Gospel of Mark, Lent

A family of preachers (Mark 3:31-35)

We have a visitor at our house from Scotland, a member of the board of RevGalBlogPals and a special friend to kathrynzj and me. Our dog, Teddy, fell in love with her immediately, just as we did when we first met her in 2011. Some people just get each other. This is on my mind as I read about Jesus calling the rest of his disciples, the people who will become his true family on earth. His family of origin thinks he has lost his mind, according to Mark, and the authorities are happy to accuse him of being demonic.

Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!”  The legal experts came down from Jerusalem. Over and over they charged, “He’s possessed by Beelzebul. He throws out demons with the authority of the ruler of demons.” (Mark 3:20-22, CEB) 

His family tracks him down, hoping to take him home and end the embarrassment of his public ministry. This is a far cry from other gospel accounts, but worth our attention, I think, because so many people who try to follow Jesus’s call on their lives get that same response. What makes you think that’s a good way to spend your life, a worthy cause to support, a righteous purpose that justifies sacrificing what other people expect from you?

 His mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside and sent word to him, calling for him. A crowd was seated around him, and those sent to him said, “Look, your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you.”

He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

In my life, for the past thirteen years, there has been a family of preachers and their pals, friends in ministry and life who may not always agree with me or understand exactly where I’m going but get that I whatever I do is an attempt to be faithful to Jesus, who called me to follow him. I hope you have those people in your life, too.

Thank you, God, for the families of heart that you create in our lives. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 4:1-20. You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Lent

Right in Front of Us (Mark 3:1-12)

Here’s the thing about stories where Jesus heals someone.

Those of us who are living with unhealed and unheal-able ailments, injuries, or disabilities find these stories hard.

And this story about the man with the withered hand is a particular non-favorite at my house because of a permanent hand injury for one of us and ongoing hand disability resulting from RA for the other one of us. So we can joke about the things we drop and spill, but it would be handy, pun intended, if we didn’t need to do so.

You may have an unfavorite Bible story, too.

When they come up in the lectionary, we preachers may lean toward the epistle or the Old Testament reading for the week. I had to write about Matthew’s version of this one not too long ago for Present Word, a Sunday School curriculum for adults. Blessedly, the focus was justice vs. legalism rather than miraculous restorations.

I wonder what we would do if Jesus showed up today and started healing our hands, or our backs or knees, or our hearts and our spirits? Would we argue about where he did it? Would we tell him he was in the right place at the wrong time? Would we accuse him of showing up in a crisis just to get attention for himself?

I’m still thinking about Emma Gonzalez today, and the people who called her a “crisis actor,” and our cultural incapacity to see goodness where it is so obvious. We’re more like the people who tried to stop Jesus, because we cannot understand what is right in front of us.

Lord, the people could not see who you were. I like to think I would recognize you, but maybe I wouldn’t, either. I’m looking for you now. We need you. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 3:13-35. You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Lent

“We call BS” (Mark 2:13-28)

Picture from CNN Español

You’ve probably seen her on TV, in a clip from a speech she gave. Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez showed remarkable rhetorical skills, both for her age, and given the shock and grief she must be suffering.

She called out the adults, the government, the authorities we wish our children could trust – and she said it sadly at first and then with increasing power, in what became a refrain that the crowd joined. “We call BS!” (Read the whole speech here.)

In the first part of Mark we saw Jesus as teacher and healer, and in a discussion of sin he turns theologian, but in the last paragraphs of the chapter, he becomes a preacher. He crafts an argument that could get an “Amen” by calling out the bullshit promoted by the religious leaders of his time.

Jesus went through the wheat fields on the Sabbath. As the disciples made their way, they were picking the heads of wheat. The Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look! Why are they breaking the Sabbath law?”

He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he was in need, when he and those with him were hungry? During the time when Abiathar was high priest, David went into God’s house and ate the bread of the presence, which only the priests were allowed to eat. He also gave bread to those who were with him.” Then he said, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath. This is why the Human One is Lord even over the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28, CEB)

Jesus put things in perspective. It sounds clever now. He reminded the religious leaders of a story they would have known well, making it clear the Sabbath is not a punishment or an enslavement for human beings, but a gift to them.

Of course, they didn’t want to hear him. Instead of considering a new way of seeing the Sabbath, a true way, they grumbled about him and plotted against him.

It seems to me that we live in a crucial time for being careful about who we let influence us. In the past week, as the young people from Parkland have been speaking out, people who oppose gun control have sought to discredit them, misidentified them, and spread lies about them. (There’s even a subset of right-wingers claiming the shooting never happened, as they have been doing for five years about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.)

Who will we listen to? The authorities of any time and every religion tend to use that authority to maintain the status quo and with it their power. It’s easy to go along with the biggest person or the loudest voice. It’s what people do when they benefit from the way things are, either directly or indirectly. These kids, though. They know how to use the communications structures that have been part of their whole lives to make a statement.

Do you suppose enough people will listen to them? Will we call BS?

Jesus, be a megaphone for these kids. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 3:1-12. You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Lent

Home Base (Mark 2:1-12)

Although we finished Chapter 1 of Mark with a declaration that Jesus was going to head out for other parts to spread the good news of the kingdom of God, Chapter 2 takes us right back to Capernaum, and the house where Jesus has dinner in this story is called “home.” It’s probably Peter’s mother-in-law’s house again, although she is not named as being there. (Someone fixes dinner, though.) I looked this up, because my Greek is pretty minimal. “oikon” is the word, variously translated as “house,” or “in the house,” or “at home,” or just “home.”

It’s a strange contrast with the idea that the Son of God has nowhere to lay his head (see Matthew and Luke), this place so welcoming that even after the roof gets lifted in Chapter 2 will still be home for them in Chapter 3.

That’s a place I’ve tried to make for others in my life. The house in Portland where the kids and I lived for 14 years could withstand almost anything; indeed, it did. We made a new life, and played, and studied, and worked, and graduated, and grieved, and grew up and grew deeper, and suffered heartbreaks, and brought home new loves.

We gathered, and we regathered, and we went out to face the world again.

As for me and my house, I have a different one now, and the cast of characters has shifted, but the feeling is the same. We keep that lit-up tree in the window of the Manse, and it never fails to make me feel the … something … that lets me know I’m home.

What made that house in Capernaum the one where people said Jesus was “at home?” It’s more than just somebody else’s house, that seems certain, and yet it’s not what we think of sentimentally as home, either. It wasn’t a fortress or a retreat. He never wanted the former, and he had to escape to find the latter. It wasn’t a Cone of Silence, where it was safe to say whatever he wanted only to the people he trusted. I always picture people pressed against the windows, standing in the doorway, trying to listen from outside, crowded into whatever space might have been available in the room where he ate his meals.

Maybe what made it home was the same thing that made my home feel that way. Jesus and his friends gathered, and they regathered, and then they went out to face the world again.

Maybe Peter’s mother-in-law kept a lamp burning at the window.

Thank you, Holy One, for the places that are home to us. Amen.


Full disclosure: this is my favorite Bible story from childhood, so I worked hard to approach it from a different angle than I have in the past. I’ve written about it here – Jesus Will Mess You Up (one of my favorite sermons I’ve ever written – I hope I get to use it again someday) – and here – They Removed the Roof (a reflection on healing later woven into a sermon that was not one of my best, ahem).


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 1:29-45. You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Depression, Gospel of Mark, Lent

Things we know but cannot explain in a sound-bite (Mark 1:29-45)

A lot happens in the first chapter of Mark. Early in my ministry, I preached a sermon on this section entitled “The Magical Mystery Tour,” both because I thought it sounded a little sassy, and because Jesus seemed to become a regional rockstar in a hurry; today we might say he went viral.

But it does seem like people are mostly showing up for the transactional aspects of his ministry.

That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed.  The whole town gathered near the door.  He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him. (Mark 1:32-34, CEB)

It’s a straightforward thing, healing those who are broken in body. But whatever the underlying spiritual condition or psychiatric diagnosis of those afflicted by demons takes us into territory that is less measurable, some kind of super-natural wilderness journey. Does Mark mean that the evil spirits are silenced, or the people who have been troubled? Further down, Jesus also calls upon a man with a skin disease to be silent, but the man doesn’t listen; he goes on his way and tells whoever he feels like telling! Jesus asks him, but doesn’t prevent him. I guess it’s because this guy with refreshed skin and a happy new outlook on life knows he has been healed in body, and could point to the person who healed him, but has no real idea who has done it for him.

Some evangelical voices have gotten pushback over the past week or so for suggesting that mental health issues are entirely spiritual issues. I’m not going to link to them, but I will say one made a statement on Twitter and some others made remarks during a women’s conference. As a person who lives with chronic depression, which is sometimes no problem and other times a significant factor in my daily life, I can testify that there are times when my life in a faith community and my personal spiritual practices help, but there are others when they do not, and I’ve long since moved past thinking that how well I do the practices or how active I am at church can make all the difference, or that God is not helping out enough, but I also know that most of the time, in most situations, it helps that I have those resources, except for the times when it really, really doesn’t.

That’s a terrible attempt at a sound-bite.

Recently I heard Suzanne Stabile say that she has noted a trend among church leaders in her circles to have a semicolon embroidered on their stoles or to have a semicolon tattoo on their wrists, so that people in church who struggle with mental illness will know it’s safe to talk to their pastors and other faith leaders. The point of the semicolon, as described by Project Semicolon, is that you are the author of your own life; like a sentence punctuated with a semicolon, it’s not over.

I’m glad that my story did not end when I was most depressed, more than twenty years ago, and at serious risk of dying by suicide. I’m grateful for the people I was able to trust, somehow, who understood that brain chemistry was no reason for shame and that my identity as a person of faith both helped and made things harder. They were so good to me, and along with the medical and mental health professionals who treated me, they saved my life.

Jesus is going to move on to other territories; he has more to do than heal people in one neighborhood or one community of their physical or mental or spiritual afflictions, which sounds okay if you don’t have any of those challenges, I guess.

He’s going to move on because he has something else to say, and a story to reveal about himself, even though he’s not ready yet for anyone to know it.

Healing God,  it’s hard to put you into a few words, but let me try. Thank you for coming among us. Help us to remember that the story is not over


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 1:29-45. You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts..

Gospel of Mark, Lent, Reflectionary

That escalated quickly (Mark 1:16-28)

Lots happens in chapter 1 of Mark, and the words used to describe what happens show that they happen with speed and energy. Right away, immediately, suddenly – four fishermen leave their work to follow him, they all go to synagogue, a person with an unclean spirit screams at the sight of Jesus.

That escalated quickly. Will fishing for people always be so dramatic? Who is this guy? What have we gotten ourselves into, man?

In a time of both spiritual and material emergency, I wonder if we can take some solace in knowing the first disciples, despite being water-wise, had to immediately realize they were in over their heads. Suddenly they saw they were attached to someone unpredictable. Right away he was drawing attention; surely they had been seen with him?

The whole story of the disciples in Mark is about not understanding, asking the wrong questions, acting from wrongheaded impulses, and hiding from the truth.

But without being impulsive and a little boneheaded, I wonder if any of us would follow?

Holy One, help me see how I am like those first followers, and sweep me up with you immediately, suddenly, right away … before I can hide myself away. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 1:29-45. Full schedule can be found here.

Gospel of Mark, Lent

Change your hearts and lives! (Mark 1:1-15)

On this first day of Lent, our family woke up without our cell phones on our bedside tables. In collaboration with our 13-year-old, we agreed that in the hour or so between the arising of pets and his departure for school, we would not be sucked into social media, or email, or online news, or video games (him). A few exceptions were made for the adults – yes, the parish pastor in the house can be sure there were no texts or voicemails related to pastoral emergencies, and yes, I could check Facebook messenger for overnight messages from our daughter in Japan.

We have made some other commitments for this season of penitence and preparation, this study I have scheduled out through Easter Monday among them. There is one self-discipline I have not mentioned aloud to anyone in its particulars, which I guess means no one will know whether I “win” Lent or not. Whatever I’m not mentioning is a very small sacrifice in the larger picture of life, but a hard thing for me.

I’m pretty sure it’s not what Jesus had in mind at the end of this introductory portion of Mark’s gospel.

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:14-15, CEB)

In just 15 verses, this earliest of the gospels has referred to Isaiah, introduced John the Baptist, and given us a thumbnail origin story for Jesus that includes his baptism, an announcement from God that only Jesus hears, and a mere two verses devoted to his 40 day sojourn in the wilderness, in which Satan, wild animals, and angels get equal time. Now Jesus is ready to get to work, and he is not holding anything back!

Wait, isn’t this the gospel with the Messianic Secret? Won’t he tell the disciples to hush about who he is? Yet he is saying it from the word “now.” “Here comes God’s kingdom!”

He is talking about himself.

He is God, and God’s kingdom is walking into our midst in his person.

“Change your hearts and lives” has to mean more than any exercises we can manage for up to 40 days, minus Sundays. That doesn’t mean I won’t do them … small, measurable changes can support a changed heart and a changed life.

But what gets us into this in the first place has to be bigger.

Holy One, when I am tempted to think that following you is only two verses or forty days worth of commitment, help me to hear your voice in a new way, to change my heart and my life, and trust this good news. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 1:16-28. Full schedule can be found here.