Posts Tagged ‘Mark’

There is a fruitful agony, a suffering that bears life rather than merely pushing open the door to death. Jesus’ agony was of this kind, in spades we might say in retrospect and from the angle of hope’s full flowering.

Yet the moment left its early evidences as well.

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). (Mark 15:20–22 ESV)

As many have noted, Mark’s narrative mentions two names that don’t much illuminate the crisis of the moment: Alexander and Rufus.

The story as it’s told reads well as an indicator that Alexander and Rufus were members of the community of Jesus’ followers in which Mark and Peter, his apparent source, nourished the memory.

Simon of Cyrene was just a passerby, forced by uniformed Romans with little concern for local courtesies to carry their murder weapon when their victim became too exhausted to carry the tool of his own death. There was absolutely nothing premeditated about it. If the Romans had not grabbed Simon, they would have press-ganged someone else. He just happened to be ‘coming in from the country’ when the little drama of Jesus’ execution was taking place.

Simon was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So it would appear.

Yet the little mention that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, two men whom Mark’s readers in his community of followers of Jesus were expected to recognize, suggest that there was more in play than bad luck. Something happened to Simon by the time he had dragged the lumber of Jesus’ murdering to Golgotha. If it did not happen in the moment, then perhaps shortly thereafter.

That something was passed on to Simon’s children, whose names became household names among the daughters and sons of this new faith, names that could be mentioned familiarly with no special elaboration.

As Jesus stumbled his final steps to Golgotha, faith’s seed was already finding fertile soil in the heart of a bad-luck farmer who had showed up at the wrong time.

As my wife likes to abbreviate such complexities, ‘That’s how God works.’

Things are seldom as they appear.




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The famous story of the ‘widow’s mite’ is a beloved slice of the gospels’ narrative testimony about Jesus. Her skinny little offering—amidst large and clanging competitors—touches a sentimental nerve in sympathetic readers. (more…)

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It would have been a heady experience to walk Galilean roads in he the company of the prophet from Nazareth. Not only was the intimacy of life shared with him available to precious few. His select ‘disciples’ could also look back on the experience of having been chosen by name.

Most of us do not wake one morning with aspirations of greatness that had never afflicted us before. Rather, the accumulation of perquisites that gather around modest success gradually adds up to something. Sometimes it is lethal.

We so easily begin to sense that we merit these things, these minders, this cell phone, the undeniable whiff of prestige that follows us about, this company car. We begin to sense our greatness. We never asked for it, yet it is there in the professionally servile glances of these minders.

It grows on us.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

Though the image of the impoverished fisherman out fending off the wolf of hunger by braving the sea’s waves in the early morning may owe more to romanticism than to reality, Jesus’ followers seem generally to have come from modest origins. (more…)

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The gospels narrate the words and deeds of Jesus in the common Greek vernacular of their time. This simple linguistic observation might obscure the fact that Jesus’ first and most commonly used language was almost certainly not Greek. He seems to have employed Aramaic as his lingua franca, though he was probably capable of managing Hebrew and Greek.

Nothing about this is extraordinary. We are accustomed to reading about the lives of great and less-than-great men and women in translation. (more…)

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When sick people are made well and the deranged are freed of the forces and persons that enslave their minds, we are meant to shout, clap, sing, and dance.

There are a thousand reasons not to do so. Most of them are a subset of the large sin called blasphemy, writ small on the canvas of stingy little men and women.

Jesus set so many paralytics to walking and speechless to talking that people, overwhelmed by the scope and scale of it, concluded that he has lost his mind. (more…)

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Jesus’ emerges from his strange encounter with destitution, abandonment, and triumph over satanic manipulation to re-enter civilization as an extraordinarily empowered teacher. Clearly, something happened to him out there.

The heavenly voice of Jesus’ Father had expressed its satisfaction with his filial beloved, only to drive him into the desert for forty days. There he was to encounter, seemingly alone, the intelligent and articulate shrewdness of his worst enemy. Jesus, by Mark’s account, won that battle by persistent simplicity. He countered satanic sophistry with the simple declaration of the relevant truth. Only a man well acquainted with Scripture and its interpretation could have done so. Yet Jesus’ cut and thrust were not complex. He knew reality, articulated it in the face of other-worldly enmity, and let the chips fall where they may. (more…)

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It is as interesting to consider what the blind beggar Bartimaeus saw before Jesus restores his sight as after.

Picking up the thread of an Isaianic promise that the Lord’s servant would restore sight to the blind, the sightless Bartimaeus discerns in the appearance of Nazareth’s roving Jesus the visit of a messianic figure. To the embarrassment of some, he calls him ‘Son of David’ and begs him for mercy. (more…)

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