One Man's Web

Parables - Mark 4:1-3406 January 2024

Jesus names the parable of the seeds as the key parable. Grasp something of this and you will hear truth in all the other parables. You will find you have been given the mystery of the kingdom. Misunderstand this parable, and your ears will be closed to all the rest. His question, "How will you understand...?" (4:13) is rhetorical in the sense that it demands the answer: "You won't."

At base, the parables of Chapter 4 address the issue of God's power in the world. What is God like? How is God powerful in the world. Does God invite or coerce? Does God "save" all people, or is God unable to invite-persuade some to respond? Can God only save some by destroying others? These questions issue a challenge to God: Is the Creation "very good," or flawed? And yes, these are our questions, not questions asked by Mark. Mark is more likely aching with the lived grief of brother betraying brother, but he has nothing to say to us if we can find no answers to our questions... Read on >>>>

The Die is Cast - Mark 3:6-3501 January 2024

From the text:

This story  of Mark 3:1-6 challenges a psychological undertone which challenges everything about Sabbath, and about us. In the culture of empire, the man deserves his withered hand, and the loss of power and agency which the withering symbolises (and which is very real in a manual culture).  That he deserves it is still our enduring deep emotional suspicion when pushed:  Illness is a punishment, a consequence of bad choices made before God.  Even those of us who do not believe in God tend to blame the illness of others upon their lifestyle. What Jesus does here, and on the Sabbath, that key identifier of being Judean, is to give a sinner power and agency. He upends everything all over again. As he did with Levi (Mark 2:13-17), he has removed our scapegoats from us. When this happens, when those we love to hate suddenly receive the love that God has for them, it overturns our whole way of being, which is that God has favourites; namely, us. This is why they seek to destroy him... Read on >>>>

Reconceiving the Messiah26 December 2023

1. The Sea? of GalileePaul Davidson points out that no one before Mark talks about a Sea of Galilee. It is a relatively small lake. This is an important issue in Mark which the NRSV translation covers over in its effort to be "readable." Davidson says

Mark, then, is giving the lake in Galilee a name that is unattested in any earlier source, and very possibly an invention of his own. And it’s not just the name; ... he treats it in the narrative as a sea rather than the small lake that it is...

Why does he do this? He quotes Elizabeth Malbon, who says.

Mark presupposes the connotation of the sea as chaos, threat, danger, in opposition to the land as order, promise, security… The threatening power of the sea is manifest, but the power of Jesus’ word is portrayed as stronger; Jesus stills the storm and walks on the water, overcoming the threat of the sea; Jesus causes the swine possessed by unclean spirits to rush to their deaths in the sea (5:23a, b), turning the threat of the sea to his own purpose... Read on >>>>

Mark 1:14-1520 December 2023

The working out of this text in our own life is full of intricacy and compromise but, at base, as a Christian, I am not firstly a citizen of Australia. My primary calling is to be a follower of Christ, which will inevitably mean standing against the spirit of the nation in which I live. The opening chapter of Mark, read honestly, repudiates the climate in which I grew up, where it was just assumed that Christians would vote Liberal or Country Party, for example.

We see in these two verses how much the language we use, and the translations we make, influence what we hear.  The NRSV says John was arrested. But the Greek word paradothēnai comes from paradidomi which has a strong sense of being handed over or given over. Later, when Jesus is betrayed, it will be paradidomi which is used (cf 14:44, 15:15). So, when the soldiers come for John and take him away, which is what we imagine when we hear the word arrest, the Greek text has the clear sense that he is handed over! This tells us a deep truth about human culture: we hand scapegoats over to the crowd. We fall in line with the crowd so it is not us who will be chosen, but someone else who is handed over. People who are handed over are abandoned by the rest of us to the systems of violence which structure our culture. They become the ritual scapegoat of the moment.

We might think that because the police arrest someone, that this is no longer the crowd of us in action. But, in fact, the police are the invisible hand of the crowd. Police are established to maintain the status quo, which is built upon exclusion... Read on >>>

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