Chronicles of struggling disciples

mountain lookout bushwalkWe have fairly appropriate readings today to help me to reflect on my new role as parish priest as I am formally installed into this ministry today. The Gospel has some very strong reminders about service and humility. The Gospel of Mark continues to highlight the deficiencies of these clueless disciples who continue to get things wrong. Not that we should be too hard on them perhaps – Jesus is making things a little harder than he may have by telling them to keep looking below the surface level of things that he says to draw out the hidden kingdom message in his sayings – but then he says things that are clearly meant to be read only on the literal surface level. Once again the Lord continues along the way towards Jerusalem – no longer working multitudes of mighty deeds and signs, but now concentrating on teaching the disciples. Once again he tells them about the passion that awaits him in the days ahead, telling them that he will be ‘handed over’ (paradidotai) – a word that will punctuate the narrative another 15 times. As he tries to get through to these slow disciples, he patiently sits down in the way of a Rabbi to offer further examples to them – taking a small child (talya’ in the Aramaic that he spoke – which is the same word used for a servant) as a sign of what they should be.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (9min)

Who is this man?

WhoisJesusThe Gospel of Mark is both the shortest and earliest of the gospels written. It is also perhaps the most primal and simple of the gospels lacking some of the sophistication of the later offerings. But scholars have discovered a new appreciation for this gospel and its more raw and basic presentation of both Jesus and of his first followers. The disciples are regularly presented as a rather dense lot who ask the wrong kind of questions and keep getting things wrong. But I like it because the disciples are so often like I am!

We arrive today in the very centre of the Gospel – not just because we are in the middle of chapter 8 of this 16 chapter Gospel – but because there is a stark turning point. It is not as clear as the similar point in the Gospel of Luke (9:51) where Jesus “resolutely points his face towards Jerusalem” but true to Mark’s style it is clearly present. Until this point there have been miracles upon miracles as the mighty works of Jesus to heal the sick, cast out demons and bring order to the chaos of nature have helped to frame the question of “who is this man?” – now we are ready to begin to answer it. First the disciples will report what the crowds are saying, then Peter will have a go, then Jesus himself will explain what it means to follow him along the way that this journey will take as he begins to move from the very north of Israel down into the heartland of Judaism on the way to Jerusalem.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (13min)
Sunday 24, Year B. Mark 8:27-35

Taking the long way round

decapolis-mapWe are told in the Gospel today that Jesus made his way from the region of Tyre towards the Sea of Galilee to continue his ministry. The bizarre thing is that Mark tells us that Jesus goes by way of Sidon and the Decapolis region. Now Tyre is on the southern coast of Lebanon, and the city still exists today. It is not far from the border with modern Israel. From there to Galilee, you would normally travel in a south-east direction, because that is the straightest and most direct route. So you might presume that Sidon is on the way from Tyre to Galilee. But this assumption would be wrong (cue the saying – sometimes, to assume only makes an ass out of u and me). In fact, Sidon is the completely opposite direction – heading north further up the Lebanese coast, going towards the modern city of Beirut. To make matters even worse, to go from there to the Decapolis region takes Jesus even further out of his way. Most of the ten Greek-speaking, mostly Roman cities/towns of this region were located on the eastern side of the Jordan valley, well away from Galilee. Again, rather odd direction and navigation skills being demonstrated by the good Lord today. Perhaps part of the answer lies in the encounter between Jesus and the so-called Syrophoenician woman which takes place immediately before our Gospel today, but which we have skipped over in this cycle of readings. You may remember that she begged the Lord for help to cast out an unclean spirit from her sick daughter. But Jesus initially had dismissed her, comparing her cruelly to a dog, adding that his mission is only to the children of Israel. But she has one of the all-time great retorts that even the house dogs are able to eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table – and she is given her wish. Perhaps it is the encounter with this woman that provokes Jesus to take the long way back to Galilee, to see if there are others with similar strong faith. We don’t know. All we know is that somewhere along this journey a deaf and mute man is brought to Jesus and he brings healing to the man in this carefully described very physical healing.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Albion Park – my first weekend in this new parish as Pastor. All three Masses are available.