The Good Book Club | Week of January 17-23

At first glance, we might be on the side of the Pharisees here, especially these days with pandemic practices of handwashing and sanitizing. As we begin our week with Mark, Jesus and his disciples are eating with defiled hands, “that is, without washing them,” and the religious leaders are aghast. Of course, the religious leaders aren’t worried about COVID-19 germs here. They’re upset because Jesus (again) isn’t following the religious rules. But Jesus counters, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” In other words, their mouths are writing checks that their actions won’t cash.

Indeed, Jesus makes the point time and again that what truly matters is the state of the soul. The most ardent rule-follower can have a festering heart. It is from there that evil intentions come, Jesus says. “Fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

We then encounter a miracle story that, at first reading, seems un-Christ-like. A woman (a Syrophoenician in Mark and a Canaanite in Matthew) brings her daughter to Jesus for healing. Jesus seems to dismiss her pleas, but the woman counters, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Despite what appears to be Jesus’s reticence to offer healing, the woman’s public proclamations of faith see her daughter healed and Jesus’s ministry expanded. The Gospel of Matthew recalls Jesus as saying, “Great is your faith!”, a reminder to us of the value of faith, even when all seems lost.

At the end of chapter seven, Jesus performs another miracle by healing a man who is deaf and mute. Again, he orders the man and other witnesses to tell no one. The people are bewildered and amazed, uncertain about the true identity of Jesus. Even when Jesus transforms seven loaves and a few small fish into a meal for four thousand, the people still ask for a sign from heaven. In perhaps the understatement of all understatements, Jesus sighs deeply.

Throughout the first part of Mark, we have read numerous miracle stories with people asking who Jesus is, but by the end of our readings this week, Jesus’s identity is apparent. He asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” and Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.” With this pronouncement, we move into the second half of Mark, as the narrative shifts from stories of Jesus’s miracles to his teachings to the disciples. But just as the disciples sometimes have a hard time believing in the miracles, they also struggle with Jesus’s teachings. Jesus tells them that he will undergo great suffering, be killed, and rise again. Peter reminds me of a consummate campaign manager who recognizes that this message won’t sit well with the crowds. He takes Jesus aside, perhaps telling him to soften the words or recast them into more acceptable soundbites, but Jesus isn’t having it. “Get behind me Satan,” he tells Peter. Being a follower of Christ will not be easy, and he won’t add a spoonful of sugar to help make the medicine go down. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. “And those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Gulp.

We end our week with the Transfiguration, one of the pivotal moments of the Christian story. In all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the Transfiguration follows the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. The Transfiguration is a further revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, as he is transfigured and shines with rays of divine light and joy. The prophets Moses and Elijah appear, and the three talk. Can you imagine the conversation? Peter (again, earnest Peter, bless his heart) offers to stake out the land and build a tent so they may stay there. But we know that we cannot, in this life, stay on the mountaintop. We hear a voice from the cloud, “This is my Son, the beloved,” the type of words we all hope to hear one day, and then they descend the mountain, preparing for the difficult days ahead.
Read Week 1, Week 2
Reflection

1. How often do you say one thing and do another? If your heart is in the right place, does it matter if you act poorly? What does Jesus say about this?

2. Reread the story of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:25-30). What wisdom do you take away from this miracle? How can you apply it to your life?

3. Who do you say Jesus is? Take a sheet of paper or create a word cloud on your computer with all the words you use to describe Jesus. Hang it up near your desk, mirror, fridge, or another place where you will see it regularly, and use some of these different words in your prayers.

4. What do you think Moses, Elijah, and Jesus talked about? Put yourself in Peter’s shoes (sandals!). Would you have offered to build a tent and stay on the mountain? Why couldn’t they stay there?
Partner Spotlight

The ministry of Invite Welcome Connect is delighted to partner with the Good Book Club by offering beloved and enduring images from Christian art, culture, and religious works from around the world. Related themes and selected verses from each daily reading of the Gospel of Mark are shared via the Invite Welcome Connect websiteFacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts. This prayer practice is called Visio Divina, a way of praying with images to hear God’s words.

(Image: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0)
Participant Spotlight

In the first weekly email, a reflection question encouraged readers to recast one of the parables into a modern context. Meg Rice, a retired teacher from Cheney, Kansas, took on the challenge. This is her third round with the Good Book Club. The studies with John and Matthew “have brought blessings to me and class members who once met on Monday mornings and now meet on Zoom.”

She offers this modern understanding of the healing of paralytic man:

Despite the dangers of traveling to and joining a crowded social gathering, the paralytic’s friends cared for him deeply and believed in Jesus’ power to heal him enough to risk their own health. 

They masked up, wore face shields, protective clothing, and gloves, and lifted him into the gray-bearded friend’s van. They drove him to the town where Jesus was known to be teaching that day.

A great crowd spilled out of a home, filling surrounding yards and the road. The crowd truly could not socially distance like most people were in those days of deadly plague. They were, after all, seeking Jesus’ words and healing themselves.
 
Seeing no hope of passing through the crowd, the gray-bearded man noticed people were on devices attending a many-paged Zoom meeting. At the outer edge of the crowd, he asked a kind-faced woman if he might use her screen to speak to the Master who spoke from a green box on her screen.

Upon hearing the heartbreaking story of his paralyzed friend and his faithful desire to ask Jesus for healing, the woman’s heart was moved to share her screen. She unmuted her screen and nodded her head.

The gray-bearded man spoke loudly and clearly, “Rabbi, Master, Jesus, forgive me for speaking into your words. I ask on behalf of my friend who is paralyzed whom we know you can heal. We brought him by van and are parked at the edge of the crowd. When you are finished here tonight, please come to us and heal him. He is a good man who believes you alone can heal him as do we."

Jesus replied, “Take your screen to him now; you need not wait.” The friend and woman ran with her screen to the van and held it so the paralyzed man could see Jesus’s face. When Jesus saw the man and friends’ faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now, the church council members who were gathered nearest Jesus began wondering why he spoke like that since only God can forgive sins. They thought they had witnessed blasphemous speech. Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit what they were thinking, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up and go home.”

He got up and in full view of the crowd and walked around, which amazed everyone, and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

How are you participating in the Good Book Club? Share your story with us (and send pictures too, if you have them, whether it’s a screenshot of a Zoom meeting or a picture of you with your Bible in a comfy chair!). We’ll highlight participants from across the church. Send the information to Richelle at rthompson@forwardmovement.org.

Let’s learn from and be inspired by each other!
Listen Up

Want to hear the passage from Mark? The Good Book Club Podcast features speakers from across the church reading each day’s lesson from Mark and a reflection from A Journey with Mark. You can also ask Alexa (or another virtual assistant) to play the podcast.
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