Sunday, September 20, 2015

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 9
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

You wake up only to realize TIFF is over and you didn’t see a single film, celebrity, or posh hotel.

Sad really, since the world of cinema only had eyes for Toronto over the last ten days. The good news for those who didn’t make it downtown is that some films will be the cineplex soon enough, some will appear on TVO or Doc Zone, and still others will eventually make it on to regular TV.

Then, of course, it will fall to some clever person to summarize the film for the sake of the TV listings—something that remains a bit of an art in-and-of-itself. How do you give a description that is at once brief, accurate, and appealing? You have to say enough to pique interest, but not so much that you spoil the film.

Here are some examples from our friends at Turner Classic Movies, and some attempts to make them more interesting:

The African Queen: “A grizzled skipper and a spirited missionary take on the Germans in Africa during World War I.” I might suggest “This is a better film about two people in love clinging to a sinking ship.”

“Classic tale of Scarlett O'Hara's battle to save her beloved Tara and find love during the Civil War” might become “Scarlett loves Ashley but marries Rhett then eats a radish.”

“A Kansas farm girl dreams herself into a magical land where she must fight a wicked witch to escape.” This description actually appeared in the LA Times in 1998: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again.”

I share this, of course, because the passage Joyce read actually contains the biblical version of a movie description, one that tries to be brief, accurate and appealing (in the sense) that it will lodge in the minds of the disciples. This version is both summary and explanation, and—as we learn in the next verse—is completely incomprehensible to the disciples. They don’t understand, and Mark tells us they are too afraid to admit it. The confounding summary?

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”

Seems straight forward enough. And, in fact, this is the second time they have heard this prediction, the first time being just last week:

“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (8.31)

And this description ended with a rebuke for poor Peter, so it seems the inability to understand is part of a trend. To be fair, however, these descriptions come at the mid-point of Mark’s Gospel, with very little in the way of any kind of lead-in. Here is everything that has happened so far:

Jesus is baptized and tempted.
Jesus calls the disciples.
Jesus heals some sick people.
Jesus begins to teach.
Jesus calms the storm, heals some more, goes to Nazareth, learns of the death of his cousin, feeds the five thousand and the four thousand (this crowd is often forgotten) and has his first real confrontation with the Pharisees. Then he gives his summary, twice.

So we can forgive the disciples for their confusion and their silence if there is very little in the way of context for what they hear. So far there has been little in the way of organized opposition to his work, and very little to suggest that something as exciting as healing and feeding people might cause his death.

One suggestion may be that Jesus reveals too much, that it’s simply too much to take in, and that he might better feed them a few details at a time. Like a good movie description, he needed to keep them engaged without giving away the entire plot, because the entire plot was too much to comprehend.

And this theory (or excuse) for the disciples inability to take it in might work if they understood the narrative in the end. But of course, they did’t. Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener, Thomas needs to see the wounds on his hands and his side, and later they will fail to see him on the road, and on the beach.

So even with the entire story, they struggle to understand that the promises made on Mark 8 and Mark 9 were true, that the threefold movement of trial-death-resurrection was a reality, and that were were witnesses to all of it.

And just as I enter the territory where I seem to be terribly unfair to the disciples, I’m going to take it a step further and look at us, the heirs of the disciples, and take a measure of how well we comprehend the summary of events as described by Jesus.

But before I do it, I want to introduce you to the late Michael Martin, a professor who taught at Boston University and wrote a famous (infamous?) book called “The Case Against Christianity.”

Ironically, one of the things he does in the book is provide perhaps the most helpful answer to the question ‘what is a Christian?” He begins:

“A Basic Christian...believes that a theistic God exists, that Jesus lived at the time of Pilate, that Jesus is the Incarnation of God, that one is saved through faith in Jesus, and that Jesus is the model for ethical behavior.”

So far so good. He then goes a step further, and adds what he calls the Orthodox Christian, beginning with the Basic Christian and adding the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection and the Second Coming.

Finally, to be inclusive, he defines the Liberal Christian, saying simply “belief in a theistic God and the acceptance of Jesus as a model of ethical behavior.” He does note that there is a further form of Liberal Christian, resting solely on Jesus as the model for ethical behavior, then notes that many Christians do not consider either type of Liberal Christianity to be Christianity at all (p. 12).

We can quibble, of course, with his lists, but what he provides in an interesting spectrum of belief that defines us and guides us. I assume that we can all find ourselves in his description, and celebrate the diversity that makes up the Christian community. And learning this may assure us or it may act as a sort of aspirational challenge, and it may even explain the silence of the disciples.

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”

The disciples lived each day with the ethical teaching of Jesus. They came to see that he was the incarnation of God, so filled with God that he disrupted the natural world. They no doubt saw him as a source of salvation, with the description of this new life in Christ being “followers of the Way.”

Then the hard part began. Comprehending his death, his resurrection, his coming again—what Michael Martin labels “orthodox” belief—challenged the disciples in the same way it challenges us today. From the earliest days of the church, this appears in liturgy and prayer (“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”) as an affirmation but also a reminder. This is the stuff that even the disciples struggled with, and you will too.

The challenge for us, is to discover what the block is. Maybe you are one of the fortunate ones who can see the great truths of our faith with clarity and conviction, or you are more like the twelve, confused, questioning, silent. Either way, God is with you, and either way, you have a home. May God continue to bless us wherever we find ourselves on this journey of faith. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home