Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Gospel of Mark: To Love as God Loves

Sometimes people do things that are just very difficult to understand. Over Easter week, I found myself in a familiar text, John 20, one of the Resurrection texts from the Gospels.
Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (John 20:1 CEB)
What follows is the story with which we are all familiar. Mary found out that not only was the stone rolled away, the tomb was empty! I’ve heard that story 1,000 times. But as I read it again this week, one particular phrase stood out to me, and I couldn’t quit thinking about it. “While it was still dark…” While it was still dark, Mary went to Jesus’ tomb. Before anyone else was up, before she did anything else that day, and I want to know why she went to the tomb so early. Because here is the thing: Jesus was killed on Friday. If Mary was at Jesus’ tomb before the sun came up on Sunday, I think we can assume she was there on Saturday too. Why is Mary spending so much time at Jesus’ tomb?

Before you rush to your religious answer: “Well, Jesus was God’s Son!” You know that, and I know that, but I don’t think Mary knew that—not yet. Here is what Mary knew: Jesus was a man in whom she put her complete trust. But Jesus was dead. They killed Him. He was not who they thought He was. They thought He was the coming King. But Jesus was dead. That is all Mary knew. But still, “while it was still dark” she came to the tomb. Sometimes people do things that are just very difficult to understand. I want to know: What possessed Mary to go to that tomb while it was still dark?

I also read another story this week.

Read Mark 10:46-52 CEB.

Don’t you just hate it when someone acts unruly in church? Listen, this was no soft-spoken request for help! When Bartimaeus heard it was Jesus, Mark says, “He began to shout!” And the people there with him told him to be quiet.
“Be quiet!”
“Don’t you know the protocol here?”
“This man is a rabbi.”
“There is a proper way to do things!”
He didn’t care. The text says, when they tried to silence him, he just yelled louder! And I guess he is glad he kept on yelling, because Jesus heard him. Jesus changed that man’s life that day. He was blind, and then he could see! Sometimes people do things that are just very difficult to understand. Like this blind man, Bartimaeus. Why did he keep on yelling for Jesus to “have mercy” on him? Why did he throw caution to the wind? Why did he not care what anyone said about him or thought about him?

I think the reason that man kept yelling is the same reason Mary went to the tomb while it was still dark, and the same reason those apostles followed Jesus even before they really knew who He was. Because they believed in the power of Jesus’ love.

In the movie, Risen, a Roman soldier, appointed to investigate rumors of the resurrection, eventually joins Jesus and His followers. I love the question he posed to one of the apostles. You didn’t know He would rise from the dead... "What made you follow Him?" And then we see this scene of Jesus healing a leper. Jesus' love exemplified. "That is why," the apostle explains.

Mary went to the tomb while it was still dark, because she wanted desperately to be close the man who loved her when no one else would. Here was a woman who had many demons living inside of her (that is what the Bible says). But Jesus loved her. He accepted her when the world around her had rejected her. And she wanted so desperately to experience that love again. That is why she just couldn’t leave the tomb! And the blind man…he kept screaming because he had heard stories about Jesus’ love! He knew that Jesus had healed the sick. He knew Jesus had thrown out demons. He knew that Jesus had a habit of accepting people that no one else accepted. This man yelled because He wanted someone to love him like that!

The love of Jesus makes people do some things that are just very difficult to understand! In these last days, the love of Jesus is expressed to the world through the church. In fact, Jesus’ love, expressed through the church, can be just as contagious and infectious as the love we read about in these stories.

The church truly becomes the church not when it is right in all of its theology, not when it provides the best worship experience; the church truly becomes the church when it extends the reach of God’s love.

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