Saturday, March 12, 2011

Three unrelated thoughts on Mark chapter 4

Thought #1
I do believe I’ve managed to create the most boring blog title ever!

Thought #2
One day Jesus was out teaching, and a whole bunch of people started to listen.

"And he was teaching them many things in parables."

And when He was done, He said this: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

I pick up the narrative at chapter 4 verse 10:

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that
'they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.'"

This never made much sense to me. I always wondered two things:
1.   Why does it sound like God does not want them to understand, turn and be forgiven?

2.   Why was it "given" to these people to get the explanations while everyone else had to flounder in confusion and/or misunderstanding? 

This week I think I found an answer.
Could it be that they got the answers very simply because they wanted them? Because they stuck around after everyone else had gone home in order to get the answers? Because they (like everyone else in the crowd) knew that the stories were important but confusing and hard to understand, and they (unlike everyone else in the crowd) were willing to sacrifice American Idol or the beginning of CSI to dig deeper?

Makes sense to me.

But why is God okay with it - like in that quote from Isaiah within the quote from Jesus? 

I still don’t have a great answer for that. But I wonder if it isn’t basically the same idea. If we are content to not understand, not commit, not put in the effort to grow, God’s not going to force us. After all, Jesus did say that if we have the ears to hear (i.e., a willingness to hear) we will hear!

I don’t believe for a moment that God’s happy we won’t bother seeing, hearing, or turning. But He is willing to let us be blind, deaf and dead-in-the-water if that’s what we really want.

Thought #3
Later that same day, Jesus and the Disciples got into a boat. It was almost dark.

"Let us go across to the other side." Jesus told them.

And then He fell asleep. 

But that was okay because Jesus wasn't in charge of anything on the boat. He was a "land-guy". They were fisherman. They knew what they were doing.

But just when they'd gone far enough away from land to be in seriously deep water, a huge storm came up. It was so big, in fact, that these seasoned veterans of the lake lost all hope of survival. They were so sure they were going to die that they woke Jesus up to witness it. And not only did they wake Him - they woke Him in a sassy, sarcasm-ridden panic.

"Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

Jesus, ignoring their momentary insubordination, got up, then with a couple of words shut down the storm completely, and turned to them.

I imagine Him looking each one of them right in the eye. And when every head is hung in shame, He says softly, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"


"Do you still have no faith?"

That's what bothered Him?

How about, "So, that's how you talk to your rabbi, huh? And you know very well I'm not just any rabbi!"

Nope - it was the faith issue.

So how exactly, I asked myself, did they demonstrate their lack of faith in that moment? Sure, they based their assessment of the situation on their senses and experience. But to some degree we’re certainly allowed to do that. Really, based on the storm-at-hand, they seem pretty solid in their conclusion. After all, they were the experts!

But when I think more about it I come to see two ways:

1.   They questioned Jesus’ concern for them. When I say to my wife (for example) "Are you just going to leave me out here in the snow all night?!?" I am actually seriously concerned that her plan is to leave the doors locked with me outside.1 The Disciples seem to have thought that Jesus was perfectly willing to let them die in that storm without lifting a finger to help.

2.   They heard the Word, but they either did not pay enough attention to catch it, or they caught it but failed to believe it. (And so believed their senses instead…)

Right before they got into the boat, Jesus said: "Let's go over to the other side."

He did not say: "Let's go out to the middle and sink."

The difference is significant!

The Disciples knew the plan, but they lost sight of His ability to carry it out.

So, there you have it - three unrelated thoughts on Mark chapter 4.

1 – And please note: My wife would never actually do anything like this, no matter how much I might deserve it sometimes. This is, however, a true story. I heard it from a coworker (who played the wife in this account). And I can vouch for her sincerity when I say that she was indeed perfectly willing to leave him out there. In fact, she turned out the lights and went upstairs to bed long before he found a way in!