Mark is the Tom Clancy of the New Testament. He is an action adventure writer. His gospel moves fast. His favorite word is “immediately.” He hates the passive voice. Jesus is always doing something. As a writer, myself, I recognize the writing problem that Mark gets himself into at the end of his first chapter. Mark wants to keep the story moving, but he also wants to give us details about how Jesus spent his days. The Bible’s other authors would have written a few paragraphs about what Jesus often did, or the nature of his habits. “Often” and “routine” are not in Mark’s adventure packed vocabulary.

Many Bible scholars think that Mark, also known as John-Mark, is Peter’s ghost writer. The impulsive fisherman didn’t have time to put words to paper. Mark didn’t want to waste the reader’s time, or attention span, with talk of what Jesus ate for breakfast or how often he went to the gym. Instead, he gives us a fast paced account of a single day. He implies that this is what its like to follow Jesus. We are left thinking that being a disciple is too high stress, 24/7, type A, a thing for our lives (not that I’m criticizing Mark). Yet, Mark is an antidote to the ho-hum, gentle and mild, church-is-boring, way we have settled into this Christianity thing. 

Lent starts in another week and a half. We do well to remember that the reason Mark rips through the beginning of Jesus’ story is because he wants to take us to the cross. The event that reshapes all of human history doesn’t happen along the quaint Galilean shore, it’s in Jerusalem — bloody and passionate — and there, oddly enough, Mark slows down to bring our work-a-day world to a stop.

So every day with Jesus isn’t like the one described in Mark 1:21-39. But they all contain the same elements:

February 4, 2018
Mark 1:29-39
Epiphany 5

Simone Weil said, “A beautiful woman looking at her image in the mirror may very well believe the image is herself. An ugly woman knows it is not.” Fortunately, many church leaders know their church’s image is not her reality. Well to do, suburban, congregations often are deluded into believing that their church’s charismatic pastor and modern facilities makes it a great church. Intuitive and theologically aware church leaders know that the congregation’s mission, hope, and strength, lie elsewhere.

There a number of movies and plays that provide a false ending. Into the Woods, has four interwoven plot lines that seem to be resolved just before the intermission. Then the curtain comes up on Act two and everyone finds another reason to go into the woods and face even greater dangers. Palm Sunday is the same way. We see Jesus come into Jerusalem and be honored as the Messiah, no longer hidden away in the backwoods hillsides of Galilee. He gets to teach in the temple. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, deceive us into thinking that Jesus has passed the finish line of his race. If this were a book, I’d look at the remaining pages and wonder why they were there.


John’s Gospel uses the false ending of Palm Sunday to link two different books about Jesus; the first book tells seven miracles, beginning with the Wedding of Cana and concluding with the raising of Lazarus. Each miracle, or sign, separates Jesus further from our expectations of a “normal” religious leader. The seeds of Jesus own death, portrayed in the second book, are sown in the new life he gives to Lazarus just outside the city gates. John has Jesus get anointed for burial in Bethany, then asks us, do you want to go with him into Jerusalem?

March 29, 2015
Mark 11:1-11
Palm Sunday

    Good story tellers aren’t afraid to be honest about how bad people can be. See Nabokov’s  Humbert Humbert or the White Witch in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. Great movies also have really bad villains, see Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs or Darth Vader in the first Star Wars. Then look at these words in the Bible, “[I, Paul, was] a man of violence.... I am the chief among sinners” (I Timothy 1:13 & 15). Then there’s this line that belongs on everyone’s resume, [I have become] skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good (Jeremiah 4:22). What’s with Jesus dining with prostitutes, corrupt officials, and outcasts (Luke 15:1-2). Does he really mean to imply that they too have a hope of being saved? These words come from the book that also gives us Herod the Great, who in a jealous rage, kills all of the infants of the region. Who can forget Jezebel, the Assyrian princess who seduced her way into Ahab’s palace, corrupted a whole generation with her Baal worship, and then hunted down God’s prophets until only Elijah was left alive? It’s in this context, that we have to consider Paul’s claim that he was a violent man, totally undeserving of the grace of God.

September 15, 2013
Luke 15
I Timothy 1
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