and Jesus taught them…

Posted: 13 June, 2011 in Messages given in church
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

In Marks Gospel, which is the Gospel we are drawing today’s passage from, the writer says a few times that Jesus taught either the crowds or the disciples.  Yet when you look at these passages where Jesus teaches the crowds Mark mentions that Jesus taught people and but rarely does he record what he taught them.  It would appear that Mark is more likely to record how Jesus acted rather than what he said. It would appear that through these actions Mark most often shows Jesus’ teaching.

Today we look at two such actions; interestingly they both teach the same thing – well sort of.  At our gathering I read them and asked questions so that we could all could participate (even vicariously) in the process of discovering what it is that Jesus is telling us (or that Mark is telling us that Jesus is showing us!)

Our first passage –

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Our Second passage – remember that chapter divisions are sometimes unhelpful and can create a false division in the story…

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

These two passages are linked together.  To read one without the other is to leave ourselves poorer for the brevity.  Mark begins the one story (4:35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”) and then immediately interrupts it with the story of the storm.   As literature, these two stories are integrally connected.

This has me asking the question ‘Why?’ and looking for the connection between the two stories that better informs me as to what Mark intended his readers to see.

My first question is’ What is the basic connection between the two stories?  If they are connected literally I want to spot the connection in content as well.

The next question is ‘What is Mark telling us through the recounting of the story of the storm on the lake?’    The somewhat obvious answer is ‘That Jesus has power over nature’.   This is true.  I reckon there is more to the story though.  The storm at sea is my clue here.   Digging a bit deeper…  A number of commentaries (I don’t read them all that much but I have been told it is so) tell us that Jews were afraid of the sea.   While this is popularly held it is not altogether true.  For the Hebrew the sea (or the ocean) was not so much frightening in and of itself but is symbolic of  disorder; the Greek word covering this is chaos.    In Genesis 1:2 we are told that ‘…the earth hath existed waste and void, and darkness is on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God fluttering on the face of the waters’.

Chaos is the state of creation before God brought form and purpose to it.  The genesis imagery refers to it is ‘the waters’.  It is this chaos that Mark is painting in the story of the storm on the lake;  the usually gentle and placid Lake of Galilee has become dark and formless.  Into this Jesus speaks a word and form is restored.  It is little wonder that his disciples are blown away and ask ‘Who is this man, even the wind and the waves obey him?’

I then asked ‘Why did Jesus go to the other side of the lake?’  Again, on the surface it could be said that he was just wanting to get away from the crowds, and this could be true.  I reckon there is more to it again.

God, bringing form and order to the chaos of creation, stands in stark contrast to the other creation myths of the ancient near east.   In these other creation stories the form of the world comes through the lust, hatred and violence among the pantheon of gods from the surrounding nations.  God not only brings form and order the material world but also to the spiritual realm.   Here was see a  possible connection between the two stories.

Surely, when Jesus says to his disciples, most of whom are fishermen and familiar with Lake Galilee and its surrounding communities, they point out that he is headed for a graveyard on the pagan side of the lake.  I( reckon Jesus’ decision is deliberate and chosen.  he is ‘teaching’ his disciples through his choices and actions.

The destination is probably the most unlikely place that any good Jew would chose to go.  It was a graveyard, so it was unclean ground.  It was inhabited by a demon-possessed madman, not only unclean but unholy.  It was in land occupied by a variety of peoples all from foreign nations.  What possible good could there be in going there?

Yet it is to this place and to this naked, raving madman that Jesus does in fact chose to go.   To the unclean, unholy, unwashed people on the ‘other side’.

On his arrival the madman recognises him; he calls him ‘Jesus, Son of the Most High God’.  Again, it is the evil ones who recognise who Jesus is more than those who should have known better.  The madman, or better, the spirit/s in control of him plead not to be sent out of the area.  ‘Allow us to go into the pigs!’ they plead.  Jesus asks the spirit it’s name.  It replies ‘Legion, for we are many’.   I can’t helkp but hear those words in a serpentine, hissing voice.

It is worth noting that Legion is, obviously, a Roman word.  Mark’s Gospel is writing for a  Roman audience, perhaps in Rome itself but we are not sure on that point.  There is a theme that runs through Mark’s gospel that is subversive within the Roman empire.  Legion, the madman, is perhaps the personification, not  exclusively of Rome but also the empires of the world.   Evil, madness, marginalisation and shame being the hallmarks of Empire at its worst.  It is also worth mentioning that the Roman military legion garrisoned in the region at that time was the 10th legion; it banner was a  wild boar!

Jesus relents (commentators have some interesting discussions at this point) and allows the spirits to go into the pigs.  There are about 2,000 of them.  The chaos that inhabited the man now finds expression in the pigs.  They begin to run and can’t stop because of the slope of the ground.  Carried away by their own weight and the madness of the evil among them, they plunge off the cliff and into the lake and drown.

With the stampede and subsequent drowning of the pigs those watching the scene unfold race off to the surrounding countryside and the town telling everyone what had happened.  It is not long before a  crowd had gathered.  There are presented with the madman, now dressed and in his right mind, sitting with Jesus.   They appear to be more frightened of Jesus that they were of the madman.  Having scarred their pigs into a fatal stampede, damaging the local economy substantially and, no doubt, putting the local garrison off side (the Roman’s loved their bacon for breakfast), they ask Jesus to leave their country.

The until-recently madman asks Jesus to take him with him.  Jesus says no and tells him to go back to his family and community and to tell them what God had done for him and how much mercy he had shown him.  With that Jesus leaves, adding more weight that this was what he had come for and not something else.

As I read this passage I get the impression that Mark has wrapped up in this story the whole story of Jesus:

Jesus comes deliberately into our world to seek and to save.  He has no greater desire than this.  He comes to our world of chaos and death and evil, he comes to us in our uncleanness.   He sets us free from the bondages that control us.    He does not carry a big stick to punish us with.   He does not simply wrap us up and take us with him, but he leaves us in our communities, our neighbourhoods and families to tell others what God has done for us.

There are a  couple of things that still need to be underlined here.  Familiarity with the text sometimes leads us to think that what we already know is all there is to know.

First up, Jesus comes to the madman whom we have recognised as the worst person in the worst pace in the world.  The madman did not ask.  The madman was probably incapable of asking.  Jesus comes out of his own desire to see this man restored from chaps to order.  So many people I meet, Christian among them, feel so unworthy of God doing anything for them,  This passage tells us that we are in fact unworthy, if we think that God only deals with the worthy.  The truth of this passage is that God our father loves us not because of our worthiness but because of nothing other than his love for us.  There is nothing we can do to get him to love us more.  Conversely, there is also nothing we can do to make him love us less either.   Regardless of our social position, our nakedness, our madness, even our evil God is the one who seeks us with no other reason than to rescue and restore us.  He is the seeking and saving God and Jesus is God among us.

There is so much more in this passage but time and space prevent me working through it all here and now.  Go and read the passage again for yourself.  Ask questions.  Seek answers.

Do you feel that your life is chaos?  Do you feel you are pushed and pulled by forces and factors beyond yourself? Do you feel naked and ashamed? Do you feel you are not in your right mind?  Jesus has come to bring peace, to restore wholeness, to offer forgiveness.

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