Closer to the Brink

Last Sunday’s readings (the First Sunday of Lent for the Western Church) were stories of destruction turned into rescue and peril into triumph. Noah, at God’s urging, saves a remnant of Creation and receives God’s covenantal promise. Jesus, upon being baptized, is immediately (euthus, one of Mark’s favorite words) driven into the wilderness (the verb, ekballein, suggests being tossed, hurled, or expelled, as in an exorcism) where he is unsuccessfully tempted by Satan before being waited upon by angels.

This week – with the Revised Common and Catholic lectionaries diverging – peril and destruction are nearer than ever. In Mark 8:31-38, Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” for advising against the path of suffering, death and resurrection. It doesn’t help that the phrase, “pick up your cross,” has lost its terrifying charge over the centuries. We might have to try a contemporary paraphrase, something like: “renounce your citizenship, lie down willingly on your waterboard, and die.” Yes, there’s the promise of the Father coming in glory with his angels, but Jesus makes plain you can’t get there from here except through the valley of death (not its shadow, mind you, but the real, mortal, unavoidable deal). Read more

Psalms for the Journey

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy . . . Psalm 16:11

It is fitting that we read, pray, and sing the Psalms during Lent—this season of the church year when we experience the full gamut of human emotions: sadness, doubt, confusion, rage, praise, thanksgiving, joy. The Psalms convey all of these emotions and more, and thus they place front and center something often lacking in our common discourse: honest speech. In their grappling with loss and abandonment, fear and pain, and in their ecstatic surrender to worship, praise, and adoration, the Psalms—the lamenting ones, the cursing ones, and the praising ones—help us to speak truthfully before God and one another. Read more

Light for the Journey

Transfiguration Sunday – Mark 9:2-9

The Gospel Lesson for Transfiguration Sunday suffers from something that lectionary texts often do: It begins in the middle of a longer narrative, the whole of which helps to situate and make sense of the lifted-out passage under consideration. The Mark reading begins with: “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.” We then go on to get engrossed in the familiar story of how the appearance of Jesus changes; how Moses and Elijah suddenly show up; how Peter characteristically misreads the scene.

But what happened six days earlier? Could it have any bearing on the journey to the mountaintop and on what transpired there? Read more

I Do Choose…

Epiphany 6B – Mark 1:40-45

The healing stories of Jesus are among my favorite stories of the gospels. There is something deeply honest about persons in considerable pain—a woman bent low, a man born blind, a father pleading on behalf of his ailing daughter—coming to Jesus in desperation and placing all their hopes upon Jesus’ willingness to make them well. Jesus never disappoints, either. He always meets their desperation with compassion, their suffering with relief, their isolation with restoration. In this week’s gospel lesson, the same is true for the leper who comes to Jesus kneeling at his feet begging, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Rather than be repulsed by the man’s potentially contagious condition, Jesus moves toward the leper reaching out to him and touching him saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Read more

Is Your World Shaped By the Gospel?

1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39 (Epiphany 5B)

Each of the New Testament lessons this week make reference to Jesus and Paul’s felt responsibility to proclaim the gospel message wherever they were. In the gospel, after healing Simon’s mother-in-law as well as many others who were brought to him, Jesus demands of the disciples that they move onto other towns so that he might “proclaim the message; for that is what [he] came to do” (vs. 38). Similarly, Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians about the obligation he feels to proclaim the gospel to all people at all times. The question left for us, then, is “Do we also feel that obligation to proclaim the gospel in all times and places?” Read more