The Cross in Everyday Life: Embracing the “Least”

crucifixionBy Ched Myers, for the 17th Sunday of Pentecost (Mark 9:30-37)

In the wake of the “confessional crisis” (last week’s reading), Mark’s narrative now turns to a triple cycle of object lessons and teaching I call the “discipleship catechism.” This Sunday’s gospel text comes from the second and longest cycle, with its focus of instruction on the less heroic, yet perhaps more difficult, practice of the Way in daily life.

The cross represents more than nonviolent resistance to the Powers; it includes the struggle against patterns of domination in interpersonal and social relationships as well. Thus Mark here addresses several expressions of social power imbalance: greatest and least (9:36f); outsiders and insiders (9:38-41); offenders and victims (9:42-50); male and female (10:2-12); children and adults (10:13-16); and rich and poor (10:17-31). This sequence exhibits certain similarities to catechetical traditions found elsewhere in the New Testament relating to family and community life such as the so-called “House-tables” (e.g. Col 3:12-4:6). Continue reading

The “Confessional Crisis”

PeterBy Ched Myers, for the 16th Sunday of Pentecost (Mk 8:27-9:1)

Note: This is an ongoing series of Ched’s brief comments on the Markan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year B, 2015.

Roughly midway through the season of Ordinary Time, and a week before the Fall Equinox, our lectionary series in Mark’s gospel arrives at the midpoint of the story.

The first half of the narrative began by heralding a “Way” (1:2), and closed with a question addressed to the disciples and the reader: “Do you not yet understand?” (8:21) The second half opens “on the Way” (8:27), with yet another query: “Who do you say that I am?” (8:29a). Do we really know who Jesus is, and what he is about?

It is a shock to discover in this Sunday’s reading that Peter’s “correct” answer (8:29b) is silenced (8:30). This issues in what I call a “confessional crisis” (8:30-33), followed by Jesus’ second call to discipleship (8:34ff). This sequence represent the fulcrum upon which the entire gospel balances. Mark’s thesis is most clearly revealed here: discipleship is not about theological orthodoxy, but about the Way of the cross.

This Way will be explained by three object lessons, both positive and negative. The architecture of the ensuing narrative section consists of three “portents” about Jesus’ impending arrest, which the disciples fail to comprehend, and three teaching cycles. This structure has a catechetical character, representing a “school of the road,” as Jesus and his disciples journey from the far north of Palestine to the outskirts of Jerusalem:

         Geography                   Portent      Incomprehension       Teaching

1) Caesarea-Philippi      8:31                     8:32f                    8:34ff

2) Galilee to Judea        9:31                     9:32-34                9:35ff

3) to Jerusalem             10:32-34              10:35-37              10:39ff

This catechism is neatly framed by two stories in which the blind receive sight: in Bethsaida (8:22-26) and in Jericho (10:45-52). Here we see master story telling indeed.

Since Mark’s first storm episode (4:41), the issue of Jesus’ identity has been lingering in the background; now Mark turns to address it directly (8:27). The public’s perception of Jesus parallels the three misinterpretations reported earlier concerning John (8:28; see 6:14-16). But when the disciples are asked for their opinion, Peter hails Jesus as “Messiah” (8:29).

We meet this politically-loaded term for the first time since the story’s title (1:1). Messiah was understood by many Jews in first century Palestine to be a royal figure who would someday restore the political fortunes of Israel. Based upon Mark’s title and the centrality of this confession in the church, we are likely to approve of Peter’s identification. But to our chagrin, Peter is immediately silenced by Jesus (8:30), as if he were just another demon trying to “name” Jesus (see 1:25; 3:12)!

Since this lection has already come up this year (on the Second Sunday in Lent), I refer to my comments there concerning the crisis of expectation that punctuates Jesus’ exchange with Peter, and the meaning of his teaching on denial and the “Coming of the Human One.”

Learning from the Other

lentzBy Ched Myers, for the 15th Sunday of Pentecost (Mk 7:24-37)

Note: This is an ongoing series of Ched’s brief comments on the Markan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year B, 2015.

In a doublet I called a “tale of two women” (5:21-43; see my blog on the gospel for 5 Pentecost) Mark presented two linked healings in “Jewish” symbolic territory. He now narrates a corresponding doublet in clearly marked “Gentile” space (7:24). Tyre and Sidon were coastal cities not only well outside Palestinian Jewish society, but historic centers of the Phoenician naval empire, a legendary adversary of Israel (see e.g. Ezekiel 26-28), though now part of the Roman province of Syria. These healings of a woman and man are thus surprising, and serve as object lessons in the inclusivity just advocated in the previous Markan episode. Continue reading

Open Borders!

bordersBy Ched Myers, for the 14th Sunday of PENTECOST (MK 7:1-23)

Note: This is an ongoing series of Ched’s brief comments on the Markan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year B, 2015.

After a lengthy hiatus in John, the RCL gospel returns to Mark, though it piecemeals this Sunday’s text (I’ll read it whole, and suggest you do as well).
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The Crossings

TabghaBy Ched Myers, for the 8th Sunday of Pentecost (Mk 6:30-34, 45-56)

Note: This is an ongoing series of Ched’s brief comments on the Markan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year B, 2015.

The lectionary melts down a little this week. On one hand, it inexplicably avoids the wilderness feeding (6:35-44), such that we get neither of Mark’s two versions of this tradition in Year B. Continue reading

PROPHETIC GENEALOGIES AND THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

JtheBBy Ched Myers, for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Mark 6:14-29)

Note: This is an ongoing series of Ched’s brief comments on the Markan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year B, 2015.

This Sunday’s gospel is Mark’s account of John’s execution by Herod (that is, Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilea and Perea from 4 B.C.E.-39 C.E.) This “flashback” belatedly explains the circumstances surrounding John’s arrest, which was reported in passing at the outset of the story (1:14). Mark tells us that Herod believes that Jesus is John coming back to haunt him (6:14-16). Insofar as Jesus took up the Baptist’s mantle (preaching repentance and the Kingdom of God), Herod is not wrong. But the disturbing implication for the king is that this proclamation persists despite his having gotten rid of one of its messengers, suggesting that there was a more serious popular movement to be reckoned with. It is to the sordid tale of John’s demise that Mark now abruptly turns.
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WHAT IS EVANGELISM? STRANGER AT HOME, AT HOME AMONG STRANGERS

LessonsBy Ched Myers, the 6th Sunday of Pentecost (Mk 6:1-13) 

Note: This is an ongoing series of Ched’s brief comments on the Markan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year B, 2015.

At this point in Mark’s narrative we are given some background on each of the three major “protagonists” of this story: Jesus (6:1-6), the disciples (7-13) and John the Baptist (14-29, the gospel for 7 Pentecost). These three episodes each concern “rejected prophets,” which opens up a central theme of the second half of the gospel: the cost of discipleship.

This narrative sequence begins with Jesus’ return “to his own country” (6:1). For a third time, he teaches in a synagogue on the Sabbath (see 1:21ff; 3:1ff), and for a third time he encounters opposition. But this time it is not from the authorities, but from his neighbors and kinfolk. They are suspicious of this local boy’s notoriety, objecting that he has no distinguished lineage (6:3). Because of the domesticating constraints of nationality, kinship and household expectations (6:4), the “prophet without honor” is unable to effect change in his hometown, and returns to his itinerant mission (6:5f).
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