Saturday, September 18, 2021

Sunday 10 October 2021 - Ordinary 28

Theme(s): Wealth as a hindrance / Following Jesus unreservedly / Seeking justice / The sharp two edged sword of God.

Sentence: Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days (Psalm 90:14).


Kind and generous God,
you prepare a feast for all people.
May we prepare for your banquet by putting on the garment of love
that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.
Help us to bring the lost and lonely, the poor and those in need
to your feast where all are fed.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen

Readings (related):

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31


Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

We read this diatribe against those who through injustice become wealthy with half an eye on the gospel. There is a hint there, but no more than a hint, that the wealthy man may have gotten his possessions by unjust means. Either way, it is always good to be reminded, including in our world of 'inequality,' that God's will is for justice and not for injustice. For people to be treated fairly, for bribes to be refused (12) and for active 'establishment' of 'justice at the gate' (15).

Psalm 90:12-17

Wealth -looking ahead to the gospel reading - appears to satisfy but ultimately does not. True satisfaction comes from knowing God, from realising that God loves us with a 'steadfast love' (14).

Hebrews 4:12-16

The letter to Hebrews, as we opened up last week, is generally a call to Jewish Christians tempted to stray backwards from Christianity to Judaism to reconsider in the light of the arguments put forward by the writer, particularly that Jesus is superior in everyway to all competitors. Last week, superior to the angels, this week to the high priests (14-16) - although this theme will be developed in much greater detail in succeeding chapters. Between last week's reading and this, the writer has discussed Jesus in comparison to Moses (and, slightly, to Joshua, 4:8). In that discussion the theme of 'rest' was opened up. Under Moses, the people of Israel wandering in the desert had, because of grumbling, failed to enter into their 'rest', that is into the Promised Land.

In such a context, ending in 4:11 with 'Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs', we try to make sense of what seems like a change of topic, verses 12-13 on the 'word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.' At the very least the introduction of this topic as a kind of aside relates to what has gone before because it reminds readers whose disobedience may be private (compared with the public grumbling of Israel) that God is able to judge even 'the thoughts and intentions of the heart' (12). The judgment is via the 'word of God' meaning that what distinguishes good from bad, obedience from disobedience, wisdom from foolishness is not arbitrarily determined but rests on the word of God, the word revealed to Moses, revealed through Jesus as 'his powerful word' (1:3).

The theme of high priest has already been introduced in 2:17, in relation to offering 'a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of people.' In our passage this high priest is our example and inspiration. 'Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession' (14). That is, let us not go backwards under pressure of internal false teaching or external persecution.

Our strength to be faithful, to hold fast includes that fact that we have a high priest who is able to sympathise with our weaknesses, tested in all respects, yet not failing by falling into sin (15). From such a priest we can receive help. Verse 16 is then one of the great promises of Scripture.

There is no comparison explicitly with the high priests of Israel but implicitly comparison is entering into the writer's presentation of Jesus: no other high priest ever offered what offers. Thus we head on into chapter 5 with further talk of high priests.

Mark 10:17-31

Following on from the children coming to Jesus and Jesus saying the kingdom needs to be received as a child would do, we have an 'adult' encounter between Jesus and 'a man' (17). Clearly a sincere and committed man, he 'runs up' to Jesus and 'kneels' before him, addressing him as 'Good Teacher' and asking the adult question, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' (17) This is, in fact, the question of all religious people willing to live according to God's will.

Jesus' response is not what ours may have been.We might well start in with the list of commendments (19). Jesus begins by turning the address of the man towards consideration of God: 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone' (18). On the one hand Jesus is directing the man towards God who alone can answer such a question, thus bringing into play the commandments which God has given. On the other hand, there is some irony in the response. Later, the church, understanding Jesus to be identified with God, will puzzle over this response: it sounds as though Jesus is denying that he, as the Son of God, is indeed 'good.'

Intriguingly, Jesus lists the 'social' commandments, the ones which impact on our relationships with others in society, rather than the first commandments which focus on our commitment to God. Also, the list is a slight variation on our usual 'Ten Commandments'. Instead of the 10th commandment not to covet, there is a commandment not to defraud. Was Jesus testing the man, who later in the story turns out to be wealthy. Wealthy people have no reason to covet but they may have achieved their wealth by fraud. So, Exodus 20:17 is replaced by Leviticus 19:13. Is Jesus implying that the man has wealth because he has defrauded fellow Israelites (Ched Myers, Say To This Mountain, Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996, 125)? If so, then is Jesus shortly asking of him an act of reparation? (21)

The man is calm in his response. He has kept these commandments since his youth (20). Something about the man - presumably his sincerity and perhaps his humility - draws affection from Jesus: 'Jesus, looking at him, loved him' (21). But what he then says shocked the man. Jesus' spiritual diagnosis means he does not say 'Come on in' or 'You've passed.' Jesus (we imagine) looks the man in the eye and says 'You lack one thing.' At this point the man does not lack earnestness or sincerity. nor does he lack insight because he has, after all, come to Jesus. What he appears to lack is ridding himself of the one thing that is preventing him from following Jesus. 'Go, sell, what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me' (21).

This is too much. He cannot do it. He is shocked. He walks away. Grieving, 'for he had many possessions' (22). There will be a challenge for many hearers today: many of us are fabulously wealthy by global standards. Wealthy to the point where we have possessions we do not think impinge on our ability to obey God's commandments. We may not even think of these possessions as hindering our following Jesus. But, if it came to the crunch - here is a testing question for all - could we sell our possessions and give the money away to the poor? If we cannot answer that question, is there something we need to work on?

Incidentally is it an adult trait to cling to possessions and be unable to give them up? Is the child-like embrace of the kingdom of God (10:13-16) in part an easy attitude to owning things and to giving them away? (On reflection: better would be to acknowledge that in a world of modern possessions, a child might be as possessive as an adult (cf. those occasions when a child refuses to share precious toys with another child) but in the ancient world, children likely had no possessions.)

If the question is difficult to answer, we are in good company because the disciples themselves were 'perplexed' by what Jesus had to say (23-24). Jesus repeats himself, 'Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God' (23, 24). To rub the point in he uses an extravagant metaphor. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (25). Their perplexity continues: 'Then who can be saved' (26). Presumably they too have a few possessions, perhaps back in Capernaum where their boats were being leased by others and their families remained in their houses.

What then does Jesus mean in verse 27, that this is a situation which is impossible for mortals but not for God? At the least, and in keeping with other things said about salvation: it is God's work which saves us and not our work. It is impossible for ourselves but possible for God. But the question arises why God didn't make 'salvation' possible for the man who walked away. Again, we could surmise that many are called but few are chosen, and the wealthy man is not one of the chosen. But we could also surmise that, while salvation is God's gift to offer and to make possible for us, we have power to resist the work. The man came awfully close to salvation. Jesus 'loved him' and reached out to him. But a greater love compelled the man, love of his possessions.

Verses 28-31 then become a reassurance, both for Peter and the disciples, and for later readers. Effectively his question in 28 is, 'Is it worthwhile giving up everything to follow you, Lord?' Jesus says it is worthwhile when it is done 'for my sake and for the sake of the good news' (29). But the rewards are not - despite initial appearances - about repayment in this life. Mention of 'persecutions' and of 'in the age to come eternal life' mean that the repayments are kingdom repayments. For example those who have left family will have a new and much larger family. Those who have left houses behind will always have a welcome in the houses of kingdom members.

Verse 31, familiar from other parts of the gospels, reminds us all that the kingdom's values are 'upside-down' relative to the world's values.

Sunday 3 October 2021 - Ordinary 27

Theme(s): Divorce and remarriage / Marriage from creation / When two become one / Suffer the little children / Compassionate kingdom / Jesus: the exact imprint of God / We see Jesus

Sentence: We see Jesus ... now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).


Loving God,
yours is the vineyard and the harvest.
Help us to recognise the one you send and to follow him.
Make us willing workers in your vineyard,
so that we may offer you an abundant harvest.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God now and for ever. Amen

Readings (related):

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-14, 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16


Genesis 2:18-24

Due to some deft literary stitching, Genesis 1 and 2 are often read as a single account of creation. In fact there are two accounts, 1:1-2:3 and 2:4-25. 

In the first account there are seven days of creation and the creation of humanity, male and female is the culmination of the creation of the earth, sky, stars, moon, plants and animals. 

In the second account there is one (long) day of creation with humanity represented by the Human (Adam; Heb. adam) being 'formed' from the ground (Heb. adamah) early in the account (7) and humanity divided into two genders being the end of the account (21-25). Through the account humanity thus takes centre stage rather than being the culmination of it.

Noting that the ending of the creation of creatures in the first account is 'male and female he created them' (27b) with the command, 'Be fruitful ...' (28) we see a parallel account of the creation of male and female at the conclusion of chapter 2: when the single 'Human' becomes man (Heb. ish in relation to woman, Heb. ishah) and the woman is created from the Human (22). These two bone of bones and flesh of flesh then become husband and wife and reunite as one flesh again (24), with the implication that from their uniting in sexual intercourse they will be fruitful according to 1:28.

In the gospel reading we find that Jesus himself stitches aspects of the two accounts together so that what he says about marriage is drawn from Genesis 1:27; 2:20-24 as well as Genesis 5:2.

Psalm 8

As a 'related' psalm, this psalm is undoubtedly related to the epistle reading rather than the gospel reading. (It is a little difficult to think of any psalm which discusses divorce!)

This is a beautiful song of praise to God praising the majesty of God's Name (1, 9). The glory of God is seen 'set ... above the heavens' (1b). So great is God that the psalmist wonders why God is 'mindful' of human beings (4). Yet, with respect to the nature whose beauty inspires this psalm, the psalmist recognizes that human beings are nevertheless esteemed (5) and given roles of responsible stewardship (6-8).

Hebrews 1:1-14, 2:5-12

Having completed James we begin Hebrews. This enigmatic letter has some Pauline characteristics which has led to some in the past ascribing its authorship to Paul but scholars are now agreed it is not by Paul and they are unsure who the unnamed author is. It is also enigmatic in terms of style: it looks a bit like a letter but reads like a (long) sermon. It certainly is an exposition of many Old Testament texts as it advances its case. To understand that case, let's look at our two passages for this Sunday.


'our ancestors' in the first verse is a clue that this letter is not only addressed to Jewish Christians but also that there is an issue which is best approached by going back into the past. So verses 1-2 set up a contrast: the prophets spoke in the past but in these 'last days' (i.e. in the present era) God has spoken 'by a Son.' If we guess from this comparison that the central work of the letter will be to argue for the superiority of Jesus Christ then we guess right.

Verses 2-3 set out the rank, status and function of the Son, in one of the greatest christological statements of the New Testament with 'exact imprint of God's very being' arguable the most important of the statements made. Verse 4 then notes, almost in passing, that the purification of sins (on earth) and the seating 'at the right hand of the Majesty on high' (in heaven) makes Jesus 'superior to the angels'. In fact this particular superiority becomes the first great theme in the superiority of Jesus (1:5-14).

The argument that unfolds in verses 5-14 weaves texts from the Psalms and Isaiah together to ask questions and make statements all of which nail down, underline and highlight the point introduced in verse 4. There is a little carryover of the argument in 2:5-9.

Why this intense 'competition' between Jesus and the angels? We do not know for certain because we are not told. But it is not difficult to hypothesise that the addressees of the letter were worshipping angels and either counting Jesus among those angels (i.e. as just another angel) or even as less than those angels. Angel worship was not unknown to the first century Christians. Colossians 2:18 warns against 'worship of angels.' Twice in Revelation John is tempted to worship an angel and twice he is told not to but to worship God instead (19:20; 22:8-9). On this hypothesis, the writer of Hebrews strikes his first blow in his message to a congregation misunderstanding some basic Christian teachings: Jesus is superior to angels. 

A similar hypothesis is that the congregation being addressed have some kind of confused understanding about angels. While they might not have worshipped them, were they overly interested in them, speculating on who they were, what they did and how they could be contacted? If this interest in angels was detracting from clear recognition of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, what we read here makes sense: the writer acknowledges the importance of angels but vigorously and repetitively sets out their relative importance to Jesus. He is completely superior to them. Only Jesus is the exact imprint of God.

(2:1-4: not specified for reading today, nevertheless a brief note may assist the preacher: these verses seem at first to be an aside (they take us from heaven back to earth), but may also be counted as a transition within the overall argument of the letter. The emphasis on angels here falls on their role in the delivery of the Law of Moses, 'For if the message declared through angels was valid ...' (2). We rightly ask where angels figured in the story of the delivery of the Law to Moses in Exodus. They do not, save for a slight reference in Deuteronomy 33:2 to the angels accompanying God at the time,  but there was a popular view in ancient Judaism that the angels played a role when the Law was given to Moses. This view also influences Stephen (Acts 7:38, 53) and Paul (Galatians 3:19). In these verses the writer argues that if the angelic message of the Law charted a future in which disobedience received 'a just penalty' (2) then to 'neglect' the 'salvation' offered by Jesus Christ (who is so much superior to the angels) is to incur (so to speak) double wrath from God: 'how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?' (3) The rest of verse 3 and verse 4 then emphasise the validity through attestation of the gospel 'declared' by the Lord. The theme of 'how can we escape etc' permeates the remainder of the letter).


Before we go any further I need to point out that the inclusivity of language in the NRSV (which generally works fine) does not serve it well in this passage. The passage cites Psalm 8 which includes mention of 'the son of man' and that must be engaged with in respect of what resonance it might have with Jesus as The Son of Man, indeed Jesus as a single/lone human being. Working inclusively the NRSV confines the literal, masculine translation to the footnotes and works with 'human beings', 'mortals' and 'them' in verses 5-7. Thus we might be helped to have the less inclusive but more accurate rendition given here for the first part of the passage (RSV adapted re thou/you, etc):

"5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.
6 It has been testified somewhere,
'What is man that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels,
you have crowned him with glory and honour,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.'
8 Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control.
As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
9 But we see Jesus ..."

With verse 5 we are back from the interlude (but important transition) of 2:1-4 to the theme of Jesus' superiority to the angels (5). The 'coming world' is not subject to the angels but will be subject (or is becoming subject to Jesus). For evidence, the writer goes back to the Psalms, this time to Psalm 8 with its enigmatic talk of humanity made a little lower than the angels but after a while they will have everything subject to them. The NRSV is not wrong to inclusively count humanity as made lower than the angels and later to be lord over all things, but the singularity of the RSV (adapted) highlights some elements of wordplay going on. The human being extraordinaire is the now crowned one who fulfils the prophecy inherent in Psalm 8 (Hebrews 2:9).

But humanity is not out of the picture. Jesus is the 'pioneer of their salvation' (10). He goes ahead of us - another great theme in Hebrews - to secure and hold for us what God graciously makes available to us.

The writer makes one other point we should note. The fuller phrase in verse 10 is 'God ... should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.' Perfection here is not ethical perfection: Jesus was understood to be without sin. Perfection here is about the completion of God's purposes. For the purpose of salvation Jesus needed to suffer. By suffering (in particular suffering as the ethically perfect one to become the perfect sacrifice for the sins of imperfect humanity) Jesus completed God's purposes for the world.

Going back to verses 8-9 we find the writer focusing his readers on Jesus ('we do see Jesus'). His 'suffering of death' is for our sake because he has tasted 'death for everyone.' We need to look over to verses 14-15 to see what that might mean: he has destroyed 'the power of death' so that we might be free from the fear of death.

There will be more to say on these matters as we work through the remainder of the letter.

Mark 10:2-16

The topic of divorce remains one on which Christians ask questions. (In 2015 I wrote) currently the Roman Catholic church is coming to terms with a fairly dramatic change concerning annulment of marriages, pronounced by Pope Francis recently (see, e.g. here). Some readers here may have intensely personal questions about their own life situation, perhaps feeling trapped in an unsatisfactory marriage or fearful of marrying in case marriage does not turn out well or concerned to understand the theology of divorce and remarriage, perhaps with very relevant application to their own life situation. In what follows I have drawn some wisdom from Tom Wright, Mark for EveryoneLondon: SPCK, 2001, pp. 129-133 and from Robert H. Stein, Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2008, pp. 453-460. The thoughts expressed here are, of course, my responsibility rather than theirs.

I recommend this post by Ian Paul which gives a longer and more detailed background to and foreground discussion of the passage than I give below.

From a narrative point of view, Jesus is drawing closer to Jerusalem and his death. This passage begins with the Pharisees seeking him out 'to test him' (2). These kinds of tests will become more intense as the days go by and the distance to Jerusalem grows shorter.

The fact that a question is asked about the legality of divorce suggests that the matter was controversial then. It would be no test to ask Jesus about a theoretical matter on which little rested of theological or pastoral importance. Further, Mark almost certainly reports this exchange because there is a question of marriage/divorce/remarriage being discussed within the community of readers he has in mind as he writes. (Although marriage and divorce is not a feature of the New Testament epistle generally, there are specific questions in the church in Corinth which Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 7 so it is likely that other communities of faith in the first century also had concerns). Presumably people were asking under what conditions they might secure a divorce (or, to be more accurate, under what conditions a man might secure a divorce from his wife (2)). As best we can tell the rabbis fell into two camps in their answers to such a question, roughly the 'hard' camp (the Shammaites) and the 'soft' camp (the Hillelites). To which did Jesus belong?

Spoiler alert: what follows is not egalitarian!

The 'hard' camp, the school of Shammai, interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1 ('... but she does not please [her husband] because he finds something objectionable about her ...') as restricting divorce to sexual unchastity by the wife. The 'soft' camp, the school of Hillel, interpreted it more liberally and 'permitted divorce for such things as a wife spoiling her husband's supper or his finding someone more attractive than her' (Stein, 455). Hence the framing of the question in the parallel passage in Matthew 19:3 as "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?". There it is more explicit than in Mark that Jesus is being pressed by his interlocuters to declare whether he was a Shammaite or a Hillelite. Effectively, Jesus declares himself a Shammaite. (See further, the Ian Paul blogpost linked to above).

But there is an even sharper possibility to consider about what lies behind the question. John the Baptist has already been executed for criticizing the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias (6:17-20), and Herodias had divorced her husband to marry Herod (note 10:11-12). The test question may have been a specific trap to draw Jesus also into angering Herod and thus into the possibility of his been removed from further public ministry by imprisonment if not execution.

Typically of Jesus, he asks a question of his questioners rather than answering their question. He is not just being 'clever/smart'. He wants the Pharisees to go back to first principles. He also, if the Herodian background to the question is correct, wants to avoid their entrapment. Only later will he reveal to the disciples what he actually thinks about the Herods' dodgy marriage (11-12).

So instead of answering the question whether it is legal for a man to divorce his wife he asks 'What did Moses command you?' (3). Their answer, v. 4, shows that they already know the answer to their question: it is legal!

Jesus goes on to offer a 'hard' interpretation of the legality of divorce (as then understood). Moses had authorised a legal way forward (or 'out') but it was not because of the softness of God's heart but 'because of your hardness of heart' (5). That is, the very pressure of desire for divorce led to Mosaic legalising of divorce. The general principle of marriage, as Jesus goes on to remind his hearers, is that 'what God has joined together, let no one separate' (9) and the theological reason for this general principle is that marriage is intended from creation itself, indeed from the fact that God created humanity 'male and female', to be a unitive relationship, two bodies becoming 'one flesh.' (6-8). The Pharisees want to talk about the grounds for divorce, Jesus turns that to talk of the foundational truths of marriage.

Nevertheless, marriage is challenging and few marriages remain blissful every day after the wedding day! The disciples understand these things about the difficulties of married life because they themselves seem unconvinced by Jesus' response to the Pharisees. Surely divorce is not forbidden no matter what difficulties a marriage falls into? So we read, 'Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.' (10).

In Matthew's version of this story they say a little more, 'If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.' (19:10) In other words, 'Your teaching on this, Lord, is too tough!'

Jesus responds with words which are brief, blunt and difficult ever since for the church to administer (Mark 10:11). While they may have been - as suggested above - a particular riposte aimed at the Herods, Mark reports these words here without reference to the Herods which implies that Mark felt that what Jesus said about marriage applied generally to all disciples and not just to local celebrities with well known marriage merry go-rounds.

That means that we should hear what Jesus says in these verses as applying to disciples. 

First, that he envisages that disciples will not have the same hard-heartedness as the Israelites in general had. The work of God in the lives of disciples should enable them to meet the challenges of marriage. 

Secondly, given the generally high expectations on disciples to live holy lives, worthy of the God who calls them into the kingdom, there should be no surprise that disciples are called to live their marriages to a high standard, the standard set by God in the original institution of marriage in creation.

Incidentally, for some readers Mark 10:9 may appear to contradict Mark 10:11. The former forbidding divorce and the latter acknowledging divorce but forbidding remarriage. In fact on the understanding of the rabbis, divorce implied freedom to remarry, so forbidding divorce and forbidding remarriage amounted to the same thing.

But the question will be in some readers minds, because of their own difficult marriage situation or that of a loved friend or family member, what do these verses mean for my (or their) situation? 

First, these verses do not tackle specific questions of when divorce might be acceptable (at least in the sense of the lesser of two evils, for instance when a spouse is being physically abused). That some exceptions became of concern to the early church is witnessed to in Matthew 5:32, 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 which provide 'exception clauses' relative to our passage in Mark.

Secondly, we therefore should not read these verses in such a manner that we feel bound to remain in an impossible situation. If we feel we are in that situation we should seek help from a pastor or marriage counselor. It may be helpful to remember that Jesus was being asked which of two schools of rabbinic thought he lined up with; he was not being asked about particular circumstances such as whether an abused wife should or even must remain married to an abusive husband.

What we - the whole Christian community of disciples - should be clear about from these verses is that Jesus endorses an understanding of marriage as ideally permanent (i.e. until one spouse dies), faithful, and stable. We would not expect Jesus to have a view of marriage which owed more to 21st century celebrity stories than to the Law of Moses and the theological principles of Genesis 1 and 2, so we should not be surprised that Jesus focuses on marriage being marriage and divorce being avoided. 

Again, working on the theological principles regarding marriage, working from the creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2, it is not surprising that Jesus is teaching that God's expectation is that the married remain married, that no spouse hardens their heart against their partner simply because they find them generally unsatisfactory, that temptations to adultery will be resisted and that the intention in our hearts towards our spouses will be guided and directed by God's Word and not by the values of the world. These values, it seems in the Western world, in the 20th and 21st centuries, are determined according to what will make me happy rather than according to what sacrificial love towards our spouse means.

Nevertheless married life is a mix of joy and sorrow, of happy times and tough times, and anxious questions arise when a marriage becomes sorrow and no joy, tough and not happy, and very acutely so when the sorrow and toughness involve abuse. So, pastorally, it is important that I repeat something said above:

"Secondly, we therefore should not read these verses in such a manner that we feel bound to remain in an impossible situation. If we feel we are in that situation we should seek help from a pastor or marriage counselor. It may be helpful to remember that Jesus was being asked which of two schools of rabbinic thought he lined up with; he was not being asked about particular circumstances such as whether an abused wife should or even must remain married to an abusive husband."

Our final verses, 13-16, funnily enough involve children. Was that coincidence or did Mark deliberately place this incident as a natural follow on from discussing marriage?

On the one hand we can read this story as a mixture of cuteness and compassion: the mean ol' disciples try to shoo the children away and Jesus gets cross about that and says, "Let the little children come to me ..." They come and snuggle into Jesus' arms and he blesses them (16).

On the other hand this is a story, like most stories in Mark's Gospel, about the kingdom. First, 'to such as these ... the kingdom of God belongs.' Secondly, 'whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.' (14, 15). There is something about children which we are being invited to consider. It may not be just one thing. So we think of the innocence of children and their trusting natures, of the vulnerability of children and their powerlessness in society ruled by adults, and (casting an eye ahead to the next story, 10:17ff) their willingness to come to Jesus without negotiating conditions beforehand.

That is, if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven we may need to let go of the cynicism and wariness of adulthood and entrust ourselves to God. We may need to let go of thinking of how strong and sturdy we are and recognize the vulnerabilities within and allow God to speak to those with an invitation to come humbly under the rule of God.

Sunday 26 September 2021 - Ordinary 26

Theme(s): Who is for the Lord? / Don't be a stumbling block / Get rid of stumbling blocks to Christian maturity / Discipleship / The urgent importance of obedience / Healing / Practical steps in pastoral care / Delegation

Sentence: 'The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective' (James 5:16b)


God of all authority,
enable us to hear your call and do what you ask of us.
Forgive us for judging others,
help us to embrace the outcast and the downtrodden.
Transform our lives so that everything we do may proclaim your generous love.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God now and for ever. Amen

Readings (related):

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50


Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

At first sight it is not clear why and how this reading as a related reading connects to the gospel reading but perseverance has a reward because we find in the last verses of the reading (26-29) something akin to Mark 9:38-40. 

Eldad and Medad prophesy when, theoretically, they are not supposed to. A cry goes up to Moses to stop them and Moses refuses to do so. 'Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!' is a memorable sentence which can be aptly used in the life of the church when we wish more of the congregation would do good things.

A fascinating aspect of the Numbers story represented in these passages is that it begins with a grizzle about food - essentially that eating manna everyday was boring (4-6, also 10-15) - and moves on to the load Moses is bearing as Complaints Officer for Israel (10-15). The solution which the Lord gives is that he should delegate responsibility by appointing seventy elders (16). Yet what we then find is that the spirit of Moses which the Lord takes 'some' of (25) leads the seventy to 'prophesy'. It is only one occasion (25) but it sets up an expectation that they are prophesying elders and only these elders will prophesy.

Thus when Eldad and Medad begin prophesying 'out of turn' yet another complaint goes to Moses (27).

Psalm 19:7-14

These verses are part of one of the loveliest of psalms, a paeon of praise to God for that which communicates the glory of God: the heavens (1-6) and, this passage, the law of the Lord (7-14).

Why this psalm in connection with the gospel. I have had to think about it, it is not immediately obvious to my eyes. I think it is this: Jesus in the gospel gives some searching directions in regard to things which cause disciples to stumble. When it may even be, metaphorically, our hand or foot or eye, then it may be something we are so used to that it is a 'hidden fault' (Psalm 19:12).

The psalm is read today in order to include a prayer, verse 12, 'Clear me from my hidden faults.'

James 5:13-20

These verses, we could even say, with verse 13, these 'cheerful' verses are full of practical instructions for church life. All are brief. A kind of "Quick Guide to Pastoral Ministry."

13: are you suffering ... cheerful, then you should pray ... sing songs of praise.
14: are you sick? call the elders. What should they do? Pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.
15: see below
16: 'Therefore' (what is this 'Therefore' there for?) confess your sins to one another ... so that you may be healed.
16b: a note about the prayer of the righteous
17-18: an illustrative story about the prayer of the righteous
19-20: the importance of bringing a wandering brother or sister back to the truth and away from sin and its deathly consequences.

Verse 15 is challenging because of its certainty: 'the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up.' Is this a certainty that the sick will be healed as in restored in this life to physical health (so that 'raise them up' means 'raise them up off their sick beds')?

Or is this a certainty that the sick will be 'saved' through the Lord 'raising them up' with the precise nature of the saving and the raising being left in the Lord's hands, who has discretion to save the sick even through death and to raise them to new life in God's presence?

Our experience as pray-ers of 'prayers of faith' tells us that it is the latter and not the former which is in view here.

Mark 9:38-50

This is a difficult passage if we are looking for a single theme or thread running through it.

Verses 38-41 begin with a report from the disciples about an exorcism by a non-disciple which Jesus counteracts by affirming the relevance and importance of people being committed doing things in his 'name.' That leads to a general conclusion, 'Whoever is not against us is for us.' But we lack clarity as to what precisely Jesus means. Was he making a simple observation about life, that when people are not against you they are effectively for you; that in some circumstances lack of prohibition is permission? Was  he making a claim about the inclusiveness of salvation so that (to put it a little bit provocatively) atheists-who-are-not-against-Jesus are counted as followers of Jesus but atheists-who-are-against-Jesus are not so counted? Verse 41 then offers a commentary on 'the name' of Christ and its importance: those who are not Christians but recognise Christians and honour them for their service in Christ's name will receive some kind of divine recognition for that, 'will by no means lose their reward.'

Verses 42-48 connect with verse 41 by thinking in a different direction: there will be those who do not give a cup of water to Christians, 'these little ones who believe in me,' but instead put some kind of stumbling block in front of them. For these ones a punishment awaits (42b).

Verses 43-48 then work from the word 'stumbling' and are - on the basis of the parallel in Matthew 5:29 - addressed to the disciples themselves. If something about their lives, represented by hand (43), foot (45), or eye (47) causes them to stumble, they should cut it off or tear it out. We should not get stuck on what the hand or foot or eye means but rather think about things in our lives - such as attachments, continuing habits of sin, embedded bad attitudes - which form stumbling blocks to our obedience to the demands of the kingdom of God. Decisive action may be required because Jesus associates the direction to cut or tear bodily parts with avoiding being 'thrown into hell.'

Most readers will find that verses 44 and 46 are missing from this passage. Where have they gone?! You may find, as I find in my NRSV, that these verses are (a) identical with verse 48, (b) 'lacking in the best ancient authorities.' That means that textual scholars deem that verses 44 and 46 are later additions to the earliest manuscripts of Mark. (In turn this means that they do not think the omission of 44 and 46 are late deletions of otherwise early verses). It is not difficult to imagine that a conscientious scribe, copying this passage, thought it should have the same words as we find in verse 48 after each mention of 'hell' at the end of verses 43 and 45.

Finally, verses 49-50 begin with a segue from 'the fire' of verse 48 to a different kind of 'fire', one in which 'everyone will be salted with fire.' Then there is a segue from 'salted' to 'salt' in verse 50. A look at the commentaries suggests many explanations of the enigmatic statement and thus an inherent difficulty if we wish to be sure what this means. One plausible explanation is given by Weston W. Fields (here). He argues that if we translate from the Greek into Hebrew then the word for 'salt' in Hebrew is also associated with destruction, e.g. Judges 9:45, and thus the sense of what Jesus is saying would be, ''"everyone [who is sent to hell] will be completely destroyed (i.e. destroyed by fire)."

Whether we agree with that explanation or not, it does alert us to the importance of the statement as a record in Greek of something Jesus said in Hebrew (or Aramaic). Mark is unlikely to have invented such a difficult saying. Nor did it make much sense in ancient times - some early copyists of the Markan manuscripts attempted to improve on what they read.

The use of 'salt' in verse 49, however difficult to understand, then leads to a further reference to 'salt' in verse 50. This is more readily understood as a reference to the importance of discipleship being kept alive, with zing and zest.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Sunday 19 September 2021 - Ordinary 25

 Theme(s): Jesus predicts his death and resurrection / How then shall we live? / Church conflicts: how they can be dealt with and why they never need arise / True wisdom / Asking and receiving / The character of the kingdom / The kingdom of God and its requirements of our character

Sentence: 'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.' (Mark 9:37)


God who sees everything,
may we understand true wisdom
so that our lives are both pure and peaceful
and your church is marked by harmony
through the power of the one Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Readings (related):

Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37


Jeremiah 11:18-20

In the gospel reading Jesus predicts his suffering and death (and resurrection). Here Jeremiah envisages his own fate at the hands of evil men. But he cannot see a resurrection ('his name will no longer be remembered') though he has faith that God will bring retribution upon those who destroy him.

Incidentally, as a detail which is not terrifically important, note that in the Greek version of Jeremiah 11:19, 'lamb' is arnion, the word which John the Seer, writing the Book of Revelation uses for 'the Lamb' who appears so often in his visions. By contrast John the Evangelist, writing the Gospel, uses the word amnos for Lamb in John 1:29, 36 when John the Baptist cries out for people to Behold the Lamb of God.

Psalm 54

This psalm, a cry from David's heart when pursued by Saul, fits well with Jesus' situation when he finds 'the ruthless seek my life' (3) but faces that, sure that 'God is my helper' (4). As we find these kinds of psalms linked to the gospel readings such as today's, which speak of the suffering and death of Jesus, we build a repertoire of psalms which cast light on the meaning of the dark days of Jesus' suffering and thus of the explosion of glory which the resurrection represents.

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Spoiler Alert: you might be troubled by this passage if your life is not in order, outwardly and inwardly!

If earlier we have seen James 'have a go' at those whose faith claims are at variance with their works (2:14-26), here we find him having a go at those who claim to be wise and understanding yet do not show this in the way they live. Moreover, the way these works are done, 'with gentleness born of wisdom' is important, for that will demonstrate the state of one's heart. There is a false wisdom which is 'earthly, unspiritual, devilish' which is represented when our hearts are full of 'bitter envy and selfish ambition' (13-15).

Such envy and selfish ambition leads to 'disorder and wickedness of every kind' (16) - which might explain some divisions and dysfunctions in the church! The contrast, with obvious shades of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5) present, is 'the wisdom of above' which is 'first pure, then peaceable ...' (17). Different ones among us might usefully reflect on relevant items on the list. To take one, 'willing to yield', how many conflicts inside and outside the church make sad progress (i.e. regress) when parties to the conflict are unwilling to give way to the other. The theme of peace is especially strong through 17-18 (x3). James is right to emphasise this sign that the church understands the implications and application of the gospel of peace.

Chapter 4:1-3 is then a different tack on the same subject of conflicts and quarrels. It seems unlikely that any of James' readers would have been murderers, so does he have in mind the metaphorical murder, when we hate someone, when we cut them dead in conversation and when we exclude them from our social circle?

These verses begin with a kind of 'amateur psychology' approach exploring where 'conflicts and disputes' come from with the answer 'Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? (1) Actually, this is more than amateur psychology because - we know this from our own experience - conflicts and disputes often are about something else going on in our lives, a missing something which desire or crave. For example, we crave more attention and love so we conflict with the one in our group who is the centre of attention. (Looking ahead to the gospel reading and the dispute there among the disciples (Mark 9:33), there was a craving for status!)

But the end of verse 2 takes us from psychology to theology, 'You do not have, because you do not ask.' James doesn't quite spell out what he is saying here. It sounds as though a fuller version would be, 'You end up quarrelling because of things you do not have and you are missing the point that you don't have these things because you haven't asked God for them.'

Incidentally, with those last words in verse 2 we are certainly taken to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:7-11) and thus verse 3 becomes a commentary on Jesus' own words about asking and receiving. It is an age old Christian question or two when we respond to Jesus with 'Does that mean I can ask for anything at all and expect to get it?" and 'Why didn't I get what I asked Jesus for?' Here James  answers that we do not receive what we ask for 'because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures'. In other words - noting verses 4-6 which are not part of the lectionary reading - when you ask according to your will and not according to God's will, you do not receive.

But we should go back to the end of verse 2. 'You do not have, because you do not ask.' Are there times - I know there are in my life - when you do not have what God wants you to have because you have done everything about your lack except ask God for supply!

Finally (7-8a), kind of summing up the whole situation of these verses, the lives we live, for good or for ill, according to our will or God's will, James draws a series of contrasts &: submit to God/resist the devil; draw near to God/he will draw near to you.

There is an old bumper sticker which proclaimed an important truth, If you are not close to God, guess who moved? (!!)

Mark 9:30-37

Famously Mark has Jesus predicting three times that he will be put to death yet rise again to life. Our passage begins with the second of the predictions as Jesus again speaks to his disciples (30-32). Again we also find, in relation to this conversation, that Jesus is being secretive (cf. discussion in previous posts about 'the Messianic Secret' in Mark's Gospel). In this case Jesus 'did not want anyone to know' that they were passing through Galilee (30) because he wanted to speak to his disciples, 'for he was teaching ... "The Son of Man is to be betrayed ..."' (31). This suggests that Mark is very summarily giving us what Jesus taught, as a walk through Galilee would have take a day or three.

Despite this prolonged teaching session the disciples are, well, thick. 'But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.' (32) There is a bit to ponder here. Jesus was a good teacher, the disciples were following him and generally eager to learn from him. What was the blockage in this case?

Psychologically we can understand that the disciples were unable to comprehend that their beloved leader was going to die. They were, to use an old phrase, 'in denial.' Theologically we can understand that the disciples were unable to comprehend that their Messiah was going to suffer which, in turn, leads us to think that they knew all the stories of David's prowess as a warrior and nothing of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

But why were they 'afraid to ask him' to clear matters up?

The next verses may give us a clue (as well as telling us of the hopeless depth of incomprehension they were in). In the next scene the disciples are arguing amongst themselves. Jesus calls them out on it and their silence speaks volumes: they knew they had been caught arguing something that was displeasing to Jesus.

It all seems pathetic to us as readers! They were arguing over 'who was the greatest', that is, who was the greatest among them, who would be at the right hand of Jesus after his coronation. At once we see the depth of the disciples' commitment to some kind of political interpretation of Jesus' ministry. These healings and feedings were the prelude to taking up power and authority over Israel and booting the Romans out as well. Who wouldn't want to be top dog in the court of King Jesus! Perhaps their fear of asking Jesus to help them properly understand (32) was the fear of a grand fantasy being destroyed!

Jesus takes them to task on this. But, looking ahead, it is to little avail as there is yet another attempt to come to assert top dog status, we read in Mark 10:35-45.

But it is to our avail what Jesus says in verses 35-37. In the simplest and clearest terms he sets out the values of the kingdom, the real kingdom he is king of: the one wishing to be at his right hand should seek to be 'last of all and servant of all' (35). In that kingdom it is the last, the least and the lost - represented by the little child he takes in his arms - who is to be welcomed and given pride of place (36-37a).

When, we ourselves are members of this particular kingdom with these 'upside-down' values, and we welcome the last, the least and the lost, then we welcome Jesus himself. When we welcome Jesus we welcome God who sent him (37b).

In this last verse we find discipleship (what we are asked to do) meeting christology (who is Jesus?) because we find in the chain of welcome, child/Jesus/God there is a subtle equation between Jesus and God!


Incidentally, returning to 9:35, and recalling the prediction about suffering, death and resurrection at the beginning of the passage being one of three such predictions: 9:35 is one of three occasions in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus talks about the first becoming the last or something similar. Compare:

9:35    ”Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
10:31 “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
10:44 “… and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

Clearly a threefold repetition signifies the importance of the recurring matter. A significant kingdom value is that norms are upended. Hierarchy does not matter. The pathway to kingdom glory does not glitter; it involves cleaning toilets!

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Sunday 12 September 2021 - Ordinary 24

 Theme(s): Suffering and Vindication / Cost of Discipleship / Taming the Tongue

Sentence: For what will it profit to gain the whole world and forfeit your life? (Mark 8:36)


Holy and eternal God,'
Give us such trust in your sure purpose,
That we measure our lives
Not by what we have done or failed to do,
But by our faithfulness to you. Amen.

Readings (related):

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-9
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38


Isaiah 50:4-9a

Just as Jesus, in the gospel reading, looks ahead to his suffering at the hands of those who will kill him, so the prophet looks to a time of humiliation at the hands of his persecutors. But later, the first Christian writers, reporting to us the suffering of Jesus, will be influenced in their accounts by recollection of these words.

Isaiah 50:4-11 constitutes the so-called 'third servant song', songs with messianic themes which directly or indirectly shape both Jesus' own conception of his purpose and identity and the Christian understanding of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah, a suffering Messiah rather than a militant Messiah.

Psalm 116:1-9

We read this psalm in conjunction with Jesus' predictions - in our gospel reading - of his death (verses 1-7) and resurrection (verses 8-9).

What prayers of ours have been answered so that we want to exclaim 'I love the Lord ... because he inclined his ear to me'? (1-2)

James 3:1-12

We can all get this passage because we all know the damage the tongue causes. Perhaps our caustic tongue has caused damage (I know mine has). Perhaps we have been hurt by the acidic words of another's tongue. It needn't be our enemy, it might be our closest friend or colleague who hurts us with an ill-chosen word, or perhaps even with a well-chosen word but delivered thoughtlessly and without tact. It never does any Christian or any Christian congregation any harm to be reminded to control the tongue, to speak well of and to others and to never forget the power of the tongue, for evil and for good.

In a social media world, we could update "tongue" to include written words on social media which are received by us as a spoken word. Unfortunately, even in the church, words "spoken" via social media wound us, and such words can be abusive and constitute bullying behaviour.

What is of interest as we reflect on the passage are a few matters we might rush by.

3:1 challenges all of us who claim to be or who are contemplating being teachers. But we should not let the raw fact that we teachers will be judged 'with greater stricture.' That just makes our task more challenging.

3:2 To what does 'For all of us make many mistakes' refer? Is it a new topic? Does it connect back to teachers (i.e. saying to them, don't worry when you do make a mistake)?

3:2-5 involves a fascinating segue from mistakes to bridles to rudders to rudders being 'very small' to another very small thing, the tongue.

3:11-12 raises but does not quite see through an important point. Can anything be done about 'the spring' in our lives? The general answer of the New Testament is 'Yes' and the fuller answer is the indwelling of the Spirit of life makes for a well of life-giving water to flow out of us. But James leaves us to work all that out. Does he not know of the power of the Spirit or does he know of it but wants us to do the work of recalling that power and realising that we need a fresh in-filling of the Spirit?

Mark 8:27-38

We jump past the Feeding of the Four Thousand (8:1-10) which is sort of a repeat of the Feeding of the Five Thousand but crucially occurs in Gentile territory, so Mark telling this story is saying something about the inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom of God.

We also jump past another dialogue with the Pharisees and an associated dialogue between Jesus and the disciples about the Pharisees and Herod, related to the two feedings (8:11-21).

Finally, we are also skipping past the healing of a blind man in 8:22-26. That healing is significant: it is paired with a second such healing in 10:46-52 and the two physical healings of blindness may be contrasted with the spiritual blindness of the disciples in the intervening passages, starting with today's passage, in which Peter is blind to the deepest truth about who Jesus is. At best, like a stage in the healing of the blind man in the preceding verses, Peter is partially sighted.

So, our passage for this Sunday:

Verses 27-33 are intensely Christological: "Who do people say that I am?" Jesus asks (27).

Verses 34-38 are among the deepest verses we can ever read on discipleship (not just self-denying discipleship but dying to self discipleship).

Yet together these verses tell us much about Jesus (who he is in relation to God but also who he is in relation to us, as the One who asks of us to give up our very lives) and much about discipleship (flawed, partially sighted followers asked to give everything, including life itself). The phrase 'on the way' (27) is a clue that this story is about discipleship as much as about Christology.

The initial answers the disciples give to the question Jesus poses are similar to what we have already read in 6:14-16. The disciples readily report what is the range of popular estimations of who Jesus is.
Pointedly Jesus asks 'But who do you say that I am?' Only Peter steps up to the theological plate and bats out the answer, 'You are the Messiah' (29).

Verse 30 is then both familiar and intriguing. Familiar because we have already seen the motif of the Messianic Secret in Mark's Gospel (e.g. last week at 7:36). Intriguing because you might think that 'on the way' to Jerusalem it might be now time to tell the world the truth about Jesus. Why not?

The answer to that question comes in the next few verses. 'Messiah' was a term redolent with nostalgia for the days of great King David and fervency for a new David-like king in warrior mode who would sweep Herod and the Romans before him. The disciples are not to tell people about Jesus being the Messiah because they will take that to mean one thing and one thing only. Jesus the Messiah is of a different calibre and in verses 31-33 he sets out to calibrate the disciples thinking to his way of self-understanding. He will be the suffering Messiah not the warring Messiah. His victory will be over the enemy of death and not over merely human opponents.

But Jesus does not make all this easy for us, nor (as we shall soon see) for his disciples. 'Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering ...' (31) Say who? Why does Jesus discontinue reference to 'Messiah' and replace it with 'Son of Man'? (Already introduced in Mark 2:10).

In part we do not know why, because we argue among ourselves as to what this enigmatic phrase (is it a title, as our capital letters in English signify?) means. But in another part we can reasonably propose that the phrase/title invokes a famous vision, Daniel 7: 13, especially when we notice the end of verse 38.

In this vision in Daniel, an enigmatic figure 'one like a son of man' is presented to the Most High in the context both of the suffering of Israel (under a succession of imperial overlords, see the first part of Daniel 7) and of hope of future victory. That enigmatic figure is enigmatic because we as readers are left wondering whether he is an angel or some other kind of high heavenly being or a representative figure corporately symbolising Israel. Or perhaps a bit of each?

So, we can propose, but others may debate the proposal, Jesus deftly begins his calibration of what 'Messiah' means by first equating the Messiah with the son of man figure in Daniel 7:13, and thus shifts focus away from a figure whose ability to raise a powerful army means a Davidic messiah is in views and towards a figure through whom God works to bring victory by another route.

By speaking specifically of the Son of Man 'suffering' it is likely that Jesus is also aligning 'Messiah' with the Suffering Servant figure who appears through various 'Servant Songs' in Isaiah, including the passage most readily interpreted in the light of the sufferings of Jesus through his trial, mocking and crucifixion, Isaiah 53. Also note the word 'must': what is going to happen to Jesus is going to be according to God's will.

Reading what Jesus says many years later and, of course, after we have received news of the resurrection, we may be somewhat sanguine about Jesus' prediction of his own future. But Peter did not have our advantage and he turns against Jesus (32). Jesus is not deterred. He 'rebukes' Peter in front of the other disciples and uses the strongest possible language to condemn someone who opposes God's plans: 'Satan' (33). This is a crisis or turning point in the narrative. Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem, according to God's plan and not according to human plans. The disciples are being brought in on the plan and they need to grasp it. This is no time for fudging the issues.

At the end of verse 33 we have a terrible scene. Jesus is near the culmination point of his ministry and his leading disciple has just opposed him and revealed at the same time that he 'knows nothing.' So Jesus rams home a key point about discipleship. Never let a crisis go to waste (so some say). The summary of what he says in 34-37 is this: I will suffer and you will suffer too; I will die and you need to be willing to die also.

The terms expressed in verse 35-36 are both stark and inspiring. What kind of life do we want? One that ends or one that continues? What kind of ultimate prize do we aspire to? Owning the world or possessing life eternal?

The final verse, 38, underlines the either/or options at stake, life or death. But the focus shifts slightly. It is one thing, say, to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and life-denyingly within the comfort of the Christian community. But what kind of disciples will we be in the public arena? When we follow a Messiah who suffers, and thus is a weak and pathetic figure in the eyes of the world, will we be a bold witness or an ashamed one?