Monday, September 08, 2014

Two hands...

I thought up a new way to make asparagus and then tried it out, after much Googling and studying of mustard vinaigrettes.  Then I made it again.  Not, mind you, because I was in a gluttonous mood for the extremely tasty dish.  I made it again because I knocked over the first plate onto the floor.  SIGH.

Amos didn't mind.  He promptly inhaled my dish.
It was rather tasty.
Grilled Asparagus with Bacon and Mustard Vinaigrette.

Whilst preparing it, I broke two more dishes, small prep bowls.  I am very much weary of dropping (and breaking) things.  Too, I am weary of knocking things over.  Knocking my drink over is now a near daily occurrence.  I just cannot figure out how to make accommodations for the weakness in my hands and my clumsiness in both movement and vision.  Signs or alarms really don't help in this situation.  SIGH.

Yesterday and today, I dipped my toes in the waters of Mark Chapter 11 in Michael Card's commentary.  Would that it were I could simply grasp the chapter with two hands and find success in understanding.  I doubt being an octopus would help me.  Even eight hands wouldn't be enough.  It is not that the chapter is so muddy, or the commentary itself, but rather that there is so much connectedness presented that I cannot really follow.

I am a Reader.  I am also a Re-Reader.  Many of the Readers I know do not re-read.  They cannot fathom why one would ever read a book for a second time.  I, for one, cannot fathom why someone wouldn't.  The scholar in me, a while ago, wrote about the Transactional Theory of Reader Engagement, which explains why it is that someone would/could be interested in re-reading.  I wrote about it here, here, and here, transitioning from Literary Theory to the work of the Holy Spirit with regard to Scripture.  Be it prideful or not, I believe that those entries are one of the few truly moments of academic work since leaving the world of higher education, leaving behind my Ph.D.  In any case, the theory holds that meaning is made during the interaction of reader and text.  Since readers change with the experiences of their lives, their encounter from a text can change from one reading to another.

I have many a science fiction and fantasy series.  Whenever I would get a new book in a series, I would re-read the series from the beginning, before starting the new book.  For some of my series, that means reading a dozen or even two dozen books.  Since I am a Reader, such is no problem for me.  So, the way I have been reading each new chapter in the commentary on Mark is to start from the beginning and re-read all the previous chapters.  In part, this has helped with that connectedness, but there is just so much more that I cannot contain.

Note the detail in Mark 10:2 (sic) that no one had ever ridden the young donkey.  This was a stipulation concerning ceremonial animals—they were not supposed to have ever labored (see Num 19:2; Deut 21:3; I Sam 6:7).  The choice of a donkey's colt was symbolic of a king coming in peace.  If, when the city was conquered, the victorious monarch approached riding a white warhorse, the inhabitants knew he was coming to judge and destroy the city.  If he approached on a donkey's cold, they knew he was coming in peace (see Zech 9:9).  A later rabbinic tradition said that when the Messiah returned, if Israel was not ready, he would ride a donkey's colt.  If Israel was ready, he would ride a white horse.  The book of Revelation pictures Jesus' return on a white horse (Rev 6:2; 19:11).

I always thought the donkey thing was an act of humility.  I did not know the tradition.  Since Jesus came to bring peace between man and God—to render a cessation of hostilities—it is fitting that He rides the animal representing His intentions.  When I think about the meaning of the word peace, that Jesus is our peace becomes more and more ineffable, an enormity too great to contain.

But there was so much more in just the story of Jesus' entrance:

  • The journey from Jericho to Jerusalem took them back through the wilderness where Jesus was tested.
  • Bethpage and Bethany were small villages outside Jerusalem.  It is not clear from which the donkey came, but Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were from Bethany and would have understood the message "the Lord needs it."
  • Spreading the cloaks and branches cut in fields are reminiscent of the reception king Jehu received (II Kings 9:13).
  • The shouts of "Hosanna" and "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" were common at Passover so some folk could have been heralding their messiah without realizing it.
  • The "triumphant" entry was not completely triumphant, as Luke 19:41 tells us that Jesus was weeping as He entered the city.
  • The detail of Jesus entering the city, looking around, and returning to Bethany is only in Mark.
  • Jerusalmen is not the weathered city we know now, but a huge city, the jewel of which, the Jewish temple, had foundation stones larger than any of the blocks of Egyptian pyramids and was made of white marble and gold.

I really savor learning the story, the history and tradition, as well as the many ways Michael Card discusses both the connection between Mark and Peter and the literary devices that Mark uses.  But, even when he walks the reader through them, I oft have difficulty understanding them.  By this I mean, I understand how Michael Card notes Mark's repeated use of a bookend device to sandwich a parable or happening to flesh out a point.  I am just not sure I can grasp the point.

For example, consider the fig tree.  Jesus curses a fig tree before He takes umbrage over the money changers and afterwards, as they were leaving the city, the disciples point out the withered fig tree, the result of the Word spoken against it.

The whole shelf is important.  Or maybe it should be the whole sandwich, though sandwiches do not have bookends.  Really, this metaphorical talk about literary devices is a bit confusing in and of itself.  The fig tree parable—for that's how Michael Card really considers it—is not more or less important than the confrontation of the money changers.

So, consider the in-between.  Michael Card points out three bits of the story I never knew:

  • The currency was being changed into shekels, minted in Tyre, for they were the purest silver and the closest equivalent to the Hebrew shekel.  That, in and of itself is not bad.  The exchange rates themselves were not bad.  But the shekels bore the image of Herakles on one side and "Tyre, the holy and invincible" on the other.  Neither of them point to God, but rather away from Him.
  • Jesus is specifically angry over the selling of the doves, which were supposed to be the offering set aside for the poor (Lev 5:7).  Remember ... Jesus came for the poor, came to preach good news to them.  That good news wasn't that they had to beggar themselves further to make an offering to God.
  • The moneychangers had set up in the court of the Gentiles, the closest Gentiles could get to the temple, to the services.  The question Jesus asks, "Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?" points out that by setting up shop in the court of the Gentiles, His ministry to them was being thwarted.

So, essentially, all three points are about Jesus and His ministry, not about man and his work.

Now back to the fig tree.  The tree was green, was not even in season for fruit, but Jesus was hungry and cursed its barrenness.  When the disciples noticed the effect of His words, they asked about it.  As Jesus answered them, Michael Card notes:

What seems to be a lesson on how to appropriate the power of prayer for personal needs turns out to be instruction on how to unleash the power of forgiveness.

Jesus came to forgive!

The bookends tell that the story of the green and fruitless fig tree provide the context for understanding Jesus' prophetic actions in the temple.  Jesus sees the world around him as a parable.  When on the way to the temple he sees a green treen, even his human hunger becomes part of the parable.  In Hosea 9:10 it is God who hungers for the early fruits of his people Israel.  But the people become unfaithful and worship Baal.  Knowing that a confrontation awaits him in the temple, Jesus speaks to the tree in a prophetic curse.  What happens to the tree has already happened in the temple; the presence of the marketplace demonstrates it.

It is the prospect of going to the temple that day—that place so willfully, stubbornly fruitless, so full of religiosity, empty works and empty words—that lights the dust of Jesus' smoldering frustration.  For God, his Father, will always curse willful fruitlessness—theirs and ours.

The last bit is what is hard for me.  I mean, how do you reconcile Christ crucified for us with the God who rightly stands against those who stand against Him?  The God who ordered the death of every living thing in cities that were conquered in the Old Testament?  The God who curses fruitlessness ... and, I, the one who has had her fruit questioned by others ... and by herself??

Yet, in the end, it is not about fruit. It's about Jesus.

The third part of the chapter is a contest of questions.  The chief priests, scribes, and elders questioned Jesus about His authority to teach.  He answered them with His own challenge:  "Was John's baptism from heaven or from man?" (Mark 11:30).  If they acknowledged his baptism was from heaven, then they would essentially answer the question of authority, given what happened at Jesus' own baptism.  If they stated John's authority was merely from men, all his followers would be outraged.  The only answer is they could give was "We don't know."

And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

The presentation of Mark emphases how very often Jesus, the teacher, acted and spoke in the rabbinic form.  The thing that comes to mind, whenever I read that, is the scrap of Scripture that we are to be in the world, but not of it.  Jesus, He was most assuredly in the world.  He was as in as one could be, clothed in human flesh and bone, tempted in every way, enduring the wretchedness of life on this side of the vale of tears.  Jesus, the One who lifts all men to Him, existed in the fallen world.  That very notion puts a spin on another one of those evangelical praise songs floating around in my head for the past 20 years or so:

Lift Him up, lift Him up,
Lift the name of Jesus higher.
Lift Him up, raise His banner to the sky.
He said, "If I be lifted up,
I will draw all men unto me."
Lift Him up, all ye people, lift Him up.  
[John 12]

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Praise His righteousness forever.
Praise the Lord, lift your voices to the sky.
He said if we won't praise His name
Then the rocks and stones will cry out.
Praise the Lord all ye people, Praise the Lord.   
[Luke 19]

Show His love, Show His love,
Show His love to everybody.
Show His love let your candle always shine.
He said that by the love we show
They will know we're His disciples.
Show His love all ye people, Show His love.  
[John 13]

He said, "If I be lifted up,
I will draw all men unto me."
Lift Him up all ye people, lift Him up.   
[John 12]

Jesus' remark about being lifted up is in John 12.  But it is not, at least there, about praising Jesus.  It is about the manner of His death.  So, really, do we want to be singing a song about crucifying Jesus??  It's all so confusing.  A song weaving bits of teaching from one place to the next without really making sense.  A song of imperative.  A song of law.  A song about man, not Jesus.

Of course, man is the one who crucified the Lord.

That last bit about fruitlessness is the end of the commentary on the chapter.  Michael Card writes nothing about how we are to take a spiritual inventory of our lives, measuring the presence and efficacy of the fruit in our lives.  Backing up to the point of the teaching about the fig tree, the point that Jesus end on, is forgiveness.

I know so very few Lutheran hymns. I don't even know this one, but I've heard it lauded quite a bit.  Fervently.  Almost fanatically.

Thy strong Word did cleave the darkness;
At thy speaking it was done.
For created light we thank Thee
While thine ordered seasons run
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise to thee who light dost send!
Alleluia without end!

Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness,
Dark as night and deep as death,
Broke the light of thy salvation,
Breathed thine own life-giving breath.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise to thee who light dost send!
Alleluia without end!

Thy strong Word bespeaks us righteous;
Bright with thine own holiness,
Glorious now, we press toward glory,
And our lives our hopes confess.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise to thee who light dost send!
Alleluia without end!

Give us lips to sing thy glory,
Tongues thy mercy to proclaim,
Throats to shout the hope that fills us,
Mouths to speak thy holy name.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
May the light which thou dost send,
Fill our songs with alleluias,
Alleluias without end!

God the Father, light-creator,
To Thee laud and honor be.
To Thee, Light from Light begotten,
Praise be sung eternally.
Holy Spirit, light-revealer,
Glory, glory be to Thee.
Mortals, angels, now and ever
Praise the Holy Trinity!

The title makes me think the hymn would have been something like Psalm 119.  But it is nothing like that prayer, like that praise song, if you will.  It is also nothing like the Lift Him Up praise song above.

However, I ... fear ... that fourth stanza. [Yes, I purposely used the strike-through button!]  It reads like Christian Living Law to me.  Those words flog me.  Flay me.  You know, my utter, absolute, and repeated failure to be the suffering saint, to give God all honor and praise and glory in my suffering, to thank Him for my suffering, to welcome the fellowship of suffering.  Nope.  I do not do any of that.  And so stanzas like that scare me.

Remember when I said my pastor sang me a hymn during his visit?  And how, as he finished singing the hymn, he immediately said to wipe the last verse from my ears?  Waved his hand to banish it from me?  It was because he knew that I do not know how to hear such things.

When in the hour of deepest need
We know not where to look for aid;
When days and nights of anxious thought
No help or counsel yet have brought,

Then is our comfort this alone
That we may meet before Your throne
To You, O faithful God, we cry
For rescue from our misery.

For You have promised, Lord, to heed
Your children's cries in time of need
Through Him whose name alone is great,
Our Savior and our Advocate.

And so we come, O God, today
And all our woes before You lay;
For sorely tried, cast down, we stand,
Perplexed by fears on ev'ry hand.

O from our sins, Lord, turn Your face;
Absolve us through Your boundless grace.
Be with us in our anguish still;
Free us at last from ev'ry ill.

So we with all our hearts each day
To You our glad thanksgiving pay,
Then walk obedient to Your Word
And now and ever praise You, Lord

What was it that Jesus specifically said when he taught about the fig tree:

As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.”

And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. [“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”]  (Mark 11:22-26)

That last bit sounds an awful lot like the end of Matthew 18, which is terrifying to read.  How are we to read it???  Maybe Matthew ought to be the next commentary I read?  For nothing like that, no life application, has been found in Mark ... now through the 11th chapter.  But the next bit?  Can I read it?  Can I finish it?  

Mary taught me what faithfulness is in a way that focused on Christ. I want to cling to that explanation, but I don't know how to read things that seem to SCREAM at me:  Myrtle, if you have faith you should be doing these things, have these things in your life.  And, in that proverbial heart of heart of mine, I know that I am not, that I do not.

What does it say that I want solely to focus on the idea of Jesus being our peace, Jesus bringing an end to the hostilities between man and God that were begun in the garden, the hostilities born of our sin?  What does it say that I want to focus on the points about the temple brouhaha, that it was about Jesus and His ministry, about coming for the poor and the Gentiles ... for all mankind ... even the women who bleed for 12 years?  What does it say that I want to focus on a fig tree not being a condemnation for fruitless in my life, but the representation of a God impatient for His children to be brought back into His house, to be freed from the wages of sin, to be forgiven?


Mary Jack said...

Regarding your last paragraph, what does it say about you? I think it shows that you value peace and see the dire need for it in this world, particularly perfect Gospel-peace. Likewise the end of hostilities.

You were without clear Gospel for a long time, and so much rises up against it, from within, without, from false teachers or even miscommunication, but you are very right to emphasize God more than man, Christ over Christian efforts.

May Christ come soon that we may rest fully in His care! :)

Myrtle said...

Thank you, Mary, for the encouragement. I struggle with shame over being so afraid of parts of Scripture, of being so blind to the Gospel of them. I have savored Michael Card's emphasis on how the Gospel of Mark is all about Jesus ... Jesus the Son of Man and Jesus the Messiah ... about what Jesus came to do instead of about how He taught us to live better lives. It is all discombobulating, though.

Thanks, too, for not noticing the error (now fixed) I made in comma usage following a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence after haranguing you about that particular comma error!