Saturday, March 13, 2021

Lent 4B

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

We're halfway through of Lent—halfway to Easter! Lent emphasizes repentance, prayer, living in grace, and acts of compassionate service. Lent long has been a season to prepare for baptism at the Easter Vigil or on Resurrection Sunday morning, and on Easter those of us already baptized can publicly renew our baptismal covenant. Filled with images of baptism and unity (unity but not sameness!), "My God is Still Making Good Trouble," comes from the 2020 movie about the late congressperson John Lewis.

From song, "My God is Still Making Good Trouble"

My skin is alabaster and I understand what that means
There's history in my color and a burden in me and this free

And the burden is the wall between you and me
But there's a love that's still turning over tables
And a love making blinded eyes see
There's a healing that's waiting in the water
That's still making saints out of rebels
My God is still making good trouble

Even though we are all broken
There is a dream still worth holding
Let's walk towards the fire and push past the fear
And call hate a liar loud and clear

There's a love that's still turning over tables
And the love making blinded eyes see
There's a healing that's waiting in the waters
That's still making saints out of rebels
My God is still making good trouble
Good trouble…

by Leigh Nash, Matt Maher, and Ruby Amanfu

Mark 6:45-52

45Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

47When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and Jesus was alone on the land. 48When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." 51Then Jesus got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Today's Gospel Passage

Most Sundays we discuss one of the scripture readings from the lectionary. However, at church we're reading through Mark's gospel during Lent and the pastor asked if I'd write about the gospel reading from Mark listed in the booklet we're using. Mark especially emphasizes God for all people (not only Jews); in Mark we find God outside established religious, economic, social, and political structures: on the margins rather than in the center. In Mark, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross is incessant and relentless. Here's the outline of Mark's gospel I blogged at the start of this new year of grace.

Immediately before this reading, Mark's gospel has the parable of Sower and the Seed followed by Jesus feeding 5,000 (men, plus women and children so at least 15,000 people) with five loaves and two fish and ending up with twelve baskets of leftovers.

Textual Notes

• 6:45 "the other side" refers to ethnically different, sometimes geographically distinct people and/or places. Those others sometimes are simply strangers or foreigners, sometimes actual enemies. Genesis 14:13 tells us Abram was an Ivri – a Hapiru or Hebrew – literally someone from the other side. In Jesus of Nazareth we meet the God of heaven, someone from the very other side.
• 6:47 "the boat was out on the sea" This body of water is the Lake of Galilee, and not an ocean or a sea with currents and tides, but Mark calls it a sea to make a theological point about Jesus as Lord of creation.
• 6:48 As Jesus walked on the sea to demonstrate his stewardship of supposedly chaotic, destructive forces, "he intended to pass them by," or "intended go right by them" in Pastor Eugene Peterson's The Message. Jesus had no intention of paying them any attention?! What can we make of this? We constantly find connections between Old and New Testaments; we know Jesus as a kind of successor to Israel's prophets, priests, and kings, though ultimately far more than any of those. The church proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as God incarnate, divinity enfleshed.

In his commentary on Mark, Binding the Strong Man, Ched Myers explains (my paraphrase):

Jesus passing by his disciples isn't even possibly about Jesus neglecting or ignoring them; it references the saving appearance and presence of Yahweh, the God of Israel in (among other places) Exodus 33:19, 22; Exodus 34:6; I Kings 19:11; Amos 7:8, 8:2

• 6:50 "take heart, be courageous," is not the cardiac "heart" word in Greek.
• 6:50 "It is I" / Ego eimi – at the burning bush encounter in Exodus 3:14 Yahweh, the God of Israel, self-reveals to Moses as "I Am." You may remember John's gospel records Jesus in a series of "I Am" declarations? Referring to himself as I Am, Jesus identifies with the God of Israel.
• 6:52 "hearts were hardened or calloused" here heart is the cardiac word. It helps us twenty-first century Westerners to remember the heart in Hebrew biology is the locus of will, action, identity, intention, somewhat like psyche in English. Ched Myers' insight is helpful when he says a hardened heart was the Egyptian Pharaoh's heart condition.

Immediately after this event on Lake Galilee, everyone is back on land with a throng of people. Jesus goes everywhere: into villages, cities, farms, and the marketplace (sounds like some overlap to me, but Mark lists those venues separately), and Mark describes a series of healings.


Hebrew and Christian worldviews emerged from God's self-revelation within contexts where just about everyone believed that distant, unapproachable gods caused natural disasters and disturbances, primarily because of their anger and displeasure with humans. People viewed existence as endless cycling and recycling of the same events. In that world of semitic mythology, water was a symbol of chaos, danger, and destruction.

The experience of God's people Israel and then of the Church was distinctly different. They knew a God so in love with creation that in Jesus of Nazareth God chose to live as a human creature. Not only had the endless recurrence of the very same thing stopped in its tracks, this God promised and provided a hope, a future, and the reality of resurrection from the dead.

Both creation accounts in Genesis begin with water as a life-giving force, not a destructive one.

• In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2
• Streams welled up from the earth, and watered the whole surface of the ground. Genesis 2:6

Water is the womb of creation; water is the womb of our first birth and of our second birth. Baptism immerses us in God's creative power of death and resurrection, as we identify with this planet's history and with Jesus of Nazareth, who was baptized in the River Jordan.

In the focus passage in our Lenten booklet for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 7, Jesus stills the storm:

37A tremendous storm came up, and the waves broke against the boat, almost overwhelming it. …39Jesus got up, admonished the wind and spoke to the sea: "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and there was a tremendous calm. …41They were tremendously fearful and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!" Mark 4

"Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him."

Who are we, the people of God? We live baptized into Jesus Christ, whose Word stilled the storm, so do the oceans and the breakers obey us? God calls us to be co-creators and stewards of creation, to be the presence of Jesus Christ… think about it!

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