Texts: Numbers 11:4-6,10-29; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
First, the Bible is not made up of verses, each of which is independent of other verses. The Bible is a narrative, a story, of the struggle between God and the people of earth. God struggles to get us to see one another as crucial to our own lives. In the first reading, Moses cannot bear the griping of the masses – hungering for slavery, abuse and violence in Egypt, where they thought the food was wonderful. God is perturbed and will quiet the mobs by making the meat come out their noses. Obviously, things are not good. Moses needs help. People must be brought to their senses. God will give them “meat” all right!
Too often we take the Bible in hand and look for single verses to answer whatever questions we might have. But each verse is in a chapter, each chapter in a book. Each book tells a story. And these books are all gathered with others to make what we call our Bible. No one verse, chapter, or book tells the whole story. Bible study often goes berserk when serious, well-intentioned people choose a couple of verses as a way to summarize the whole story.
The Bible tells stories about generations seeking power, enduring captivity, being selfish, making wars, losing wars, society collapsing because of greed. It tells of prophets who challenged the system and women who did amazing things. For example, Shiphra & Puah (two midwives – Ex 1) saved Moses who then becomes God’s agent for the Israelites to escape from tyranny, terror & violence in Egypt. Working with individual verses is a hopeless way of getting the hang of the whole.
Second, life is rooted in relationships. What Mark writes of this morning comes out of life with Jesus, the disciples and the people. Mark begins the story with John the Baptist exhorting the people to “change your ways!” REPENT is the word we hear. It comes from two Greek words – meta & gnosco. It means, simply, CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK, THE WAY YOU SEE THINGS. You know about meta – metastasize, metamorphosis / caterpillars to butterflies. Gnosco, Greek for “knowledge” in English. Change the way you think, how you look at and live with the world! That’s what John says as Mark begins.
We can easily miss the point when we choose to look only at verses we like. Let me remind you of a few things Mark has told us in recent weeks. Thousands were fed in the wilderness, after which the Pharisees asked for a sign! Wasn’t THAT a sign? The disciples, following the feeding, are in the boat with Jesus and worrying about food. Jesus asks, “Why are you talking about THAT? Don’t you have eyes? Can’t you see? Don’t you “get it” yet?”
Next Jesus heals a blind man, “opens” his eyes. The disciples seem blind, making no connections. Jesus asks them, “Who do people say I am?” Peter says, “You’re the messiah!” Jesus began telling them suffering would come, that he (Jesus) would be rejected, killed. Peter gets in his face saying, “Knock it off! You’re the messiah!” Jesus tells him to knock it off. Right after that Jesus tells the crowds, “those who want to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their life for his sake, & for the gospel, will save it.”
Next Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter, James, John. Transfiguration. Moses & Elijah appear. Moses, the law guy; Elijah, the prophet fellow – symbolic of what we call the Old Testament. They disappear. A voice from heaven – “This is my son. LISTEN to him!” Jesus is alone. The whole Old Testament is wrapped up in what Jesus is saying and doing.
Another healing happens as they come down the mountain. Then they head for Capernaum. On arrival, Jesus wants to know what they were talking about on the road. They were silent. Why? They had been talking about which of them would be the greatest!! So Jesus declares, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus puts a child in their midst. “Welcome a child, and you welcome me,” he says. Without all the goes before our Gospel reading, it’s hard to hear what’s really happening in it! Each story, each verse, each chapter helps in coming to terms with the whole message. Each piece, portion, or section, of the Bible is set in a much broader context. So are our lives. Bible Study includes ALL of that, or it misses the message!
Third. The Bible is more interested in our lives here and now rather than someday far away. We are here to share the joys and woes of those among whom we live TODAY! Otherwise, we cannot be connected with Jesus. Life is rooted in relationships – not only with neighbors, family, and friends. Our lives are also rooted with earth, streams & flowers, seas, oil fields, hunger, beheadings, allies & antagonists. There is no such thing as “solitary” relationship between “me and Jesus.” To be a follower is to be engaged with the whole earth and all its people. The earth and its people are the “context” in which we hear the Gospel this morning. It’s never just about “my God and I.” In a world obsessed with the first person singular – I, me, mine – Jesus calls us to life with the whole world! Everyone and everything is included. The pope is reminding us of such things this week! Unless we get THAT, we have missed the meat of the biblical story. When you leave, look around out there. Everyone and everything you see belongs to the world God loves, and asks us to love. . . . (Amen?)
- Copyright: Richard P Hermstad, 9/27/2015