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Tuesday, October 06, 2009
What Must I Do? At times, the perceived absence of God from our lives evokes our questions. At other times, it is the presence of God that grieves us. Words born of God’s love are not always welcomed or heeded when they seek our transformation. Yet what seems impossible for us to do or conceive grows in possibility when we recognize God's deep love for us. Focus Scripture: Mark 10:17–31 Mark’s gospel deals with what it means to follow Jesus. Sometimes this focus passage is presented as unique in its call to sell all and follow. But this invitation parallels Jesus’ earlier commissioning of the disciples in Mark 6:8–9. Those who follow Jesus are ordered to take along no money for the journey. Money and possessions convey status, then and now. But love, not status, forms the basis for Jesus’ community and discipleship. To follow Jesus is a call to travel light. Mark prefaces this particular call to divest with Jesus “looking” at the man. It is not the typical Greek word for seeing. Emblepo is sight that involves intense interest or concern. “Looking at him” might be better rendered as “looking into him.” Such sight leads to Jesus’ love, albeit love that makes a hard demand. This detail of Jesus’ love is notable. This is one of only two places where “love” occurs in Mark’s gospel. The other unique element in this text is the mention of “eternal life.” Verses 17 and 30 are the only places in Mark where “eternal life” appears. The term Mark normally employs is “kingdom of God.” Both terms reference the transformed life that comes in relationship with Christ. Both terms point not only to a promised future, but also to life lived in the presence of God now. “Power” is another recurring theme in Mark. When the disciples wonder here “who can be saved,” Jesus answers with a statement of power. The words impossible and possible in verse 27 share the same Greek root: dunatos, meaning “power” or “ability.” The “possibility” of salvation is not a matter of philosophical discernment. It is a matter of power, and God has the power. In the closing verses of the passage, the disciples receive reassurance about what they have left in order to follow Jesus – sort of. Jesus lists “persecutions” among the blessings that will come to the disciples in this age. This word seems counter-productive. If that’s what one gets for following Jesus, why follow? A deeper hearing might recognize Mark’s community here. Their following had brought persecution. Such experiences might have led to wondering if their faithfulness was misdirected. But if persecution is part of following, then its experience can be seen as validation that disciples are on the right path. The challenge facing the man with possessions in Mark was not God’s absence. It was the shocking word that came from one he looked to as a teacher of God. The additional readings wrestle with both God’s presence and absence. Job 23:1–9, 16–17 cries out of the experience of one who longs for God’s presence in the face of God’s seeming absence. Like the individual in Mark who went away shocked and grieved, Job also has a sense of God as one who may “terrify.” Psalm 22:1–15 utters words of what the absence of God feels like. Still, verse 8 and the portion of the psalm not included in the reading affirm God as one who delivers. Hebrews 4:12–16 tells of the sharpness of God’s word that can pierce us deeply, yet also witnesses to the sympathy of Christ. Our response to the demanding call to remove stumbling blocks to our following of Jesus is made possible by the loving providence of God. We are invited to live into the reign of God with all its joys and risks. What does such following ask you to do? How might our church ask the hard questions of discipleship even as it celebrates our following of Jesus?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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