Signpost for Sunday 11 February, 2018: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Ps 30; 1 Cor 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45.*
Here we go with that sneaky old lectionary trick: an Old Testament story that mirrors the Gospel reading. Yes, this week it’s old school leper healing and leper healing with a difference.
Once again it’s not really the miracle that matters so much as how these two writers tell their stories of healing. And it’s not the similarities that are important, it’s the differences. It’s not always the obvious differences either. Naaman is rich and powerful; the leper in Mark’s story is a complete unknown. Doesn’t matter. What seems to me to matter is the way Elisha and Yeshua go about healing their respective lepers.
“Elisha sent a messenger to him [Naaman], saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” (2 Kings 5:10)
“Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…” (Mark 1:40)
Spot the difference? Jesus reaches out and actually touches the leper. Elisha doesn’t even come out of his tent. He doesn’t even speak to Naaman himself. I don’t think this is about the difference in character between a compassionate Yeshua and a rather stern and standoffish Elisha. I think it’s Mark showing us two things.
The first is that the audience for both stories would know that a leper’s touch would cause both Elisha and Jesus to become ‘unclean’ themselves.
The second is that it is Yeshua’s touch that makes the leper clean, and that’s a big deal (not just from the miracle/healing point of view) but because Yeshua is doing something no one would have dared do in the past. When the leper himself says, “If you choose, you can make me clean,” the last thing he expects Yeshua to do is reach out and actually touch him. That leper would have known that Elisha had healed a leper without moving a muscle. Who on earth in those days wasn’t afraid to touch a leper? No wonder this the ex-leper can’t help but disobey Yeshua’s stern warning to tell no-one about what’s happened.
I reckon that leper must have felt just like the psalmist, whoever he was, when he wrote Psalm 30:11–12: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.”
* Apologies to any northern hemisphere readers. I think your lectionary readings this week may be totally different from ours down-under.
Signpost for Sunday 4 February, 2018: Isa 40:21-31; Ps 147:1-11,20c; 1 Cor 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39.
It occurred to me that the verses from Isaiah, the Psalm and the verses from 1 Corinthians seem to form a frame around the pictures that Mark’s gospel presents us with this week. I see it this way: the frame is made up of God’s power to renew, to heal, to lift up, to not faint or grow weary, and Paul’s declaration that the gospel is not a so much a private gift as a public good.
In fact the reading from Mark starts off in a private home, but ends with Jesus going throughout Galilee preaching to as many people as he can. To the public at large, you might say.
This mother-in-law story, unlike many modern ones, is not remotely amusing, though. Instead it’s sets the scene for the way the larger story unfolds in Mark’s version.
Jesus has just left the synagogue and gone straight Jesus to Simon and Andrew’s house. He walks in and the first thing he does is take Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and immediately the fever leaves her. This isn’t just another miracle, it’s the first instance of Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath. When we read the story we focus on the mother- in-law getting better. But any first century Jew would spot that it’s still the Sabbath when this occurs. We don’t realise how serious a matter this is until Mark 3:1-7, when Jesus heals someone publicly on the Sabbath, which causes the Pharisees and Herodians to conspire against him.
That’s why Mark makes a point of telling us in verse 32 that a crowd of people brought sick people and possessed people to be healed in the evening, at sundown. Sundown is the end of the Sabbath day as far as the Jews were concerned. So the people know the rules, they wouldn’t expect Jesus to heal anyone on the Sabbath.
The next day what happens? Another crowd of locals with sick and crazy friends turns up and Jesus is nowhere to be seen. If you’d been one of the people in that crowd imagine how devastated you would be. We know the story too well to think about that these days. We all know Jesus is going to go off round Galilee and will eventually arrive in Jerusalem. But the people of Capernaum didn’t. The point seems to be though, that just as it has always been – the Gospel, the good news, can’t just apply to a few people. Otherwise it’s not quite such good news.
Signpost for Sunday 6th August 2017 (The Transfiguration): Dan 7:9-10, 13-14; Ps 97; 2 Pet 1:16-19; Luke 9:28b-36.
It does seem somewhat absurd to me that the Gospel read out in churches this week begins with the words, “Now about eight days after these sayings…” and yet we have not actually heard any of these sayings as part of the service. I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t know the Bible well enough to immediately recall what those sayings are. And let’s face it, how many people bother to go home and look them up? Which leaves most people listening to a story they struggle to believe in literally and can’t quite work out metaphorically.
So, as a special treat, here are three sayings from the ‘eight days before’:
Luke 9:7-9 Now Herod the ruler* heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. 9Herod said, ‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he tried to see him.
Luke 9:18-19 Once when Jesus* was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ 19They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’
Luke 9:20 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’
Is it just me, or does this remind you of those endless trailers that appear on TV telling us what programme is coming up next, so stay tuned for a really exciting episode?
Well, it is an exciting episode in the story Luke is telling his largely gentile audience. Pardon? Yes, here we have an episode that Luke has taken from Mark and slightly altered. The main difference between the two versions being that Peter, James and John see Moses and Elijah actually talking with Jesus, says Luke. It’s all just a vision in Mark’s version.
Most commentators suggest that Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets. And their appearance has certainly been signposted in the previous ‘sayings’. But would a mainly gentile audience be quite so aware of the significance of Moses and Elijah, I wonder. Surely, they wouldn’t have been particularly familiar with the Torah.
The key for that audience must have been, as it probably is for us, that we hear God’s voice from heaven saying “Listen to Him!” and don’t worry too much about reading your Bible cover to cover.