who parade their piety around but certainly show no love for neighbor--poor neighbors, anyway.

He calls us to look at what the rich contribute and compares it to one poor widow who's giving all she has.

On what basis do we tend to make decisions about whom to admire?