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Mark 7 – What I Do and Don’t Know

I wish I had more time to actually study all of the complexities of this chapter, but unfortunately I don’t.  There’s going to be a bookmark in my Bible on this page until I sit down soon and try to educate myself out of some of my confusion here.  But I still won’t pretend that I think I understand everything going on here.

Here’s what (I think) I know:

Mark has to actually explain in detail why the Pharisees are upset because he thinks its so ridiculous that it won’t make sense without explanation.  It’s also important that they question why Jesus doesn’t follow “the teachings of the elders.”  It’s clear that the rules Jesus’ followers aren’t adhering to are man-made regulations.  On the other hand, Jesus responds by saying, “You don’t even follow the teachings of Moses and the laws of God.”  Nice rebuttal.  He goes on to talk about how cleanliness of heart, mind, and soul is what matters to God, not dirty hands or dishes.

In the story of the woman in Tyre, most of it confuses me and will be in the “things I don’t know section.”  Following up on Mark 6, I wrote there about how Jesus gave and gave and gave to other people to what had to be the point of physical and emotional exhaustion.  We see the result of that here as he tries to slip unnoticed into a house, but of course, he is found out and must go back to healing.

Jesus then goes to the area of the Ten Cities, or Decapolis, where he heals a man who is deaf and unable to speak.  Jesus heals him.  Fun fact: the Decapolis is the same region that Jesus sent Legion to go evangelize after he got rid of his demons.

Here’s What I Don’t Know:

When Mark is writing about Jesus’ comments on how nothing outside of the body can make you unclean, Mark specifically says that in saying this Jesus was calling all foods clean.  The food codes were part of the Old Testament law.  It would seem that Jesus was negating part of the law.  However, in Matthew 5:17-20, it is clear that Jesus did not come to destroy the law and that he intended none of it to fall away until everything “is accomplished.”

My best theory: Mark is writing this Gospel in the time after the church has learned that the food laws no longer apply to Christians.  As he is writing, he is trying to show that Jesus’ comments here apply to the new Christian understanding (given to Peter by God) that the food laws no longer applied.

Jesus has healed Gentiles before without insulting them or calling them dogs.  However, in this case he seems to do so.  When the woman acknowledges his comment but replies in faith, Jesus is impressed and grants her request.  I am not sure why Jesus would say what he said to the woman, even though it is true.

In the story of the deaf and mute man, I have no idea what Jesus is doing.  Just a few verses ago he cast

Instructions for a “wet willie” or “How to heal a deaf man?”

out a demon long distance without even being told which direction the girl was.  Now he sticks his finger in the guy’s ears, spits, and touches his tongue in order to heal him.  In another situation Jesus said that there was a demon that could only be cast out by prayer.  Is this some kind of illness or demon that could only be cast out by poking and spitting?  Is Jesus simply demonstrating something?  I don’t know what that would be.  It’s an odd moment that is right up there with the time Jesus used spit to make a mud pie to place on a man’s eyes to heal his blindness.  I don’t know what’s going on, but it is completely clear that Jesus does know what he’s doing.

Honestly, I think it’s important to recognize that the Bible isn’t always straight forward.  Sometimes it’s weird, complicated, or difficult to understand.  Usually not.  But sometimes.  And we shouldn’t always feel the need to say, “Well I know exactly what that means and there is no question about it.”  Sometimes we need to recognize that God is bigger than us and does things differently than you or I would.  And that’s okay.  It’s part of what makes him God and us…well, not God.  And we need that humility.  I know I do.

On the other hand, if you know exactly what’s going on in any of these stories, please let me know.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2013 in Mark

 

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Acts 10 – Five Observations about Cornelius

This picture took animals from Noah’s Ark and put them in Peter’s Blanket. The pig and the condor are the only two that make sense. Maybe the raccoon if Peter lived in Kentucky.

This is one of my favorite chapters in Acts.  Through the first nine chapters the book is all about Jews becoming Christians and Jews bring mean to Christians.  In Acts 10, Gentiles officially come on to the scene and they do it in a big way.  The chapter is almost comical, however, as Peter has to get hit in the head three times by unclean animals before even going to Cornelius and even then doesn’t haven any plan to actually offer an invitation until God’s Spirit enters Cornelius.  Finally Peter gets it and then has to go back to Jerusalem to explain his reasons for baptizing Gentiles.  Come on early Christians…catch up with God’s great vision for the entire world.  Anyhow, five observations about Acts 10:

1.  Cornelius is chosen because of his generosity to others.  This doesn’t mean he is saved by his generosity, but out of all the Gentiles who believed and prayed to God, Peter was sent to a Roman soldier.  The reason was his attention to the poor.  And we aren’t just talking about giving them money, but knowing and caring for the poor enough to pray for them.  This guy will fit in great with the early Christians.

2.  Peter is at Simon the Tanner’s house.  Tanners are the people who take the dead animals, skin them, and turn their skin into leather goods.  This was an “unclean” job.  Jews weren’t to touch dead things or touch people who touch dead things.  That’s all tanners did.  Peter is overlooking that prejudice to stay at Simon’s house.  He will associate with tanners but needs three visions to get him to visit a Roman Centurion.

3.  Peter doesn’t offer an invitation.  It appears that God jumps into the story at the moment Peter is about to conclude his sermon.  The Spirit enters the household of Cornelius before they are baptized.  I think Peter had no intention to offer baptism or admission to God’s Kingdom to this family so God had to preempt his conclusion.  When God does, all of the Jews with Peter are stunned.  “They can be Christians too?!”

4.  Peter’s response, “Surely nobody can stand in the way of their being baptized with water.  They have received the Holy Spirit just like we have.”  This statement seems far from a bold proclamation.  It’s part observation, part question, part proclamation.”  I almost picture him looking at those with him while shrugging his shoulders.  They must have all agreed and Cornelius’ family is baptized.  Clearly God’s vision for His Kingdom continues to be bigger than any of his followers had ever imagined.

5.  This is one of the few circumstances in the New Testament where somebody receives the Holy Spirit before they are baptized.  This appears to be the exception and not the rule (as evidenced by everybody’s response).  It is this very surprise that finally makes clear to all the Apostles that God’s Kingdom is for all people.  God’s surprising action is irrefutable, but it’s also important to know that it is surprising.  The fact that the Spirit arriving before baptism was so unusual is a powerful indicator that they all were accustomed to the spirit arriving AT baptism.

(Bonus observation: This is an unofficial opinion observation.  There doesn’t seem to be any call for Cornelius to quit his job.  Apparently being a Roman Centurion is something you can do and still be a Christian.  This might come as a surprise to pacifists and people who protest at soldiers funerals that God would choose a high ranking roman soldier to be the first Gentile convert.  This might be our Hot Topic on Friday this week.)

These were Jesus’ Apostles and they were still surprised by just how great and how vast God’s Kingdom was.  They couldn’t fathom just how big of a vision God was casting for them and all his followers to come.  In so many ways, I think we continue struggling to catch hold of God’s world-changing vision.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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