Sight from the Savior

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.” – Mark 8:22‭-‬26

So the topic of today’s passage is something a bit odd and some might say irreverent, spit from a savoir. Jesus performs a miraculous healing of a blind man and in so doing provides a powerful metaphor for the healing He offers all of us blind cave dwellers. This healing feels deeply personal and intimate with Jesus actually sharing part of his essence, His spit, with this blind man.

On a purely human level this would seem to be a bit gross to have someone spit on your eyes.  In fact in our current culture this could be deemed an insult worthy of retribution, but clearly that is not the way Jesus intends this act to be received. The Godly condensate, Jesus, is sharing part of Himself with this man in order to heal him.

Viewed metaphorically this healing takes on interesting meaning.  If the face represents a reflection of our inner soul, and the eyes a window to it, then Jesus in healing this man has not only given him sight but he has opened his heart to a new kind of relationship with God.  I find it interesting that the new sight is at first imperfect and allows the man to “see people; they look like trees walking around.”  It requires a second touch from the savoir to fully restore his vision.

At Jesus’ second touch “his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”  Certainly this was a physical healing of his optical machinery but I think, perhaps more importantly, it was a healing of his metaphysical machinery.  He needed help to “see” the undiscovered country that is the Kingdom of God that Jesus was offering with his spit and touch.  A few more letters and the word “spit” becomes a more familiar word “spirit”.  I think that is the real gift that Jesus gave this man at Bethsaida.

Jesus offers this same gift to all those who are willing to choose to follow Him and allow their eyes to be opened.  I think what is often holding us back is that we do not realize we are blind.  Our spiritual sight has atrophied through lack of use.  We think we see the world around us clearly when in fact we see only the physical world and miss the forest for the trees.  We miss opportunities to participate in God’s shaping of our souls because we do not think they require modification.  Even when we submit to God’s healing we sometimes settle for seeing the metaphysical world like this man saw the people, “like trees walking around.”

This man had an obvious physical need and a not so obvious spiritual need.  Jesus healed both.  We are all similar to the blind man in this respect, whether we know it or not.

Prayer: God open our eyes to the spiritual world around us so we can take part in the new things You have for us.

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Magic and Metaphysical Miracles

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!” ). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” – Mark 7:31‭-‬37

Today’s passage comes with a geography review for me.  I had to go back and dredge up previous references to the city of Tyre and Sidon to see if there was anything special about these locations.  There was a prophecy about this sea port region back in Zechariah 9:1‭-‬5, and I reflected on it there in a post called “Power on the Sea“. Tyre was also called out back in Ezekiel 28:1‭-‬10, dealing with the pride of the king of Tyre and his impression that he ruled the sea rather than God.  Tyre was also prophesied about by Isaiah when God said that it would be “left without house or harbor” (Isaiah 23:1-18).

So Jesus is leaving a region with a long history of rejecting God and His Lordship.  He travels to the Sea of Galilee where many miracles occur, including the one described here.  “Some people” bring a deaf and mute man to Jesus so that He can heal him.  It is not stated who these people were, but presumably they were either his friends or relatives who were helping him find healing, and hopefully ears to hear the “new song” that Jesus is offering.

Jesus takes this man aside and gets very personal by putting His fingers in his ears and putting spit on his tongue.  Now I am not sure what this man would have been thinking or what his level of faith was in this man standing by the Sea of Galilee, but it must have felt like a deeply personal experience to be touched by Jesus in this way.

Jesus looks to heaven and with a “deep sigh said to him, be opened!”.  I am not sure what the importance of the “deep sigh” was here.  Perhaps it was the understanding that this man’s physical healing was only an outward sign of a much more difficult inner healing that would take much longer and be a more difficult road.  Jesus was healing hearts with his spit and hands, but I am not sure that the people always understood this overlay on the more obvious healing.

The man is physically healed, his “tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly”.  I am not sure if that means he was speaking plainly about that fact that he was healed or if he was speaking plainly about the Man who healed him.  Jesus wanted to keep this healing from being a sideshow, “Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.”  I think Jesus wanted people to focus on the new wine He was offering that than than the “magic” in the miraculous healing.

I find the last part interesting when the people say “He has done everything well,”.  I am not sure what their measure of “well” was but it seems like it was based on his success in physical healing rather than his ability to channel hearts and souls toward God.  The focus on the “magic” of the miracles was a distraction from the real metaphysical miracle that the God of the universe was standing in front of them placing His fingers in people ears and putting spit on their tongues.

The take home message for me is that God forded a great river that no one can cross so that we could Follow Him to the undiscovered country – a journey that ironically requires no speaking or hearing.

Prayer: God give a ears to hear and eyes to see more than just the “magic” in miracles. 

 

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Filling the Infinite Abyss

This image is one of the most photogenic examples of the many turbulent stellar nurseries the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has observed during its 30-year lifetime. The portrait features the giant nebula NGC 2014 and its neighbour NGC 2020 which together form part of a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, approximately 163 000 light-years away.

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles. ) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” – Mark 7:1‭-‬13

This passage is a retelling of a parallel account in Matthew that I reflected on in a post called Hand Washing and Human Traditions.  My take on that passage was that Jesus was trying to make these religious leaders realize they were honoring something other than God with their traditions.  They were really honoring themselves and their ability to choose their own path.  Some traditions may seem to be very “God honoring” on the surface, but if they get in the way of an intimate relationship with God they must be set aside, at least until we are able to see them with the proper posture and perspective.

Comparing the two accounts it is clear that Mark is providing much more detail and context to this story which helps us understand what is going on in the hearts and minds of the Pharisees.  Mark states clearly that this practice of hand washing is from the elders and tradition rather than a command from God “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.”

What Mark seems to be describing here is an obsessive focus by the Pharisees on being “clean”, at least in a physical sense.  On one level this may have been just good hygiene in a world without proper sanitation, refrigeration, and a warm climate, but ultimately I think it represents an underlying lack of trust in God to protect them and care for them.  I think Jesus desires for these religious leaders to find and accept His new teachings about the Kingdom of God, but they are having difficulty separating this new treasure from the old ones they are used to searching for. and holding on to tightly.

Jesus then quotes the same passage in Isaiah that is quoted in Matthew, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”  So the human traditions of the Pharisees are preventing the heart connection that is required to know and be known by God.  Jesus has an interesting way of calling out the Pharisees, “you have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”  It seems there is a place in our souls for God to dwell and we can fill that spot up with human religious traditions just as easily as we can with more traditional “sins” and distractions.

Blaise Pascal explored this stretch of water in his book Pensées, defending the Christian faith.  The famous God-shaped void quote apparently had its origin here.  In Pensées he says:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” – Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)

God wants all of us to have malleable hearts that can be shaped and channeled toward Him, allowing us to be changed into the people He needs us to be.  The only way to do that is to “let go” of some of the human traditions as Jesus has asked the Pharisees to do here.  This is hard because our traditions often become firmly attached to our souls and their removal can be difficult and painful, but in order to make room for God we must clean house and jettison some of the things that are cluttering up our souls.

Prayer: God help us to see those traditions and practices which are filling our souls instead of You.

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Walking on Water

Ice Fishing in Newago, MI

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. – Mark 6:45‭-‬52

This passage marks the arrival at a familiar stretch of water, one of the passages that inspired this blog. The passage begins with Jesus seemingly abandoning His disciples to go pray in the mountains. He “made” His disciples get in the boat and left them alone to fend for themselves on the lake. Meanwhile He went into the mountains to pray. I totally get why Jesus would go to the mountains to pray. I am from the mountainous Pacific Northwest of the United States and some of the most amazing spiritual experiences I have had have been in the mountains. It is not clear what Jesus was praying about but He may have been seeking wisdom and guidance about how to teach his disciples to “walk on water” and understand this new way He was teaching about.

The scene continues with Jesus “alone on the land” and the disciples out in the middle of the lake struggling to make any headway against the “wind”. Jesus is on land separated from the disciples by an expanse of water.  What if we look at this scene from a metaphorical perspective?  In previous posts I have explored the idea that Jesus is a window between two worlds, the physical and spiritual. The land represents the physical world and the water represents the spiritual realm sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of God. As “cave dwellers” accustomed to the earthly realm Jesus’ disciples are having trouble seeing how to navigate the spiritual sea that surrounds them. I think that is the purpose of many of the miracles and events that the disciples experience.  It is an effort to help them see this hidden reality and learn how to navigate it.

Most of the disciples in the boat were experienced fisherman.  They would have seen, and lived through, many storms on the lake, but this storm was somehow different. I think Jesus was allowing them to experience the wind and waves to make a point and help to channel their hearts toward God. He wanted this experience, just like the experience with Jairus’ daughter, to change their souls and their conception of how big God is how much of what is going on around them is happening outside their earthly senses.

Jesus walks out onto the lake intending to cross to the other side.  Interestingly, Jesus was about to walk by the disciples in the boat until they cried out to Him. I think this is key. They did the right thing, they called out to God, but for the wrong reason. They called out because “they all saw him and were terrified”. What God is looking for is strong and courageous sailors on the spiritual sea that surrounds us. This means setting aside our fears of physical danger and focusing on the One who has extended His arm to save us. It did not matter how accomplished and skilled these fisherman were at navigating and operating a boat. Jesus wanted them to understand that the sea they were really navigating has nothing to do with wind, wetness, and waves. They were wading into deep water and needed to ask for help in crossing it.

Sadly they missed the point of the spiritual squall swirling about them, “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” So they were amazed, but not for the right reason. They were supposed to be focusing on the amazing glimpse into the spiritual realm they had been given, but all they could see were wind, waves, and ghosts. Their hearts were hardened, which means their souls were not ready to be shaped into what God needed them to be. Fortunately, most of them get it in the end, but it takes a considerable sacrifice on God’s part.

From a purely physical perspective it is possible to walk on water, but it requires that the water to be in a non-liquid state for most of us. Being from Michigan there are a few months when everyone can “walk on water”  – when it is frozen with sufficient thickness to support our body weight. What Jesus does for his disciples through healing and miracles is “freeze” the spiritual sea that is all around them so they can experience its wonders. He is trying to help them learn how to see with eyes accustomed to the dark; hear with ears accustomed to the deafening noise of whirring wings; and sense the spiritual world with sensitive whiskers.

The take away for me from this passage is that I need to be careful and observant to make sure that I do not miss similar opportunities to glimpse the spiritual world around us. Perhaps slow down long enough to “walk on water” even when it is not frozen.

Prayer: God help us to see and experience the spiritual world around us so we can become accustomed to its wonders.

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Don’t be afraid; just believe

The Raising of Jairus’ daughter, 1871 (oil on canvas), Polenov, Vasilij Dmitrievich

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. – Mark 5:21‭-‬43

The subject of today’s passage is healing and resurrection. Where does all this happen, by the lake of course, which is why it is included in my float looking at water references in the bible.  This passage is really a “resurrection sandwich” with a side of healing. It begins as several of the water passages lately have begun with Jesus and a crowd by the lake.

There is someone in this crowd who does not fit the normal MO for Jesus’ crowds. The “bread” of the resurrection sandwich is a man named Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders.  Jairus has come to Jesus at some cost to his reputation as a synagogue leader, but he is willing to sacrifice everything to save his sick daughter.  I can relate to his desperation as a father of two daughters myself. Unfortunately his daughter, as we will find out, has already “crossed over“, but despite this difficult road that Jairus is about to walk down Jesus is with him and He has a plan.

On the way to heal Jairus’ daughter they are interrupted by another healing.  A woman with a chronic condition places her last hope in Jesus and His ability to heal her. She wades through the crowd, stretches out her hand, touches Jesus’ clothes, and is healed. This seems to happen without Jesus’ knowledge or consent which is a bit strange, funny water to be sure. Rather than losing our way in this turbulent water let’s push on toward Jesus’ explanation, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” So ultimately it was the woman’s faith, posture, and perspective that produced the outcome she desired.  It was where her heart was that enabled the healing.

This theological turbulence is about to become a class IV rapid when people from Jairus’ house arrive to tell them they are too late – his daughter is dead. Jesus reassures Jairus’ “Don’t be afraid; just believe”. I am sure that Jairus at this point was crushed and heartbroken and may have found it difficult to believe that God had his back.  Jesus asks that the disciples and the parents proceed alone to check on Jairus’ daughter as the wailing crowd at Jairus’ house laughs at the idea that “The child is not dead but asleep”.  Jesus proceeds into the girl’s room with her mother, father, and the disciples.  I am not sure why Jesus wanted this healing to be more intimate, but that is clearly the way He wanted it to happen.  Perhaps Jesus wanted this resurrection to be a powerful event for His disciples and the girl’s parents and knew that if the crowd was present it would become more like a performance.

Jesus closes out this passage by giving “strict orders not to let anyone know about this”.  This is part of the somewhat perplexing pattern of Jesus in the book of Mark of wanting his miracles to remain a secret, at least in the beginning of His ministry.  I have pondered this many times and I am comfortable with the explanation that Jesus wanted people to focus on their own hearts and souls rather than the healing itself.  He was looking for faithful followers willing to follow Him even when the path was not clear or difficult  – as was the case for Jairus and his wife.

Jesus was interested in resurrecting more than just Jairus’ daughter.  He wanted to resurrect the heart and soul of her parents and the disciples who were experiencing this event.  Don’t get me wrong, Jesus had great love and care for the girl, but the more difficult “healing” was for her parents.  They had to allow their hard hearts to be channeled toward God by this event. I think that is the focus that Jesus wants for them, and the disciples, rather than on the miracle itself.  There are miracles all around us for those that have eyes to see them, but the most important miracle is that we have a God who loves us and wants to lead us home.

Prayer: God thank You for loving us and making miracles all around us.  Help us to You in these miracles rather than the miracles themselves.

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Diluted with Demons

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. – Mark 5:1‭-‬20

I think these people spend more time on or near the lake than anywhere else. In this passage they are again traversing the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. Here they encounter someone who could best be described as a “messy person” with all sorts of problems. This man with “an impure spirit” had been exiled to the tombs, apparently because no one wanted him around. He was clearly a scary person for those who came into contact with him. He was apparently very strong and powerful as he could not be chained or subdued. He also seemed to know that he was somehow “broken” and was also cutting himself with stones. I think in our modern society this man may have been confined to a mental institution and medicated. That is not to imply that people with mental illness are possessed with evil spirits, but this man’s soul was clearly broken. It was apparently diluted with demons.

It seems that the soul of the man had been diluted or replaced by the impure spirits. So much so that when asked what his name was the impure spirits answered for the man, “my name is legion – for we are many”. The impure spirits plead with Jesus and He sends them out of the man into a herd of pigs who promptly commit suicide by running into the lake and drowning. This was probably both surprising and strange for the people tending the pigs. They had just lost their livelihood to this exorcism of demons for a man that they probably had little care or concern for in the first place. But Jesus cared for this man who had been cast aside and left for dead by his own community. The community cared for the lost pigs, Jesus cared for the lost soul they had exiled.

They came and saw this man miraculously freed of his demons and instead of being thankful they were afraid. What were they afraid of? Was it merely a fear of losing pigs? Were they afraid that this man was only faking it and was not really healed? Were they afraid of the power that this Man who healed him wielded over demons? Faced with such evidence they were left with only two conclusion: 1) this Man commanded demons because He was God; or 2) this man commanded demons because he was the “head demon”. It seems they chose the latter based on their actions.

Then something happens that left me a little confused, and at least initially, disappointed. This man who had been healed wanted to go with Jesus in the boat and Jesus said no. It seems odd that Jesus would refuse someone who wanted to follow Him, but I suppose there was a limit to the number of people that could fit in the boat and I am not sure even if there was room Jesus would have allowed him to go with them.

This seems harsh on this man so recently healed, but Jesus has a plan for him. He knows that returning to his own people and sharing about the one who healed him was more valuable that another disciple in the boat. He wanted this man to thrive where he was planted and to provide his unique witness to God’s power among the people he knew. His transformed spirit could remain connected no matter where he was if that is what he chose.

So what is the take home message here? I think there are several things I have learned: 1) no one is lost beyond hope, no matter how broken or “diluted” their soul seems to be; 2) we should all be wary of “soul dilution” in big or small ways; 3) we should rejoice and not be afraid when we see God working in miraculous ways in our lives and the lives of others; 4) Following God can look different for different people and that is OK; 5) God may need us to be a witness to those we know at the expense of following Him in more overt ways like religious practices and traditions; and 6) bearing witness of our changed lives to other people is more important than “riding around in the boat” with Jesus.

Prayer: God help us to reach out to those around us with love and understanding, even when they are scary and messy.

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Who is this?

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” – Mark 4:35‭-‬41

This is one of those passages that are in danger of losing their meaning in the fog of familiarity,but it starts out with a detail I never noticed.  The disciples take Jesus “just as he was” in the boat. I am not sure what this means, but it sounds like Jesus was ready for a nap after His long day of healing and crowds, perhaps that is why He ends up sleeping in the boat.  It seems to imply that taking Jesus some other way was possible or had been done previously.  This is an interesting riffle worthy of a little scouting around to see if there is a hidden well here.

It seems like Jesus has been misunderstood or misrepresented from His birth.  Was He a great King? Was He God?  Was He a man?  Was He Elijah reincarnated?  Was He John the Baptist reincarnated?   Was He the Messiah?  Was He the King of the Jews?  So for the disciples to take Jesus “just as He was” may be harder than it seems.  It turns out the disciples were just as confused as the rest of us and by the end of their ordeal in the lake, they will be asking “who is this?” too.

I also never noticed that writer makes a point of mentioning that “there were also other boats with Him.”  Perhaps this is to reinforce the idea that the salvation and “storm calming” that Jesus offers is for all those who choose to be part of Jesus’ “flotilla”, not just His close disciples.  The “other boats” are all those who choose to faithfully follow the way of Jesus – we all must choose sailor or savior,

Returning to this dramatic scene, Jesus is napping in the back of the boat and all of a sudden squall came up and the lake became a scary and dangerous place to be with wind and waves threatening to sink the boat.  They wake Him and ask “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Interestingly, their focus is on themselves and their physical well being.  They were afraid of drowning and dying.  Jesus says to the wind and waves “Quiet! Be still!” and they obey and all is calm, except the disciples who seem to be more freaked out by Jesus’ power than the power of the storm.

The lack of calm in the hearts and minds of the disciples is a feature not a flaw.  Jesus makes it clear that what is going on inside of these disciples is way more important than drowning and dying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”. This is a heart issue, a collision between the secular and the spiritual.  The “Window Between the Worlds” just allowed a wave to crash right into the lives of the disciples and they are terrified.  What they need is soul-preserver rather than a life-preserver.  Were they more afraid of the storm or their Savior?  Were they also amazed, appreciative, and thankful? Are we amazed, appreciative, and thankful amidst life’s storms?  I know I cannot always manage this level of faith.

This brings us back to where we started,  “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”  Jesus is misunderstood even by those who are with Him and should know Him.  We should be surprised that He is still being misunderstood by many today.  Jesus, and God, seem to want us to be a bit confused so that we seek answers and knock on doors.  He is seeking us while we are seeking Him.  Uncertainty and ambiguity are not necessarily bad things if they drive us to pursue Jesus more passionately.  Sometimes questions are more powerful than answers, as long as we are not afraid of the answer when we find Him.

Prayer: God help us to pursue You with passion and persistence.

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Lessons by the Lake

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” – Mark 4:1‭-‬9

I do not remember noticing before how often Jesus did His teaching by the lake.  It makes me wonder what it was about this location that made it such a good location for learning about the Kingdom of God and this new way of knowing God.  A few passages back I reflected on how the shore of the lake is like a window between worlds, and that Jesus is a similar spiritual “window”.  He is the bridge and the One River we must cross at the same time – the lion and the lamb.

Interestingly, the crowd gets so large that Jesus needs to leave the land for His teaching.  He boards a boat and makes the lake itself his lectern. On one level this may be a mere logistical necessity to allow Him to get His message out amidst a chaotic crowd, but I wonder if we return to our “window between the worlds” metaphor whether there may be deeper water here.  Jesus teaching from the lake is placing Himself outside the worldly fray to relay spiritual truths from “outside” the window. 

He used a parable, a word picture, to teach the crowd to “see” the unseen spiritual reality that is the Kingdom of God all around them.  His story of sowing and seeds clearly has deep spiritual meaning and insights into the undiscovered country for “Whoever has ears to hear”.  The imagery and language here about plants and seeds is reminiscent of language in the old testament.  All the way back in Deuteronomy 32:1-2 God was talking about rain on tender plants, and there are many references to planting oneself by the river so that we can thrive and remain connected to spring of Living Water.

So how do we ensure that we are listening with ears that can hear when God speaks in our lives?  I am not sure “hearing aids” in the form of religious traditions or alter decorations are the answer.  The inner attentiveness that Jesus is talking about here is a soul sense not a physical sense like hearing.  Proper spiritual “hearing” has more to do with posture and perspective than religious rigor. God wants us to channel our hearts, our souls, in such a way that when he whispers we are ready and able to hear Him.

Prayer: God give us ears to hear and eyes to see the unseen so that we can be part of your plans for our lives.

Posted in Christian Community, Christianity, Jesus, Mark, Nature, religion, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

One-Way Mirror

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. – Mark 3:7‭-‬12

Jesus is teaching by the lake again and apparently attracting quite a crowd. Clearly what he was saying was something people wanted to hear. Or at least they were impressed by His actions healing people and forgiving their sins. Jesus was aware of the desire of the crowd to be near Him because he called up a boat from which to teach.  What is not clear to me is whether they were crowding Him to learn and grow or if they simply wanted something He could give them.  Were they coming for the physical healing or the new life and forgiveness that He offered?

It seems like it is easier to seek healing than redemption.  Physical healing is immediate and is visible to those around us in a tangible way.  Redemption is a “slow burn” transformation that may take our entire lives to fully live out.  That is not to say that we must earn our salvation.  Redemption is freely given, but the receiving of this redemption is what takes some effort on our part.  Why is it hard to accept this free gift offered by God?  I think there is a clue in the last part of this  passage. There are “impure spirits” ready and willing to convince us that God does not really mean to forgive us – no matter what he says.

C.S. Lewis explored these “impure spirits” in a book called the Screwtape Letters.  The book is a dialogue between tempters assigned to lead people away from God and the forgiveness He offers.  This is rarely done in an obvious or overt way.  The apprentice demons in this fictional account are given advice how to use all of our strengths and weaknesses to lead us away from God.  Everything from a person signing out of tune in the next pew to tantalizing temptations for our souls.  It seems there are both angels and demons at work in the spiritual realm in a battle for our souls and they know Jesus is their kryptonite.  It is not clear why Jesus wants them to be silent about His identity.  Perhaps he wants faithful followers rather than scared people seeking salvation refuge rather than redemption.

I do find it interesting that even the “impure spirits” fell down before Him.  This is something that many people have difficulty doing, including myself, before I decided to follow the way of Jesus.  Why is that these “impure spirits” are able to see something that it is difficult for us to see?  I think it comes down to the fact that they inhabit they same spiritual space and we are separated from this reality by a veil which obscures the spiritual realities that surround us.   There was no such veil between Jesus and these impure spirits.  They could see Him and He could see them.  I do believe that God sees us, but we are often behind a one-way mirror and see only our own reflection when we are trying to see God.  The trick to seeing God is breaking the mirror so we see Him rather than just ourselves.

Prayer: God help us to break the mirror of our self-focus so we can see You and accept the grace You freely offer.

 

Posted in Angels, Christianity, Faith, Following God, Forgiveness, Free Will, Jesus, Matthew, The Earthly Realm, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Levi by the Lake

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” – Mark 2:13‭-‬16

Jesus is once again teaching by the lake, one of His favorite classrooms.  Jesus clearly has something interesting to say that is attracting a large crowd, or perhaps some were there just to see whether the religious leaders would rattle their rattles again as they did with John by the Jordan.  Jesus singles out an unlikely follower, a tax collector of all people named Levi.  Levi was in his “office” or booth in this case.  He probably had stacks of coins scattered in front of him from the taxes he had collected that day.   

Jesus simply says “follow me”.  The same invitation He gives to all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.  Levi apparently did not ask where, or for how long.  He simply picked up his things and followed.  Levi also did not say why me Jesus?  I am sure part of him was thinking why does this man care about me, a wretched tax collector.  But instead of getting wrapped up in self-doubt he simply took Jesus at face value and followed this man who seemed to know here He was going.

Jesus was quick to include Levi in his life by dining at his house with other “many tax collectors and sinners”.  It is not really clear who the “sinners” were and what they did that was sinful, but Jesus made it clear that it is not important where you came from only where you are going, as long as you are faithfully following Him.  The religious leaders were not happy with His choice of dinner companions and asked the question “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Although this question came from a place of superiority and judgement it is an interesting question. 

Why did Jesus invest His time with people who on some level appeared to be ignoring God and religious practices?  I don’t think Jesus wants us to ignore God or necessarily ignore traditions and religious practices.  So why this focus on the sinners and tax collectors?  I think Jesus wants curious God seekers willing to follow Him without reservation.  The religious leaders were trained professional “followers” of God with years of study and practice under their belt.  Unfortunately, their training was too heaving on the leading and not so much on the following.

The take home message for me in this passage is that following is much harder than leading, especially when the One you are following asks you to go places that may be uncomfortable, or even scary at times.  Like for example sharing food with people that you have been trained your whole life to regard as human scum not worthy of your time.  Jesus was all about breaking down barriers and building community – not gated communities with membership requirements, but open communities ready to take anyone in that is willing to follow.

Prayer: God help us to be open to all curious God-seekers so that we can build communities ready and willing to follow You.

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