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March 21, 2018

Christ Forsaken (Mark 15:34)

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Mark 15:34

On the cross, Jesus quotes from the first verse of Psalm 22, a psalm of lament. Psalm 22 begins with a strongly stated complaint that God is far away (vv. 1-2), which is followed by the statement of confidence in God (vv. 3-5). The psalmist (identified in the title of the psalm as David) then enumerates the specifics of his lament (vv. 6-18), followed by his petition for deliverance (vv. 19-21). He concludes with a vow to proclaim God's goodness to the people (vv. 22-26), which will be known to the ends of the earth in generations to come (vv. 27-31).

In crying out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus is likely invoking the whole psalm, which expresses both profound distress as well as hope for vindication and rescue. Mark at least seems to have more of the psalm in mind than just this one verse. Just prior to Jesus's quotation of Psalm 22:1 in 15:34, Mark tells us of those who mock the possibility of a divine rescue (Mk 15:16, 20, 29-32, 36 and Ps 22:6-8). Dice.jpgAnd instead of giving us more details about the crucifixion itself as we might expect, Mark immediately moves to the soldiers gambling for Jesus's garments (Mark 15:24; see Ps 22:18).

Could Mark in this way be silently asking his readers to think about other parallels between the crucifixion and Psalm 22, such as the extreme thirst of the victim (22:15), how every bone of his body is on display to public view (22:17), and then of the coming rescue (22:21) which results in good news for the whole world (22:27) now and in the future (22:30-31)? Rikk Watts writes, "It is hard to understand why Mark would work so hard at evoking Ps. 22 if he did not also expect his informed readers to know exactly what was coming next: a startling reversal and deliverance."

All of this, however, is not to minimize the cry Jesus utters. We should not rush past his anguish so we can get to his hope in the Father as quickly as possible. What then is the forsakenness that Jesus experiences on the cross? The Old Testament once again gives us some clues. Israel as a nation was forsaken to punishment (Deut 31:16-17) and to its enemies (Judg 6:13; 1 Sam 12:9-11; 2 Kings 21:14). This is similar to the idea of being delivered to, or handed over to, one's enemies (Mark 9:31; 10:33; 14:41, 44; 15:1, 10, 15), which has connotations of military conquest (Lev 26:25; Deut 1:27; 21:10; Josh 7:7; 10:8, 30; Judg 1:2, 4; 2 Ki 19:10; Ezek 39:23) or of being sold into slavery or subjugated politically (Judg 3:8; 10:7; 13:1; 1 Sam 12:9). These were all terrible fates. The consequences of turning away from God are severe.

Despite Mark Through Old Testament Eyes.jpgall this the relationship of God and Israel was never completely broken (Deut 31:6-8; Ezra 9:9), which is the whole story of the Old Testament. God never utterly gives up on his purposes or his people. So from an Old Testament perspective we should not take forsakenness too far and expect a completely broken relationship between Jesus and the Father.

Some have isolated Jesus's cry in Mark 15:34 to propose that Jesus somehow lost faith in God or that the Father had utterly abandoned the Son, somehow splitting the Trinity. That is not consistent with Old Testament usage. When we view Jesus's cry in the whole context of Mark 15 and in the context of the whole of Psalm 22, we see that to be forsaken by God to suffering is a terrible thing, but that a reversal will come. Thus Jesus was forsaken by the Father to his enemies and to a gruesome death, but not to total separation from the Father who will vindicate his Son.

Each Wednesday until Easter I am posting a Lenten reflection, excerpted and adapted from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes. Used by permission of the publisher.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:58 AM | Comments

March 14, 2018

Betrayal and Grace (Mark 14:66-72)

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said. But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway. When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.

In Shusaku Endo's novel Silence the Jesuit priest Father Sebastian Rodrigues is sent to Japan in 1638. His assignment is to investigate reports that Father Ferreira, who had previously been sent by the Jesuits as a missionary to Japan, had under torture denied his faith.

TheSilence.jpg novel is based on Japanese history, in which a thriving Christian community grew to 300,000 in the late 1500s. But severe repression all but wiped out the faith. Each year those suspected of holding Christian sympathies were forced to walk on a brass image of Christ, a fumie, or face torture. Thousands complied, some of whom nonetheless continued practicing their faith secretly.

We read how Father Rodrigues is forced to enter the country secretly, and barely survives with the help of some hidden Christians. But eventually he is captured, having been betrayed by Kichijiro, one of the hidden Christians who had given him aid. While a prisoner, the priest finally meets Father Ferreira who urges him to walk on the image and deny his faith. If he does, not only will he be spared torture, but the jailers will stop torturing innocent Japanese whose cries of pain Rodrigues hears in the night. As the priest struggles, the Christ in the image speaks to him, "Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men's pain that I carried my cross." And the priest puts his foot on the image.

But this is not the end. Though the priest remains under house arrest for the remainder of his life, he continues to pray, sometimes struggling with God's silence, and thinks of himself as "the last priest" in Japan. We also have hints in the final pages that some in his household continued as secret Christians.

Endo's novel, known worldwide, leaves us with many profound questions. Was Father Rodrigues right to obey the words from the image, to end the torture of innocent people? Was this actually a "most painful act of love"? What does faithfulness mean in impossible circumstances? What are we to make of the apparent silence of God in the face of such severe persecution? Can we be forgiven and continue in faith even after betraying Christ?

We may judge Father Rodrigues, but should we not also remember that we have all betrayed Christ? Whenever we have been unjustly angry with others, withheld money from those in need, failed to keep a confidence, kept silent in the face of racism--we have also betrayed Christ. If we judge Father Rodrigues, we judge ourselves.

And Mark Through Old Testament Eyes.jpgis forgiveness possible for him and for us? And, to the point of this episode in Mark, is forgiveness possible for Peter? He was warned by Jesus ahead of time to be on guard, but he wasn't. He was specifically told three times in Gethsemane to stay awake and pray, but he didn't. He was given three opportunities in the high priest's courtyard to identify with Jesus, but he didn't.

Not until after the resurrection do we find the answer. There we hear the words of forgiveness, of restoration--"and Peter." At the tomb the women hear the words of great news and instruction from the mysterious white-robed man: "He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you" (Mark 16:6-7). And Peter. Peter stood out for his brash confidence and his vulgar betrayal. Now he is singled out for grand reunion with Christ.

Yes, we too betray our Lord. But we too are singled out to be lovingly embraced by him with the openhearted offer to continue following him to Galilee and beyond.

Each Wednesday until Easter I am posting a Lenten reflection, excerpted and adapted from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes. Used by permission of the publisher.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:05 AM | Comments

March 7, 2018

Jesus's Prayer (Mark 14:32-38)

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane. . . . 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." 37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Couldn't you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

In Jesus's prayer in Gethsemane, we hear him address God as "Abba, Father" (Mark 14:36), pray that God's will would be done (14:36), and tell the disciples to pray so they "will not fall into temptation" (14:38). Where else in Scripture have we heard a prayer that takes up similar themes?

In Garden St. L botanical.jpgMatthew and Luke Jesus gives the disciples a model of a prayer they can use for themselves. Here Jesus prays in that same way--for himself. He, no less than they, needs to be reminded of the good fatherhood of God when he feels alone, of his good will when facing difficult choices, of the grace and strength God provides when we could waver in our faithfulness to the Father. Now is the time, at this moment of ultimate crisis and decision, for Jesus to pray as he has instructed others to do.

We have an additional example to follow here. Jesus sees no problem in expressing his pain and grief to the Father. The prospect of what he would face in the next few hours compelled him to ask the Father to allow him to bypass them entirely. Some people think we should only express positive thoughts to others, ourselves, and God. We should never complain to God or accuse him of wrongdoing, they say. Yet the psalmist is not afraid to: "I say to God my Rock, 'Why have you forgotten me?' " (Psalm 42:9). He blames God for abandoning him: "Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1).

Doing Mark Through Old Testament Eyes.jpgthis is not just emotionally healthy. It is spiritually healthy. Just as loving parents want to know when their children hurt or are in need, so does God. God knows we are dust, that we are frail. After all, he is the one who made us (Psalm 103:14). Wise parents are also willing to listen when their children are angry at them because they don't want any problem to fester in their relationships. Likewise, if we cannot be honest with God about how we feel, we are in danger of breaking our relationship with him.

So in light of Jesus's prayer at Gethsemane, here are some questions we can ask ourselves to guide us as we pray:

  • How do I need God to be a loving father to me now?
  • Are there ways I am upset, confused, or disappointed with God? What are they?
  • What problems or temptations am I facing?
  • What do I want to ask God in light of my circumstances?
  • How can I discern God's will and align myself with it?
If Jesus prayed this way for himself, we can confidently do the same.

Each Wednesday until Easter I am posting a Lenten reflection, excerpted and adapted from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes. Used by permission of the publisher.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:48 AM | Comments

February 28, 2018

Why Resurrection Matters (Mark 12:18-27)

Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. . . . Jesus replied . . . "Now about the dead rising--have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!" (Mark 12:18, 24, 26-27)

Many Christians think that the spiritual is more important than the physical--that prayer, evangelism, worship, giving to Christian causes, and encountering God matter more than caring for our physical selves or for the created world. Doing church work, we may think, is more important than our job as an accountant, store clerk, salesperson, or truck driver. Reading the Bible, we might think, is more important than other reading we can do to learn about the world and people that God created.

Part Truck.jpgof the reason for this is due to the misimpression we have about what happens after we die. Many think we will live forever as spiritual beings in heaven. This notion is perpetuated by many hymns about flying away from our physical existence and going to Gloryland. But that is not actually what the Bible teaches. The concept held by the Pharisees and others, and affirmed by Jesus in contrast to the Sadducees, was that our final destiny involves living in a transformed physical existence on a new earth (Isa 66:22)

Jesus, we believe as Christians, was raised bodily. His physical body was gone from the tomb. He has a resurrected body that is somewhere else. He didn't turn into a merely spiritual being after his death, like a ghost. If his body didn't rise, then he didn't actually conquer death. But if his body did rise, then we also can participate in this victory with our raised physical bodies. As the Easter hymn affirms, "Made like him, like him we rise." Similarly Paul says, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Co 15:20). We will have transformed bodies like him.

"But," Paul goes on to say, "someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?' " (1 Corinthians 15:35). It will be physical, but not exactly like our bodies now which die and decay. Rather they will be some new type of physical body, much like Jesus's resurrection body that lives forever (1 Corinthians 15:42; Philippians 3:21). That is how death is conquered. We will have bodies that won't die. The difference will be like the difference between a seed buried in the ground and the plant that rises from it (1 Corinthians 15:36-38).

What this means is that our physical bodies matter. What we do with them matters. What we do with, and in, God's physical creation matters. Everything matters--gardening, education, play, health, sharing meals, prison conditions, poetry, real estate deals, laughter, stamp collecting, basketball, paintings. These are all worthy matters for our time and effort, for they will go with us into the new heaven and new earth.

AsMark Through Old Testament Eyes.jpg the Irish poet Evangeline Paterson wrote, "I was brought up in a Christian environment where, because God had to be given pre-eminence, nothing else was allowed to be important. I have broken through to the position that because God exists, everything has significance."

In the New Earth, somehow, everything we do here, whether completely successful or not, whether temporary or lasting, will also be transformed and join us in our resurrected lives. When we are tempted to wonder if it really matters what we are doing here on this planet for a few short decades--to wonder whether our work has any lasting value--we can remember that because of Christ, the seed of our life and all we do will become a glorious tree.

Each Wednesday until Easter I am posting a Lenten reflection, excerpted and adapted from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes. Used by permission of the publisher.

photo credit: 4givin, pixabay.com

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:03 AM | Comments

February 21, 2018

A House for All Nations (Mark 11:15-17)

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'" Mark 11:15-17

In AD 165, a terrible plague hit the Roman Empire that lasted for fifteen years. Some historians think it was smallpox, but whatever the cause it was devastating. Perhaps a quarter or more of the population died. A hundred years later another plague hit Rome, with similar results. Bodies were piled up in the streets, some being thrown there before people actually died. Thousands abandoned the cities for the countryside in an attempt to escape the pestilence.

Continue reading "A House for All Nations (Mark 11:15-17)"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:10 AM | Comments

February 14, 2018

The King Rides a Colt (Mark 11)

Each Wednesday until Easter I am posting a Lenten reflection, excerpted and adapted from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here." . . . When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. (Mark 11:1-2, 7-8)

Why does Jesus specify a colt, and one that no one has ridden before? Animals without defect, or which had never been worked before, were considered holy--necessary for worship and sacrifices (Lev 22:19-25; Num 19:2-3; Deut 21:1-9). Animals which had never worked before were specified to pull one of Israel's holiest objects, the ark of the covenant, after it had been taken by the Philistines (1 Sam 6:1-9).

Continue reading "The King Rides a Colt (Mark 11)"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:02 AM | Comments

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