The Dangerous Way (Mark 1:14-20 from the Lectionary Gospel Reading)


A Roman coin with the face of Augustus Caesar circled with “Imperator Caesar, son of god, consul for the 6th time, defender of the liberty of the Roman people” in Latin.

Today’s passage is Mark 1:14-20. Last time we were in Mark Jesus had just been baptized by John the baptizer, letting John take the superior role. After this event Jesus went into the wilderness where John the baptizer had emerged from. Matthew and Luke tells us he fasted for forty days while he was there. Fasting was a common practice for John’s disciples who were awaiting the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

It is possible that Jesus had become John’s disciple before beginning his ministry, at least for a short time. After all, the Gospels make it clear that John the baptizer’s purpose is to prepare the way of the Lord. What if that preparation was more personal? What if Jesus’ message of “Repent and believe in the good news” was influenced by John’s proclamation of “a baptism of repentance.”

After John is arrested Jesus goes back to Galilee to take John’s ministry to the next step, “proclaiming the good news of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near (or is at hand); repent, and believe in the good news.’” John’s message was about the kingdom coming and Jesus’s new message after leaving John is that the kingdom has now arrived.

Mark says Jesus goes proclaiming the ‘good news’, or ‘gospel’, or in Greek: euaggelion. Historical Jesus scholar, John Dominic Crossan says something along the lines of “Trying to understand Jesus without the context of Roman imperialism is like trying to understand Martin Luther King Jr. without the context of racism and segregation in America.” The prefix con- means with. Con-text must goes with the text; it’s not just interesting background. So we must also address the political dimension of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God.

First of all, I am not trying to turn Jesus into a political figure. Rather I am saying he already was one because in the 1st century there was absolutely no difference between religion and politics. They didn’t have any such categorization. To proclaim that you are ushering in the kingdom of God is to be simultaneously proclaiming the ushering out of the kingdom of Caesar. This was an act of high treason, and the reason the Roman government executed Jesus. Every religious statement he made was also a political one, in subversion of the imperial cult that worshiped Caesar as God. After all, we have plenty of evidence that Augustus Caesar was given titles like Son of God, Lord, Liberator and Redeemer of the World much before Jesus began his ministry. Even before Jesus was born the leading Roman poet, Horace, proclaimed that Jupiter (or Zeus) had assigned the task of atoning for the guilt of generations of sin to Augustus Caesar, who was Mercury (or Hermes) incarnate.

A euaggelion is what Roman soldiers proclaimed each time they gave the ‘good news’ of Caesar’s latest military victory, furthering his control over the world; which from the Empire’s point of view was furthering global peace under the rule of Caesar.

Even Mark’s quote of Jesus’ euaggelion is placed within the text like propaganda. This quote isn’t put on Jesus’ lips as a quote in any particular scene. Rather it’s put in there as a summary of the larger message, even ending it with “believe in the euaggelion.” Mark is using the same strategy as the Roman Empire, but proclaiming a better euaggelion, under the rule of God; bringing peace through justice, rather than Caesar’s peace through victory.

Continuing the passage, Jesus recruits Simon and his brother Andrew while they were fishing along the Sea of Galilee. “Follow me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you fish for people.” In this scene Jesus is not just being witty about their profession as fishermen. He is also referencing a prophecy in Jeremiah 16, which dreams of the restoration of Israel, and bringing them back to the Land God had promised them (the land that Caesar now ruled):

For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors. I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them…

Shortly after, Jesus recruits James and John, the sons of Zebedee. We saw how John the baptizer prepared the way for Jesus, and now if we pay attention we see that the rest of the story is Jesus preparing the way for his disciples. Jesus is recruiting these fishermen that Jeremiah prophesied  would help restore Israel. After all it is not Jesus who starts Christianity. His followers do.

Like I’ve said in the previous posts, the Gospel writers are evangelists, so their main purpose is not to write what happened, but to show how this story tells what it is happening ever presently. The life of Jesus is the model that we step into. In the way that John the baptizer prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus has prepared the way for his disciples. From there the disciples prepare the way for Christians in times to come by spreading this Way through writings such as The Euaggelion According to Matthew, The Euaggelion According to Mark, The Euaggelion According to Luke, and The Euaggelion According to John. You get it.

This Way, however, is dangerous. Believing in this counter-euaggelion would get you killed. John was arrested, and eventually beheaded while preparing the way. Jesus was tortured and executed while preparing the way, and most of his disciples were executed while preparing the way as well. This call is one of absolute selflessness. It’s a call to sacrificial love. It’s a call to give all your energy to this radical kingdom of God. The kingdom of God has arrived and it is a present reality that we step into. Yes, it’s risky and counter-cultural but it’s about bringing the world back together through justice and peace rather than victory and domination.

The invitation to believe in this counter-euaggelion is a challenge to which path are you going to choose: the Way that Caesar and powerful men like him have prepared? Or the Way that John the baptizer, Jesus and his fishermen prepared? Are you going to choose war or peace? Domination over the weak or justice for all? Revenge or forgiveness? Arrogance or humility? Selfishness or generosity? Indifference or love? The kingdom of Caesar or the kingdom of God?

To live in the present reality of the kingdom of God is to simply believe that intentionally engaging in acts like peace, justice, love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, generosity, etc. is a better way to live. Will it get you in trouble? Yes. Will it make you have to swallow your pride and put aside what you think you deserve? Absolutely. Will it require you to sacrifice a lot of what you hold dear? Definitely. But will it make you a better person, who is at peace with yourself, the world and God? Yes, yes and yes! And that is the Way, prepared for us to follow Jesus into, and we’re just getting started.

The Flesh of God is the Flesh of the Oppresed (John 1:43-51 from the Lectionary Gospel Reading)


As I explained in my last post I am combining my interests in liturgy and the Historical Jesus of Nazareth by blogging through the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel portions every week. Hope you enjoy.

John’s gospel, being the last Gospel written, is clearly different from the three that preceded it. Here’s why. John’s purpose was to show his audience that Jesus was divine, and in fact God himself. John’s Gospel is highly theological, explaining almost every event after he writes it. John wants his gospel to be extremely simple, with no room for confusion about Jesus’ divinity. So John’s Jesus is more cleaned up, very powerful and very much in control than the Jesus we find in Matthew, Mark and Luke. When we understand John as an evangelist, and not a historian we can see John’s purpose for this was not to try to change history. He did this because he needed to demonstrate Jesus’ power and divinity to a persecuted Christian community facing a constant threat of survival that made them question Jesus’ power and divinity.

This brings us to today’s text: John 1:43-51. Jesus recruits Phillip as his disciple and Phillip tries to recruit Nathanael, saying “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael responds: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

New Testament scholar, Reza Aslan describes Nazareth like this:

Ancient Nazareth rests on the jagged brow of a windy hilltop in lower Galilee. No more than a hundred Jewish families live in this tiny village. There are no roads, no public buildings. There is no synagogue. The villagers share a single well from which to draw fresh water. A single bath, fed by a trickle of rainfall captured and stored in underground cisterns, serves the entire population. It is a village of mostly illiterate peasants, farmers, and day laborers; a place that does not exist on any map…It is, in short, an inconsequential and utterly forgettable place.

Mark 6:3 says Jesus was a carpenter in this village; tekton in Greek, which did not mean carpenter in any way that we understand carpenters today in the modern world. Tekton is better understood as builder, or a day laborer. John begins his Gospel by saying that Jesus was the Word of God made flesh, but as a tekton, that flesh belonged to the second lowest social and economic class; just below peasants, and just above slaves and beggars. Upper-class Romans even used the term, tekton as a swear word to refer to illiterate peasants. Mark’s the only one to refer to Jesus as a tekton. Matthew refers to him as the son of a tekton. Luke and John don’t mention it at all.

So if you are an evangelist and want to convince people that this guy is the Messiah it definitely would not help your argument to include where Jesus was from. Of course it helped a little for John to not include the part about Jesus being a tekton, but you couldn’t be much else if you were from Nazareth. This was the man who the Jews expected to liberate the Jews like Moses had, and free the Jews from the oppression of the occupying Roman government.

Like I said in the last post: as evangelists the Gospel writers’ main purpose was not to write about what happened, but to show us how this story of Jesus can show us what’s happening. I think it’s incredibly fascinating that when God became flesh and blood to live among us, he chose to be born as the last person you would ever want to be. Imagine God becoming flesh in the 17th century as a Native American, who had witnessed thousands of his own people massacred by English and Dutch mercenaries. Imagine God becoming flesh in the 18th century as an African slave, abducted and thrown on a ship to America. Imagine God becoming flesh in the 19th century as an Irish farmer, forced by the British onto the shores of Ireland to starve after a genocide of 2,000,000. Imagine God becoming flesh in the 20th century as Jew, being tortured in Auschwitz.

Through what oppressed group would God become flesh today in 2015?

Nathanael changes his mind about Jesus after discovering that Jesus supernaturally saw him sitting under the tree before they met. Jesus responds to Nathanael’s praise of him with a promise: “You will see greater things than these. Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

This verse is the first example of something extremely interesting that John does all throughout his Gospel that usually goes unnoticed in our English translations. Several times in John’s gospel we see Jesus, in the middle of a conversation with one other person, suddenly change the singular ‘you’ (sy in Greek) to the plural ‘you’ (hymin). This isn’t Jesus starting off talking to one person and then turning to address multiple people. This happens several times in John’s Gospel even when Jesus is alone with someone. Understanding John as not a historian, but an evangelist helps us see why John does this. Wherever there is a plural ‘you’ John is having Jesus continue to the conversation in the story, while simultaneously having Jesus speak to the community that John wrote it for.

Since the Gospels are always talking about what is happening we can also say that John is having Jesus speak to us as well in these moments. The verse I just quoted contains the plural form of ‘you’ each mention of the word. John has Jesus tell Nathaniel and the persecuted community he is writing to “You will see greater things than these. Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus’ promise at the end of this passage is a promise to Nathanael about the journey ahead, it’s a promise to the readers of the story that Jesus has greater things planned in the story if you keep reading, but it’s also a promise to a group of people that struggled in seeing God as able to show them something greater. In the middle of suffering this promise is the hardest thing to believe.

Today we celebrate Marin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, in memory of his honorable and holy fight for the advancement of civil rights and racial equality. It’s been almost 50 years since his tragic death and several Americans still don’t see the racial equality that men and women like Martin Luther King Jr. fought so hard for.

Today I hope we can remember that Jesus arose from within one of the most oppressed communities within one of the most oppressed nations in history. And that incarnation has continued ever since. God did become flesh in those massacred Native American tribes, those African slaves, those starving Irish, those Jews in concentration camps, and all those that are under the same type of oppression today. God is on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the exploited and abused wherever they are in the world and God chooses the flesh of the least of these to make himself known. And that is what the season of Epiphany is commemorating: the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles; to those who were not under the same oppression.

I hope this promise that was originally given to a threatened community unsure of survival can comfort those who also feel threatened and without hope. Martin Luther King Jr. and those like him brought us far, and let us praise God for that. And I pray today that you will even have the faith to believe Jesus’ promise that he gives Nathanael and us in the midst of praise: “You will see greater things than these.”

So trust Jesus’ promise to you that John gave us 2,000 years ago. The story isn’t over. There will be suffering, and pain, and misery, but there will also be joy, and peace, and miracles. The miracles are coming and it starts with trusting that they will actually come.

It All Starts With Humility (Mark 1:4-11 from the Lectionary Gospel Reading)


Alright so I’m a very curious and fascinated person if you couldn’t tell. Two things I’ve become very fascinated with over the last year is Liturgical Church traditions and the life of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

So I’m going to combine those two interests this year and try my best to blog through the Gospel portions of the Revised Common Lectionary every week of this year. The Revised Common Lectionary is used by a wide array of Christian denominations such as Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians, all reading and teaching from the same passages each Sunday. You can keep track here.

Even though I’m already late I wanted to start with last Sunday’s reading and start posting today. The Gospel portion was Mark 1:4-11. I’ll usually be reading from the NRSV.

John the baptizer is reenacting the Exodus story right in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. Moses had led the Israelites from the bondage of slavery, to that same Jordan River to go in, and come out of the Jordan River as free people. From there the mission was to the land that God had promised to give to the Israelites’ ancestors. We see John the baptizer following the same pattern through his baptism in the same Jordan River: freeing these Jews from the bondage of sin by going into the Jordan River and out of the Jordan River as forgiven people, free from their sin. Even the word repentance that is being used in this passage is the Greek, metanoia, which means to change one’s mind. Repentance is transformation, reminiscent of the Israelite’s transformation from slaves to God’s people.

Back to the Exodus story, we know that Moses actually isn’t the one that crosses the Jordan and leads the Israelites into the Promised Land. Moses leads them there, but his successor, Joshua, takes them to the Promised Land. And of course John the baptizer says “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me’. And what is his name? Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew, which was a common alternative of Yehoshuah, which means Joshua. In the same way that Joshua was Moses’ successor to lead God’s people into the Promised Land, Jesus is being framed as John the baptizer’s successor to lead God’s people into the Kingdom of God.

It may be hard for some Christians to imagine Jesus as John the baptizer’s successor. Jesus is supposed to be top dog from beginning to end. A guy like John the baptizer should be his servant, not his predecessor. Even John the baptizer seems to think so in the rest of his proclamation about Jesus’ coming: “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” Even so, we see all throughout Jesus’ life that he was never afraid of appearing inferior or taking a servant’s role. Jesus finds this wild man in the desert and joins in his baptism.

Mark says that as Jesus was coming up from the water “he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ Once again Mark is giving his Jewish readers an obvious nudge to the opening verses of Genesis: “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God (or the Spirit of God) swept over the face of the waters.” The Hebrew word used here is ruach which can mean spirit, breath, or wind, and sometimes in the Hebrew Scriptures it seems to mean all of those at once. The Hebrew word here for swept is rachaph, which is also used in Deuteronomy 32:11: “As an eagle stirs up its nest and hovers over its young…the Lord alone guided him”. So Mark’s first readers understood that creation began with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters like a bird, and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry begins with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of the Jordan like a dove.

We see all throughout the Hebrew Scriptures that God is defined not by things, or locations, but by events. Creating the universe, freeing the Israelites from slavery, and giving them the Promised Land were the events that every Jew used to define God. Mark is telling his audience that there is a new set of events happening for God’s people through this man, Jesus. And how does it all begin? Jesus takes the humble role and submits to John the baptizer and his baptism. The result? A voice from heaven calling him “Beloved,” and saying “with you I am well pleased.” Now this is before Jesus’ ministry. Jesus hasn’t done anything. He’s just a poor builder from Nazareth born of a teenager that her friends and family didn’t trust, and his ministry begins with the primal blessing of God: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

It is very important to understand that the Gospel writers were not historians. They were evangelists. Their main purpose wasn’t to write about what happened, but how this story of Jesus can show us what is happening. And that happening remains ever present. Jesus is the model that we step into. In Romans Paul says we are baptized into Christ Jesus. Also much like Jesus, he says that the Spirit of God makes us children of God, and if we’re children of God then we’re also joint heirs of God along with Christ.

So once again, how does this process begin? With humility and submission. It begins with going into the unpredictable wilderness humble and submissive to find your belonging as child of God. I need to be reminded of this constantly. Embracing my identity as a child of God must always come first and foremost from a place of humility. In America today we may hear a lot of Christians complaining about being persecuted. Sometimes this can come from a place of pride, where we think “I’m a child of God! They shouldn’t be treating me like this!” But Jesus said that because they persecuted him we will also be persecuted, and the type of persecution he was talking about was way more violent than insults. Be humble.

Sometimes we can also get frustrated at God for not giving us what we want and we think “Come on! You say I’m your child! Shouldn’t you care about what I want and give it to me??” This is clearly approaching our identity as children of God from place of pride. It is not a right to be a child of God. It is a gift, and one freely given. Gratitude is another thing I’m trying to get better at. With gratitude and humility I won’t be so anxious and frustrated. When you let everything pass through a filter of humility first the world doesn’t seem to be all that awful.

So, I would like to end this with the profoundly relevant Litany of Humility. It’s one of the most important prayers I’ve come across and I pray it often. I hope it does the same thing for you as it did for me.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
Deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
Deliver me Jesus,
That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Loneliness, Diversity, and Why I Actually Still Love the Church


The last few years have been what I can best describe as really weird. I started and led groups of people in ways I never thought I could, I moved away to be a part of a 2-year discipleship program, I made awesome friends, I became a man, I met different people I never thought I’d interact with and heard their stories, I endlessly wrestled with God and with my relationship to the things I grew up believing, I started getting anxiety attacks and was hit with depression for months, and even though I’m a whole lot better now part of me is still recovering.

God has stretched my perspective so wide and I’m so thankful for that but there’s times that I resent it. It’s wonderful and empowering when God shows you a new and beautiful way of seeing the world but when you look around and see that no one else is seeing what you’re seeing it gets lonely.

For example it’s hard when God gives me the desire to embrace the entire Body of Christ (any Christ follower) as the diverse bunch that it is and then to hear so much hate about other Christians from my Christian friends. They put people in boxes and say that because they do or don’t believe certain things a certain way then they are not real Christians. It makes me feel crazy for actually liking other Christians.

If we are going to be the Body of Christ we have to embrace diversity. That means diversity of beliefs, diversity of backgrounds and even diversity of emotions. The entire spectrum of human emotion needs to be embraced and celebrated in the Church. That includes doubt, uncertainty and grief, as well as faith, joy and hope. It all belongs and Christ is the glue that holds this messy Body together.

And I’m so tired of criticism of the Church that’s always aimed upward at the authorities. Most the time the authorities of the Church wind up in situations where they’re trying their best to please their congregations because of the kind of Church that we have shown we want. Criticism of the Church should first and foremost start within yourself, questioning what part you have to play, and then to those beside you. If you’re a Christian then we all are the Church.

The other day an old friend actually told me about his going through depression and coming on and off meds for it, and with a joy that I hadn’t felt in a long time I got to tell him “Me too.” When I was going through it I only had one friend that I was able to really share my darkest thoughts with so I knew the value of that. This guy apparently had no one. I’m sure the people around us in that restaurant thought we were crazy when I joyously asked him to tell me his darkest thoughts and if he knew what song he would play if he killed himself, just like I knew.

He knew. Of course he knew. And I’m sure some of you probably gawked at that last line while the rest of you were like “Yup. I would never do it but I know exactly what song I would play if I ever killed myself and exactly how I would do it.” Fortunate for my case I’ve never tried to kill myself but this is where the mind goes for everyone in dark times of their life.

And for the first time ever I was actually thankful that I went through that dark time. It was terribly lonely but now I get to use it to remind others that they’re not alone and that it’s real and it happens from time to time and it all belongs in the big and messy and diverse Body of Christ. The bar for Christians should not be happy. If anything it should be honest. That means being honest with yourself, with God, and with those around you about your junk. We’re forever interdependent creatures and we need to remain that way to be healthy.

For those that follow the liturgical Church Calendar we’re in the season of Epiphany, which started January 6th, commemorating the day Jesus was revealed to the Magi (or three wise men). It’s the celebration of the epiphany (manifestation or revelation) of Christ to the Gentiles. So let us remember that world-changing Incarnation; that moment of God embodying flesh: the sight of pleasure and pain, joy and suffering, glory and misery. And let us participate in this Incarnation as the wildly diverse Body of Christ and continue to move further into our divine humanity. Let us embrace the entire spectrum of our humanness as Christ did, leaving us with the responsibility to continue doing so. And let us be courageous and honest about who we are and what we’ve been through and be strong enough to be in solidarity with one another and say to one another what’s been called the best sermon ever: “Me too.” And let that widen our hearts and our love for the entire Body of Christ. Become people who can embrace the revelation of Christ wherever we see it. Just know that it will most likely be in the strangest places. This is our call, and that’s why I still love the Church.