In Mark 7.1-23, Jesus did something stunning: He boldly declared that people had misunderstood an entire chapter of the Bible (Leviticus 11). Now if there’s anywhere you can make the “Bible clearly says” arguments, it would have been the dietary laws of the Hebrew Bible. Jesus offers a radically revisionist interpretation of them. Why can’t we read the Bible like Jesus?
What if the real miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is sharing? What if the point of the miracle is that God is a God of abundance and generosity in a stingy world? What if God is trying to say, “Welcome to a kingdom where everyone has enough”? What if miracles begin when we’re audacious enough to see the potential in the can of sardines and pack of crackers we’re holding?
What about these people ignited compassion in Jesus? They were like sheep without a shepherd. Now, that’s a pretty heart-wrenching image, isn’t it? We understand that this means they’re lost, directionless, vulnerable to attack by predators. What we might not understand is that, in the world of the Bible, the phrase sheep without a shepherd is loaded with significance. It is a politically-charged phrase, an indictment of failed leadership.
In fact, one of the most bitter judgments in Scripture about corrupt leadership trades exclusively in the metaphor of bad shepherds. Ezekiel 34.2ff says: “Doom to Israel’s shepherds who tended themselves! You drink the milk, you wear the wool, and you slaughter the fat animals, but you don’t tend the flock. You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost; but instead you use force to rule them with injustice. Without a shepherd, my flock was scattered; and when it was scattered, it became food for all the wild animals.” So when Jesus, the “Son of David”—the shepherd who became king—encountered this crowd of people at the end of their collective rope, I suspect he had an Ezekiel 34 moment. He was obviously heartbroken, but I think he was also outraged. Every framework, every structure, every safety net God had put in place to protect his people; to ensure justice and prosperity and peace; to promote the flourishing of human life—they’d all been compromised.
Sermon from Mark 6.14-26, the beheading of John the Baptist. Where is the “good news” in the story of John’s beheading? IS there any? What if you have to lean into the “raw news” before the good news is truly good? And what if the raw news is what the story of John’s beheading is all about? What if, just like his work preparing the people to grasp Jesus’ ministry, his death foreshadows Jesus’ death? What if the good news is good precisely because it acknowledges and responds to the raw news? What if the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way?
How do we learn hospitality toward God?
In Mark 5.21-43, the author wraps one story inside of another like a pig-in-a-blanket. One is about a man who wants Jesus to touch his dying twelve-year-old daughter and heal her. The other is about a woman who touches Jesus and is healed of a twelve-year long disease. These are stories of healing. They are stories of faith wrestling with fear. But at their core, they are stories about touch. About contact. About suffering people reaching out for Jesus. About Jesus reaching out for suffering people. They are stories about the touch of Jesus. That’s why Mark wrapped them together like he did.
On this Pentecost, the church’s birthday, I just wanted to encourage the church to be who we are. Instead of doing the lectionary thing and preaching Acts 2, I chose Luke 11.1-13. The church is most ourself–the church God envisions–when we partner with God to make his kingdom visible by making sure our neighbors have their daily bread; and when our communities embody forgiveness and reconciliation. The church is able to live on these terms by the good gifts of God and the power of the Spirit.
The truth of the parable of Luke 15 (which is more about a father’s reckless love than it is about a son’s rebellious wandering) is embodied whenever we gather for the Lord’s Supper: at the table where we all—Prodigal Sons and elder brothers alike—find ourselves welcomed and accepted.