Tag Archives: Mark

with the Word online Bible study: Transfigured


Mark 9.2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Usually there are two reactions to this story: either “WHAT??? that is the weirdest story ever?!?!?!?” or “ooh, cool…” Occasionally you might meet someone who can talk coherently about how this story is a wonderful personal revelation of God’s glory in Jesus, and how it feeds their spiritual life, filling them with reflected light.

But the disciples appear to be more in the first camp…they have no idea what is going on, they’re terrified, and they say ridiculous things, trying to keep the moment static forever (or at least until they can figure it out).

First, a quick history lesson.

Moses was (is) the greatest prophet of the Hebrew people, leading them out of slavery and to the promised land, reflecting the glory of God (literally–when Moses went up Mt. Sinai to talk to God, he came down with a face that shined so brightly he had to cover it up so as not to freak people out), bringing the law, doing amazing signs and wonders, etc. He is the archetype of a faithful person, the representative of the law. One of Moses’ main locations for conferencing with God was on Mount Sinai.

Elijah was also a great prophet, who did amazing things bringing the people back from the idolatrous ways to the worship of the one true God. He healed people, performed miracles, and was a major conduit for the word and spirit of God. He spoke to God, had a number of learning opportunities, and defeated the false prophets–all on mountains (Mt. Sinai and Mt. Carmel, in particular). Elijah, according to the story, did not die but was taken up into heaven by God’s fiery chariots, and will come again to prepare the way for the Messiah.

So, many scholars will point out that for Jesus to be standing on a mountain (sound familiar?), conferring with the two greatest of the greats of Israel, tells us that he’s an important dude. For Jesus to be transfigured so that his glory shines through, while talking to these two characters, suggests that he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. And then the voice–echoing the voice of his baptism, re-marking him as the beloved, worthy of listening and following. In many ways, this is a story that shows us Jesus’s authority and divinity. He’s the real-deal, shiny and new yet backed by the old and trusted.

So what does this story have to do with our lives of faith? What is the good news for our time and place? What is the challenge for us?

How does this story affect your relationship with God? What do you think happened here, and how does it help you to follow Jesus?


with the Word online Bible study: a passionate Jesus


Mark 1.40-45

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

What does hearing this story bring up for you? What images, feelings, words, songs, other stories come to mind?

This is an interesting story, because we see a couple of things happening that are very unusual. First, we see someone with a disease that forces him to be an outcast coming into the midst of people. A leper (which would be anyone with a skin disease–could be as mild as acne or as serious as Hansen’s disease, which we often call leprosy) is not allowed to come into contact with people because he is ritually unclean and would make others so. The only way to be admitted back into society is to be declared clean by a priest. For someone in a position of authority (say, a rabbi) to speak to, let alone touch, someone like this is unthinkable. And yet the leper comes, and Jesus makes a choice.

If you choose, you can make me clean. Not “will you help me?” Not “can you heal my disease?” Not “can you save me/make me whole/restore me to community?” Not a question, a statement–if you choose. Some scholars think that this implies that the man was already well but that the priests had refused to declare him clean–whether for monetary reasons or some kind of personal or social gain. However, the words here–“make me clean”–are more than just the declaration. There’s something actually happening here, and this man knows that Jesus has the power to change it, if he chooses.

Then we have the second interesting and unusual thing. Our translation says that Jesus was “moved with pity.” Others say he was “filled with compassion.” Still others say that Jesus was “moved to anger.” Passion is definitely implied in the word here–this is not a tame emotion, or simple pathos. This is a full-bodied, all-in, visceral involvement in the life of another being. Jesus may be angry at the way things are, at the system that has brought this man to this point. He may be angry at the rules so carefully followed even to the detriment of human beings. He may be passionate about restoring people to wholeness, body mind and soul as well as community. He may be filled with the kind of compassion that does not allow us to be silent or motionless. Whatever it is, it’s a consuming fire moving him. He’s not separate from us, he’s close by, down to earth, right here, involved in everyday actions and feeling and lives, to his very core.

As a consequence of this passion becoming visible, the man foregoes another trip to the unhelpful priests, and instead goes about the towns and countryside proclaiming the greatness of his benefactor…and so many people hear about it (the man must be literally shouting Jesus’ praises from the rooftops!) that Jesus can’t even get into town anymore because of the crowds. Instead the people have to come to him. What do you think about that, after the discussion we just had about Jesus’ visceral and whole-self involvement in the life of people?

How does this background help you understand the story? What questions do you still have? What ideas does this bring up? How does this story affect your relationship with God?

With the Word online Bible Study: Jesus gets to work


Mark 1.29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

What do you notice in this text? How does the story strike you? What feelings, images, sounds, other stories, or music pop into your head? Can you get a sense of Jesus’ movement, mood, plans, vibe? What is he up to?

Why do you think Jesus and the disciples went to Peter’s house? Some suggest it was because he had one of the bigger houses in town. Others think perhaps location, location, location. Maybe Peter had mentioned his mother in law already? We haven’t heard about his wife, of course….nor will we! Where is she in all this? Jesus is going to use Peter’s house in Capernaum as a sort of home-base for the next stage of his ministry–lots of things are about to happen here. How would you react if you were living in that town?

Peter’s house quickly became known as a holy site, and was eventually converted into a church. it was enlarged and changed several times, but in the picture of the site below you can get a little bit of a sense of what kind of place we’re talking about. Having seen it, can you better imagine this story?

Why do you think Jesus goes off by himself to pray? He obviously heard something from God during that conversation–which tells us he was listening at least as much as he was talking–because he came down all ready to leave town and head out on the mission. When you pray, do you listen as much as you talk? What would help you learn to pray in a way that would nurture a real relationship (not just an asking-but-not-getting-answers one) with God?

What do you think is the good news for RCLPC in this story? What is the challenge for RCLPC? How do you hear God calling, and how will you respond?

with the Word online Bible study: inner and outer


Mark 1.21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

What do you hear in this story? What questions do you have? What do you wonder about?

Can you imagine this scene? Imagine someone with amazing authority–the kind that comes from within, where the person just radiates authenticity and knowledge and grace and truth. Imagine that person preaching in our church…and then a disruption.

What are you thinking when this disruption happens? What do you feel? What are your immediate reactions to this man, his appearance, his outburst? What do you think of what he says?

When Jesus heals the man, he changes him–not from the outside in, but from the inside out. Jesus calls out transformation. The man was likely still just as unsavory looking, just as frustrating to behold or to be around, just as dirty (maybe even more so, since he’s just been thrown to the floor!), but nonetheless he is changed. Jesus is interested here in the man’s inner self, not in his outer appearance.

Have you ever been caught up in someone’s (or your own!) outer appearance, while neglecting the inner self? What kind of transformation is most attractive to you–inner or outer transformation?

Makeovers, plastic surgery, diets and exercise fads are a multi-billion dollar industry in our culture. But inner transformation is usually left out of the picture. What do you think about that? How do you participate in that culture? How do we pass it on to our youth and children? Is it what we want to pass on?

Jesus teaches with authority, and transforms people in ways we can’t even imagine. Do you have any experience of Jesus transforming your life? What is that like? How can you help others to find that kind of transformative good news?

Read the story again. What music do you hear as the soundtrack to this part of the film? What other stories or characters or moments or novels or movies come to mind? What good news do you hear for our community, or for you individually?

with the Word online Bible study: a team effort


Mark 1.14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Last week we talked about some of the difficulty of hearing God’s call. This week, it’s pretty obvious–when Jesus walks by on the beach and calls you out of your fishing boat it’s hard not to notice!

But on the other hand, it might not make any sense. Here’s some background:

in Jesus’ day, there was a sequential education system for Jewish boys. Young boys would go to learn the Torah (they’d memorize all of it–the first five books of the Bible!). When they’re about 10 or so, they’d interview with a rabbi who would either take them on as a student in the next level or tell them to go apprentice with their father instead. Of those who stayed on with their education, they’d memorize more (the historical books, probably the prophets too). At around 13, they’d apply and interview with a rabbi, and if the rabbi thought the kid was good enough, smart enough, and had enough potential, he would say “come, follow me.” If not, the kid would go learn the family business. A rabbi would only call you to follow him if he thought you had what it takes to learn to be like him. To follow, to be a disciple, means to do what your rabbi does, means to devote your life to following him with your body, your mind, your heart and soul. The vast majority of kids didn’t make it to that level–they went home to learn from their dads and to eventually become carpenters or potters or fishermen.

Simon and Andrew and James and John are fishing…some with their father, even. they are not following a rabbi, they are not sitting in the synagogue learning, they’re learning and plying the family trade. And here comes this rabbi who says, “Come, follow me.”

You would think these guys, who hadn’t made the cut, who didn’t get asked by another rabbi, would probably have thought “what? is he talking to me???” and would look around, confused and wondering who else was out there that Jesus could be talking to. When they realize it’s them, they leave everything and follow him. Jesus has just told them that he believes they have the potential to do what he does, to be like him, to learn and follow and be committed. If someone believed in you that much, would you leave your dad in the boat and follow?

Why does Jesus need disciples anyway? Why does he call people to come and learn and to be like him, to do what he does?

Well, every good minister needs a team, right? God created us to be in community, and Jesus was no different. He needed a community to help him discern, to bounce ideas off of, to learn and grow with, to teach, to be friends. We can’t do much without the help of our friends.

So here we have Jesus building his team–calling people, ordinary people, people who hadn’t made the cut by the world’s standards–and telling them that he believes in them, that they can be like him.

Have you ever heard this call? Have you ever wondered what God might want you to do? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to follow Jesus, to try to be like him? Remember: God equips the called…and the called are often the most unlikely of people.

Thinking about this story, and the background you know, and your experience with Jesus’ call, what else comes to mind for you? Are you reminded of any other stories (biblical or fictional, movies or novels or even children’s books)? Is any music running through your head?

What do you think is the good news in this text? What is the challenge? How might we express this good news and this challenge in our time and place?