This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news
From Death to Life
2You were dead through the trespasses and sins2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ*—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—9not the result of works, so that no one may boast.10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
There is a sequence here of stages in God’s rescue of human beings:
1. All were once, by their own choice, obedient to the power of evil, following their human-all-too-human desires.
2. God has reached down in Christ, given them new life and lifted them into the divine kingdom.
3. This happens through their trust in Christ and not through religious duties. (works)
4. This trust in Jesus is like being created again for a new life of practical goodness (good works).
There is no mention of forgiveness here, nor at this point, of the death of Christ. Here the emphasis is on the life and resurrection (lifting up) of Christ which is shared by those who trust in him.
It’s useful to note that the judgement about universal sin is made from the point of view of the new life. It is not an observation about the evident sinfulness of non-Christians but rather about the past sins of Christians who may have been made new people, but in whom the “old Adam” is still present to remind them of the past.
This writer, who is not St. Paul, nevertheless holds on to Paul’s teaching about the nature of God’s rescue, emphasising especially the great generosity and graciousness of God. It has always seemed clear to me that “works” in Pauline writings mean “religious duties” the mix of ritual and moral requirements of the Jewish Torah, for example, along with any similar mix in other religions. For Paul and his disciples, Christianity is not a religion – that is, a means of finding and pleasing a God – but the opposite, an announcement that God has found human beings, shown his pleasure in them, and made them over for a life of practical goodness. The Christian “assembly” is not a religious body but a means of receiving, sharing, celebrating and communicating, the good life that God gives. The revolutionary nature of passages such as the one above has been insufficiently understood by the mainstream church which has throughout history seen itself as a religious institution. In a time when the institution of the church is in decay, it may be possible to recapture what the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “religionless Christianity.”
Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House
29 As soon as they* left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.33And the whole city was gathered around the door.34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
A Preaching Tour in Galilee
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.36And Simon and his companions hunted for him.37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Jesus Cleanses a Leper
40 A leper* came to him begging him, and kneeling* he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’41Moved with pity,* Jesus* stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’42Immediately the leprosy* left him, and he was made clean.43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once,44saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus* could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
I have written in my previous two blogs (938/939) that Jesus is depicted by Mark as from the start the crucified and risen Lord. Everything that Mark knows about Jesus is made part of his earthly ministry. Jesus is a like a tornado of life blowing through Galilee. All of Mark’s “little stories” are packed with meaning. Today I’ll just comment on two of them.
The story about Jesus and Peter’s mother -in-law is notable for its delicacy: here the tornado becomes a gentle breeze. The presence of the mother -in-law in her married daughter’s household means she is a widow, without rights, and therefore vulnerable as one who has been the chief woman in a household but no longer has that status. Perhaps that’s why she’s ill: she can no longer be the one to welcome guests. Jesus gives her the attention she deserves-he lifts her up, it is said-and restores her to the honoured task of serving the guests. Mark is interested in “houses” which may become dwelling places of God. This one becomes a “house of God” through Jesus’ shrewd wisdom and capacity to lift up. (For more on this theme, google emmock.com/oikos)
The story about the leper is more stormy. The phrase about Jesus being moved with pity is given in some Greek manuscripts as “moved with anger” which seems the better reading as it’s odd enough to have been replaced by something more conventional like “pity”. This anger comes from Jesus’ understanding of the plight of the man and in particular of the desperation in the leper’s “if you choose, you can make me clean”. How much experience of rejection lies behind that utterance! This anger pushes Jesus to engage with the real evil, that this man is untouchable. Therefore Jesus overcomes the evil by touching him. He gives the man back his humanity.
Although Mark’s Jesus is an extraordinary character, a tornado of goodness, he is not so much super-human as intensely human, doing the surprising thing that liberates people from isolation and restores community. Readers of Mark’s gospel are being schooled in the humanity of God’s son.