Usually I do not comment on the readings for Te Pouhere Sunday but this year I am preaching and have been asked to speak to the readings set down for Te Pouhere Sunday. So I shall attempt to provide comment on both sets of readings for the day!
Also, this is the first in a series of ordinary Sundays following the Lent-Easter-Trinity Sequence in which the lectionary provides for the alternative OT readings, 'continuous' or 'related'. I am following the 'related' reading option.
10th Ordinary Sunday
Theme(s): Family values (?) / Kingdom life / Hope / The weight of glory
Sentence: For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Christ our Redeemer,
you have crushed the serpent's head;
you have freed us from our sin;
rescue all your suffering world from the evil
that attracts us still. Amen.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
When we meet in the gospel reading the scribes who are accusing Jesus of being Beelzebub/Satan, and we find Jesus rebutting their accusations with talk about Satan not working against Satan, we are connecting with a strand through the Bible in which an individual figure (the serpent, Satan, the devil, Beelzebub) antagonises both God and humanity.
In this passage we read of God consigning the serpent who has deceived Adam and Eve to a position of being 'cursed' and at 'enmity' with humanity (14-15). A prophesied result of this enmity is that an offspring of the woman 'will strike your head, and you will strike his heal' (15), a prophecy Christians understand to have been fulfilled in the death of Jesus on the cross, an event in which the 'Christus Victor', though killed (the striking of the heel) defeats Satan (the striking of the head).
The psalmist expresses a theology of hope, in keeping with our epistle reading!
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Paul's theological writing hits a purple patch in 2 Corinthians 4-5. He uses metaphors rich in emotional warmth and eternal vision. He lays open the gracious, reconciling heart of God. He recounts the utter privilege of being a servant of the lovely and loving Lord of all.
Our verses here express the centre of Christian hope, 'because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence' (14). That is the gospel! But Paul goes on to make a further point about the goodness of the gospel: it is not for a select group but for 'more and more people' (15).
What Paul then says, from his heart, as one who has suffered for the gospel, both through beatings and deprivations such as imprisonment, speaks to all of us, even those who live a safe life but find our bodies weakening with age and infirmity. 'Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day' (16).
Elaborating on this theme in verses 17 and 18, also 5:1, Paul lays out a theology of suffering: what happens in this life to us is a 'slight momentary affliction' which prepares us 'for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure' (17). This theology of suffering is simultaneously a theology of hope (especially verse 18, see also 5:2-5). The best is yet to be and that best is our hope (since we cannot yet see it and experience it), a hope which enables us to live with our afflictions.
This passage is framed (i.e. beginning and ending) by references to Jesus' family. In the middle is some tricky material about Satan and the Holy Spirit. Jesus may even be mad. Fasten your seatbelts, the exegetical ride could be wild!
If we remember that each gospel writer needs to explain why the good Jesus dies the death of a criminal, the larger story in Mark 3 is of signs of opposition to the ministry of the good Jesus. He heals a man, but its timing, the Sabbath, excites controversy (1-6). The ministry continues (7-12) and Jesus chooses his team of key potential leaders (13-19).
'Then he went home' (19b). We might expect a bit of R & R for Jesus, but the crowd presses in (20) and his family, perhaps hearing of strange incidents such as reported in verse 11, seek him out 'to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind".' (21) (This statement may reflect an insight often found when we meet the 'mad genius': we think them mad, later recognition of their achievements makes them a genius in everyone's eyes. But it may also simply reflect people's surprise that the ordinary Jesus of Nazareth they had know for 30 odd years was now doing extraordinary things).
To this mix of support and opposition from his own family, we now find added the deprecatory criticism of 'the scribes who came down from Jerusalem' (22) in which they allege that "He had Beelzebub ..." (22).
Jesus responds to this criticism (and, by implication, also to the views influencing his family at this time). To the scribes he offers parables in reply (23-27), all of which are variations on the theme "How can Satan cast out Satan?" (23). (By implication he is saying to his family, "How can a mad man speak so much sense?)
Verses 28-30 are challenging. Jesus appears to engage in a (form of) counter-attack against the scribes: what you are saying is unforgivable! The challenge is at least twofold. First, what is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Secondly, why can this sin not be forgiven? (Especially when Jesus has just said that blasphemies generally speaking can be forgiven and sins generally speaking are forgiven).
The words in verses 30 certainly imply something about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that wrongly discerning the spirit at work in Jesus and wrongly naming that spirit is an attack on the Holy Spirit.
What have the scribes actually done? They have failed to discern the work of God in and through Jesus. Their ascription of this work to Satan is 'an eternal sin' (29) in at least this sense: their minds are closed to who God is and what God does and thus they have shut themselves off from God for ever. This sin can never be forgiven because it is not repented of.
Finally, in verses 31-35, we return to the framing narratives of the passage,* as Jesus' family reappears. His mother and his brothers are near at hand and ask for him to step outside the crowd around him to speak with them.
Jesus takes the opportunity to make a point - a teachable moment - and asks the crowd who is mother and brothers really are. 'Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother' (35).
This is challenging teaching, whichever way we look at it. First, Jesus relativises the importance of family. The kingdom family, the doers of the will of God, is more important to him than his natural family. (When Christians today yearn for 'family values', what do we mean?) Secondly, Jesus absolutizes the importance of doing God's will. There are no options here such as doing God's will when it suits us, let alone doing God's will providing it doesn't clash with Grandad's birthday. What value do we place on doing God's will?
Across the whole of the passage Mark is driving forward his understanding of who Jesus Christ is: the Son of God, the Antagonist of Satan, the Interrupter of Jerusalem based religious power.
*Another way of describing the sequence in this passage of family-scribal debate-family is to talk of Markan sandwiches, or, if we want a word of more than three syllables, intercalation. When reading through Mark's Gospel there are many such sandwiches. Have fun spotting them!
Te Pouhere Sunday (i.e. celebration and commemoration of the three tikanga constitution of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia.
Sentence: Galatians 3:28
God of our faith,
strengthen our Church
as it seeks to show your love in
the ministry of its three tikanga.
Make us bold to seek new ways to best serve
showing your boundless love as you have shown through Jesus Christ. Amen.
2 Corinthians 5:14-19
Comments: these are shaped towards and by 'Te Pouhere'
This chapter begins one of the so-called 'servant songs' in Isaiah, songs which look to the coming anointed suffering servant of God who will be instrumental in bringing God's plan for the world to fulfilment. Christian understand the servant to be Jesus Christ.
These verses call for praise and glory to be given to God (10-13) because God is about to perform a great reversal. Darkness will be turned into light (16). Those who trust in images will be put to shame (17).
(Verses 18-20, frankly, are difficult to understand unless we read through to the end of v. 25. The gist is that Israel in rebellion is like a deaf and blind person - one who cannot discern where they are going - and will be punished by the Lord. But the hint here is that the Lord's messenger/servant (19) will identify with Israel. In further servant passages in Isaiah, the hint will be broadened to include the notion that the servant saves Israel).
A question for Te Pouhere Sunday observers is whether the constitution of our church, and the way we express our allegiance to it, is a means for God to do a new thing, including a reversal of the typical outcomes of multiple cultures being part of one body, in which one culture dominates and the others become subservient.
2 Corinthians 5:14-19
There is an obvious sense in which this passage is chosen for Te Pouhere Sunday: a day in which we engage with the reality of our life as a three tikanga church is a day in which we encounter the true state of reconciliation between the three tikanga. This passage talks about the 'ministry of reconciliation' in the apostolic mission of the church (19b).
Yet we need to read the passage carefully enough to recognise that the primary focus of talk of reconciliation is between God and the world (18, 19a, 20). Paul's ministry of reconciliation means his message is 'we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God' (20).
What then of the relevance of this passage for Te Pouhere? Three brief observations:
1. Our constitution is first and foremost a document expressing our relationship to God as God's church.
2. Our ability to be reconciled with one another is enhanced by being first reconciled with God, not least because knowing that God has forgiven us much (see how much in verse 21) empowers us to forgive others (e.g. Luke 7:36-50).
3. From this passage (i.e. to end of 2 Corinthians 5), Paul easily begins speaking of life in the church: 'As we work together with him' (6:1).
In the end, the life of our church is commanded by Christ to be a life of love. 'This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you' (12, see also 17). When we ask about the meaning of Te Pouhere, the Jesus of John's Gospel wants us to ask whether Te Pouhere deepens our love for one another.
What is our answer?
Postscript: our church's website even gives a sermon for Te Pouhere Sunday,albeit one that should be adapted by the preacher for this year and the preacher's specific context!