Tag Archives: Mark 1

Splagchnizomai Everyday!–Mark 1:41-42

Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

Jesus was indignant? That’s what my New International Version of the Bible says.  Was Jesus having a bad day? Was he particularly grumpy about lepers? Or just lepers who had the temerity to speak to him? This just doesn’t seem like the Jesus that we read about elsewhere in the Gospels–and perhaps most to the point elsewhere in Mark. In most translations, Jesus is full of compassion–the proper translation of that tongue-spraining word in the title–but in the NIV, he’s indignant, translated thus from a different but similar Greek word that appears in only one early Greek manuscript.

Recently, Bart Ehrman, the scholar who has made a healthy career out of churning out a series of books skeptical about the veracity of the Bible, has argued that, despite the many manuscripts that read “compassion,” the lonely one reading “indignant” is to be preferred. Why? Because it is the more difficult one to read and accept. That’s a great piece of logic. If we could find a manuscript that said Jesus was a space alien, Ehrman would undoubtedly jump on that as well.

While the scholars in seminaries and universities around the land can write their books and articles full of Greek letters and arcane references, we need to be sure not to miss the point. I don’t know why Jesus would be indignant, but perhaps he was. But the key thing is that, indignant or compassionate, Jesus reached out and healed this man.

My emotions are not always as predictable as Jesus’, but whether I am in a good mood or bad, living my best or worst day, I cannot reach out and heal a leper in the easy, almost offhand way that Jesus did this man.

Despite the fact that God’s Word was recorded by fallible men and then copied and translated by a series of more fallible men, it does reveal the character, the nature, and the power of Jesus. Those qualities have survived the Bart Ehrmans of twenty centuries and they will long outlive the current one, articulate and clever as he is.

Willing and Able–Mark 1:40

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

In recent months, I’ve experienced some particular frustration with a certain gigantic banking company, which will remain nameless. Let’s just call it GMAC. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that this interchange involved me filling out a ream of forms and then awaiting the folks at GMAC to render a decision. After months–literally, months–of waiting on them to get moving on my request, the brain trust at this paragon of financial probity declined my request.

But wait, there’s more! After receiving their explanation, I immediately called the handy toll-free number to discuss the matter, because, according to their own documents, the GMAC gang had failed to perform simple arithmetic accurately, a failing that led to their decision. The kind bank representative explained that since they had made the mistake they could restart the process after I refilled all of the documents again.

“There’s no way to simply use the documents I completed before?” I asked.

“No sir,” the GMAC drone answered.

Of course it could have happened. It would have been easy. The problem was that somebody, either this fellow on the phone or his higher-ups, simply weren’t willing.

Think about it. Many times we can do something, but we aren’t willing. I’m not talking about things that I simply can’t do. I might like to slam-dunk a basketball, but it isn’t going to happen. On the other hand, when I head to QuikTrip later to fill up my gas tank, I could pay for the other people’s gas as well. I could, but I’m not willing to do that. I could grade papers for my office mate, but I’m not going to do it. I’m just not willing.

In this brief story, the leper recognizes that Jesus is able to heal him. The question in this man’s mind rests in the Lord’s willingness to do this healing. Now let’s be clear. The ability to heal leprosy is no mean feat, and the leper’s recognition of Jesus’ ability showed his level of awareness.

Sometimes I wonder how much we really believe Jesus to be capable of doing. Do we trust him to provide our food and protect our health, to control this insane world and to control my out-of-control life? Sure, we say that we possess that sort of trust, but often our actions say that we don’t believe him capable of doing the deed.

Rather than depending on the good grace of GMAC with my financial future, I’ve determined not to worry about what they’re willing or able to do. Instead, I’m going to trust in the one is definitely willing and able. At least that’s the plan. I’m willing. Lord, make me able.

The Most Famous Writer in the World–Mark 1:39

So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

On this day after Christmas, I’d like to make a confession. I’m a writerly egomaniac. Sure, I churn out these little devotions with no real hope of a readership that extends beyond the single digits, but in my heart of hearts, I yearn to have the audience of J.K. Rowling and Michael Crichton combined. I want to be a household name, the sort of writer that, when he receives the Nobel Prize, evokes comments like, “But didn’t he already get that years ago?”

Perhaps I’m exaggerating here, but anyone who puts (electronic) pen to (digital) paper wants to have a decent audience to read those words. No musician wants to go unheard. No actor will be satisfied going unwatched, and no writer will want to  be unread. The more readers, the better.

Shouldn’t that have been the case with Jesus? Shouldn’t he have hired a press agent and covered a lot more of the countryside? Shouldn’t he have avoided repeated visits to the same town and opted for the big cities rather than the hick towns of Galilee? I think the Judas character in Jesus Christ Superstar explored some of these ideas very well:

If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation;
Israel in four b.c. had no mass communication.

Obviously Jesus didn’t have things very well thought out. He stayed in the backwater of Galilee and found himself repeatedly at Capernaum. If, as we read in yesterday’s verse, his whole purpose in coming was to preach to people, then he didn’t seem to work out that mission with a great deal of planning. Maybe if Jesus had only read The Purpose Driven Life.

But then Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He knew where to preach and where not to. He visited exactly the right number of towns, exactly the right number of times. By saying this, I’m not simply uttering the platitudes of the faithful. I’m observing results. Sure, Jesus got less overall exposure than Kim Kardashian, his staying power–with a billion adherents two thousand years later–has proven very strong.

This is why, on the day after Christmas, when I examine my lack of Pulitzer prizes and my brief list of published books, I recognize that my fame might be exactly what it needs to be. Fame is not the measure of a disciple and a steward. Obedience is.

Beyond the Manger–Mark 1:38

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

As I type these words, my saintly wife is hard at work, slaving over a hot sewing machine, struggling to craft Aquabats costumes for two of our grandsons.

In the event that you’re hopelessly out of touch with all the latest wonders of popular culture, the Aquabats are featured in a marvelously silly send-up of cheesy super-hero programs. They’re not particularly cool, heroic, or even very fit. Despite these apparent drawbacks, Ira and Uri want nothing more than to dress up like these guys.

At the same time that Penny is sewing the trademark Aquabat utility belt, other people are piling into Best Buy and Target, attempting to pile all the right gifts into their carts. Meanwhile, people plan for parties and dinners. They map out their route to Grandma’s house and make sure the car is full of gas. They play an apparently endless stream of Christmas songs and watch a Charlie Brown Christmas for the forty-seventh year in a row.

All of these activities keep us busy at Christmas. In fact, we might even get the sense that these things are the point of Christmas. Of course, if you darken the door of church during the month of December, you’ll be reminded that Jesus is the reason for the season. But even that can get us off base.

Jesus, it turns out, did not come into this world to be the cute little baby lying in a  bed of hay. He didn’t arrive to instigate retail sales or to put the black in Black Friday. Jesus’ purpose was not to disrupt the working habits of shepherds or cause Magi to travel hundreds of miles.

Instead, Jesus came into this world on a day that we celebrate on December 25, not so that he could do things on December 25. He came to move out beyond Capernaum, to preach to a lost and dying world. “Beyond the Mangers stands the cross,” a Christmas song explains. How true is that?

On this Christmas, as we eat whatever marvels mean family and home to us, as we open gifts and watch children pull on Aquabats outfits, as we travel to family gatherings that may or may not portend peace and good will, let us remember the Jesus who rose from prayer to head out for ministry.

Rather than lying passive in a manger, Jesus headed to the wider world. Interestingly, he gave us the same instruction at the end of his time on earth.

Everyone Isn’t Looking–Mark 1:36-37

Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Visit one of the busy shopping districts around town during the holidays, especially if you do it on a weekend, and you’ll feel like saying, “Everybody in town is trying to get to these stores.” If I were a burglar in such a jam, I’d be tempted to go to work, since apparently nobody would be found at home. Of course the reality is that even when cars so jam the area that the stoplights seem to create parking lots and the parking lots seem not nearly large enough, not everyone is shopping right there, right then.

On the morning in question in these verses, Simon Peter had to know that not everyone was looking for Jesus. Of course, this was Peter, who blurted out some of the silliest and best things that a person could manage during his normal day, but still, he had to see his words as exaggeration.

When I was a child, I had a book of Bible stories that I enjoyed. In one of those, before the story of Jesus’ birth, it described him as “The Baby Everyone Wanted.” I had an image of thousands of potential Marys sitting around and pining to be the mother of the Messiah. In reality, of course, most Jewish women of that day did not consider the possibility of giving birth to the Messiah. Most of the people in that land weren’t actively looking for the Messiah at any given time. At any given time, they might be walking or fishing or farming or something, but not really on watch for the Messiah, whatever he might look like.

Today, on Christmas Eve, how many of the people in your family–believer or non-believer–are actively looking for Jesus? How many of those people at Best Buy or Kohl’s seek him? How many of the people who lined up in the pre-dawn hours on Black Friday for “doorbuster” deals would inconvenience themselves in the slightest to gain audience with the Prince of Peace.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the Incarnation, as we marvel at God taking human form, let us not for an instant forget that much of the world has yet to receive this word. Unless, like Simon and his companions, these people actively seek Jesus, they will depend on us to bring Jesus into their lives. This Christmas, let us start with our own homes and work outward from there.