Archive for April 2007

Mark 9

April 22, 2007

Mark 9 is perhaps the most powerful book of this gospel.

It opens with the promise that some would see the Kingdom of God while they were still alive. However, it’s not clear whether the promise is directed backwards, into the text of Mark 8 and its vision of the Son of God coming into God’s glory with the holy angels, whether it’s directed forward into the Transfiguration of Mark 9, or whether it’s simply an offhand comment.

At any rate, six days pass, and then Jesus leads three disciples onto a mountaintop. His clothes become dazzling white and Elijah and Moses appear. Then a cloud, presumably God Himself, appears to announce the divinity of Jesus. And then it all disappears, like a mirage.

As they descend, Jesus tells them not to talk about this until the Son of Man rises from the dead. (Later, in Gallilee, He tells all His disciples that the Son of Man will be betrayed, killed, and will rise three days later). He also tells them that Elijah has already come. This is generally taken to refer to John the Baptist. However, He never answers the disciples’s question as to why the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first.

Jesus then does an outstanding miracle, driving a demon who makes a boy deaf and mute out from the boy despite the failure of His disciples to do so. When challenged on his belief in God, the boy’s father makes a statement that is a keystone of the gospels: “I do believe,” he says. “Help me in my unbelief.”  In other words, he recognizes that what he had accepted as belief is lacking. Jesus explains to the disciples that failed to drive out the demon because they needed to pray.

In Capernaum, jealousy overtakes the disciples. They argue about who is the greatest. Jesus upends their beliefs, telling them that whoever actually is the greatest will end up as the lowliest, and that the only way to advance is to serve others. He also tells them that they welcome God when they offer a Christian welcome to little children. He further points out that anyone who performs a miracle in the name of Jesus cannot then turn around and despise Him (in the book of Acts, however, we will learn that using the name of Jesus as a talisman can get one into trouble).

Next, Jesus gives warnings:

  • don’t lead children into sin
  • address the sources of sin with radical measures, even cutting off a limb if that is the source of sin
  • hell is a place of terrible torment.

While these warnings are often used in a menacing manner, their instructional value is perhaps more evident to a student of Buddhism. In Buddhism, understanding the nature of self and the source of suffering is the primary task. Students ask themselves simple questions of the kind, “If I cut off my leg, who then am I?” 

Most people think of themselves as identical to their bodies, so their sense of self is devastated when they lose a bodily function. But a student of Buddhism quickly learns that even if his body changes, he remains himself. Limbs are not the source of sin. The ego is. This is what needs to be cut off, to end the torment. 

Finally, Jesus teaches that “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Coming as it does, right after the image of sinners burning in unquenchable fire, this is shocking. It sounds as if Jesus is saying that everyone will burn. But the fire that Jesus is talking about is the love of the second baptism. Cooking meat has a preservative property much like salt. Just so, the fire of love preserves the spirit.
1.  Why is Jesus referred to variously as the Son of God and the Son of Man? 
2.  If Elijah restores all things, and if John is Elijah, how did the Baptist restore all things?  
3. When Jesus, John, Peter, and James arrive where the afflicted boy is, the other disciples are arguing with the teachers of the law. Specifically, about what are they arguing?
4.  Why is it relevant that the argument over who is greatest takes place in Capernaum? In Mark 1, Jesus drove out an evil spirit.
4.  Why did Jesus expel the demon when the crowd ran over to the boy?
5.  What kinds of demons require prayer to be expelled? Did Jesus pray to expel the demon? 

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