On the “Blind” Following the “Blind”

BartimaeusBy Ched Myers, for the 22nd Sunday of Pentecost (Mark 10:46-52)

Right: A relief sculpture of the healing of Bartimaeus by artist/minister Charles McCollough, done in honor of our ministry at BCM (at right is the rich man and one of Jesus’ disciples).
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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 is a longer post because Sunday represents the feast day of “St. Bartimaeus,” whose story has accompanied Ched through his entire ministry (see second half of the post).

In this culminating episode of Mark’s “discipleship catechism,” there is one more polemical role reversal to shock our propriety, and one more blind man healed to give us hope (compare Mk 8:22-26). On the outskirts of Jericho, the final stop before arriving in Jerusalem, we encounter a beggar sitting “beside the Way” (10:46). Bartimaeus will provide a dramatic contrast to the previous two stories of “non-discipleship”—the rich man’s refusal and the disciples’ ambitions—and will symbolize for Mark the “true follower.” Continue reading “On the “Blind” Following the “Blind””

The Subversion of Hierarchical Power

zebedeeBy Ched Myers, for the 21st Sunday in Pentecost (Mark 10:32-45)

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 last cycle of the discipleship catechism begins, as did the previous story of the rich man, “on the Way.” Here the journey is finally revealed as headed to Jerusalem, the place of final confrontation with the Powers (10:32a). Jesus “goes before” the discipleship community, who are amazed and afraid (10:32b). This snapshot will be important to remember at the end of the story, where at the empty tomb we are told that Jesus “goes before” disciples who are both afraid and “ecstatic” (16:7f).
Continue reading “The Subversion of Hierarchical Power”

The Call of the Rich Man as a Text of Terror

JesusBy Ched Myers, for the 20th Sunday in Pentecost (Mark 10:17-31)

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 post is 2-3 times longer than previous ones because of the importance of this text to our struggle to be disciples within a capitalist culture.
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The story of Jesus and the rich man lies at the crossroads of Mark’s narrative. From here Jesus will turn toward Jerusalem, a destination of confrontation with the Powers that evoked dread and denial among his disciples then (10:32) as now. But the encounter between Jesus and this affluent gentleman represents a theological crossroad as well.
Continue reading “The Call of the Rich Man as a Text of Terror”

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.”

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).
Continue reading “Open Borders!”

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.
Continue reading “PROPHETIC GENEALOGIES AND THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP”

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).
Continue reading “WHAT IS EVANGELISM? STRANGER AT HOME, AT HOME AMONG STRANGERS”

“TALE OF TWO WOMEN”: The Priority of the Marginalized

Jairus DaughterBy Ched Myers, for the 5th Sunday of Pentecost (Mk 5:21-43) 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 Mark’s tale of the Gerasene Demoniac (Mk 5:1-20), Jesus brings dramatic liberation to a man “occupied” by the spirit of Legion (i.e. Roman imperialism) on the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee. Frustratingly, this powerful story is again deftly avoided by the Revised Common Lectionary (but you can read my comments on it here in “Sea-Changes: Re-Imagining Exodus Liberation as an ‘Exorcism’ of Imperial Militarism” in Challenging Empire: God, Faithfulness and Resistance, edited by Naim Ateek et al, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center). Jesus then returns across the sea to “Jewish” territory (5:21), where the next episode dramatizes how the poor were given priority in the ministry of Jesus. Mark 5:22-43 is yet another example of “sandwich-construction,” which wraps a story within a story in order to compel the reader to interrelate the two. The setting of the first half of this narrative sequence seems to be the “crowd” itself (5:21,24,27,31). Jesus is approached by a synagogue ruler who appeals on behalf of his daughter, who he believes to be “at the point of death” (5:23). Jesus departs with him on this mission, and we fully expect this transaction will be completed. On his way, however, Jesus is hemmed in by the crowds (5:24). The narrative focus suddenly zooms in upon a woman whose condition Mark describes in great detail (5:25f) with a series of descriptive clauses: Continue reading ““TALE OF TWO WOMEN”: The Priority of the Marginalized”

A Storm Blowing From Paradise…

Pope Francis delivers his speech in St. Peter's square at the Vatican during his weekly general audience Wednesday, June 26, 2013.(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis delivers his speech in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican during his weekly general audience Wednesday, June 26, 2013.(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

By Ched Myers (4 Pentecost: MK 4:35-41)

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 text is the poignant story of Jesus and his disciples caught in a storm at sea, which threatens to drown them. It is a profound, archetypal scenario that Mark narrates twice (again in 6:45-52). Because today is the day that Pope Francis’ historic encyclical on climate crisis is being published, I will focus on how this appeal addresses the storm that is Climate Catastrophe. A month from now I will return to Mark’s sea stories for Pentecost 8 (on which day the Lectionary inexplicably hops over the second boat journey in its piecemeal gospel selection, which we’ll rectify!). Continue reading “A Storm Blowing From Paradise…”

Sowing Hope

Doing the work at the Abundant Table Farm Project in Santa Paula, CA.
Doing the work at the Abundant Table Farm Project in Santa Paula, CA.

By Ched Myers, for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Mark 4:26-34)

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 week the lectionary gives us the last third of Jesus’ parables sermon (hopping over the famous parable of the Sower and its allegorical interpretation, Mk 4:2-23). This section begins with a sober warning:

And he said to them, “Take heed what you hear: ‘The measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away’.” (Mk 4:24-25)
Continue reading “Sowing Hope”