Mark 5 & 7

Readings for this week June 17 – 21
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – More Than Just Tradition versus Scripture

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 7:1-4

There is more going on in this controversial section of scripture than just a basic “Jesus versus the Pharisees” encounter. Neither is this passage simply about scripture versus tradition, with the former being, obviously, right and the latter wrong and damaging. Tradition is not automatically a bad thing. Indeed, in many places in the New Testament, the word tradition (paradosis) is used to refer to the basic teachings of the gospel (see for example 1 Corinthians 11:2, or 2 Thessalonians 2:15). And someone once described tradition as simply the history of how we have interpreted the Bible, the story of how the people of God have attempted to take his word and apply it to their lives and live it out in the world.

This is, of course, something that we can – and do often – get wrong. Although this passage starts out addressing the issue of purity, it quickly moves into an examination of the wellspring of true tradition, and the ways in which human beings can subvert the law of God through some of the misguided customs that can spring up amongst God’s people. There are some questions faithful followers and communities need to continually ask themselves to avoid this: What are we doing and why are we doing it? Is what we are doing and the way we are living God-honouring and life-affirming? Does it invite people to move closer to God and to come to know who he is and the purpose he has for their lives? Does what we do align with God’s purposes for people and places? Is community encouraged, forgiveness modelled and restoration fostered? In short, is God the source of it and is he in it?

Question to Consider
How do we keep our practices faithfully aligned with God’s purposes?

Prayer
Loving Lord, help us be true to you, your word and the purposes you have for us all. May you be seen in everything we do and seek to do. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Hypocrisy in the Name of God

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 7:5-14

Jesus is charging the Pharisees and the teachers of the law with hypocrisy because what they are teaching as fundamental, non-negotiable, God-ordained law is in actual fact only the accretion of human custom around the law. Human customs aren’t necessarily bad in themselves, but they can be harmful when held up as more than just our traditions and “the way we’ve always done things.” The Pharisees are claiming their traditions as divine revelation from God. Jesus gives an example of a way in which human custom has been used to circumvent the law of God: the practice of declaring that one’s property now belongs to God, and therefore making it exempt from use in supporting one’s parents. This is a human practice that Jesus condemns in no uncertain terms because it contravenes the law that commands that children honour their mother and father. What God commands cannot be violated by the duplicitous subversion of another of his commands. We cannot fool God, but we can dishonour him.

What form of life, what lifestyle, is the one that truly honours the God who speaks through the scriptures in the first place? The entire edifice that the Pharisees had built up around the law, the way they had squeezed God’s decrees and moulded his law into something that would support their social, religious and political agenda – all this Jesus condemns; but not the law itself. The coming of God’s kingdom affirms the God-given gift that is the law and challenges the layers of Pharisaic tradition that were pointing people in the wrong direction, away from the God the law was pointing to and away from his purposes for his people.

Questions to Consider
What is hypocrisy? How do we guard against it in the body of Christ?

Prayer
Almighty Father, keep me from hypocrisy. Highlight my failings, and point out the error of my ways so that I may always return to your path. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – The Signposts of Clean and Unclean

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 7:15-23

The Pharisees’ initial question (“Why do your disciples not live according to the traditions of the elders?”) was a very good one. It was about lifestyle, something that Jesus was acutely interested in. How should people live? Though Jesus was not interested in the detailed minutiae that the Pharisees obsessed over, he was deeply interested in the way people lived and the way they should live if they were to live God-honouring, obedient, fruitful lives in his service and in furtherance of his aims for creation as a whole, through each individual’s life. Jesus attached great importance to the question of lifestyle; we must examine our lifestyle so that we don’t abandon God’s commands and violate his word to us.

But our lifestyle itself isn’t the problem; it reveals the problem. The real problem is that we are rebellious slaves to sin and death, and cannot, in any way, save ourselves. Jesus is saying that the purity laws, the dietary laws – the law itself, as good and beneficial as it may be – cannot actually solve the human problem. Only the kingdom of God can address that problem and herald the solution: the king himself. Only the coming king, the one prepared to take creation’s corruption, decay and sin onto his own shoulders, can fix things. We can’t, no matter how many rules and regulations we keep, and how many fences and safeguards we put around God’s law in order to preserve it. The law points towards purity and cleanliness and wholeness before and with God; Jesus offers the reality.

Questions to Consider
What was the purpose of the law? Why was it such an important gift?

Prayer
Lord God, keep me vigilant in my self-examination for anything that may move me away from you or that might attempt to dethrone you as king in my life. Speak to me and bend my ear to listen to you always. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – We Are Never Beyond His Reach

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 5:1-13

There is nowhere and no one that Jesus cannot reach, no distress or disease that he cannot allay. He turns up in unexpected places and addresses impossible situations. No one and nothing is beyond his reach. This episode with the demoniac is a perfect illustration of this. Jesus is not even in Israel. This area was a source of contention between many groups (and, sadly, still is to this day); Jesus has travelled to a place outside the boundaries of Israel, to a people not Jewish, and a situation that ticks almost every box for uncleanness and impurity. Jesus is outside the land, among Gentiles, and even worse, pig-farming Gentiles. The possessed man is – literally – unclean, covered in dirt and wounds and scars as a result of his self-harming behaviour. And he inhabits a graveyard, his proximity to the dead a further ritual stain on anyone coming into contact with him. Everything about him says keep away – and everyone has.

Except Jesus. To a man in an impossible place, living – if we can call it that – in an impossible situation, seemingly with no conceivable way of being rescued, Jesus comes, reaches through all that imprisons him and dehumanises him, and sets him free. However impossible the situations that imprison us, whether our gaolers guard us from outside or rise from within us, we are never beyond the reach of Jesus’ restoring, healing hands. No one is. We must not write ourselves off, and we must not see the plight of any around us in this world as irrevocably beyond hope. That is not how Jesus sees anyone, and nor should we.

Questions to Consider
Have you ever experienced “impossible release” like this man? How?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you that we cannot fall beyond your reach, that your compassionate gaze tracks us wherever we go, and that we cannot be separated from your love. Help us love like we believe it. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Pictures Big and Small Together

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 5:14-20

With Jesus, there’s always the big picture and the smaller picture within it, and we don’t need to think that bigger always means better. Both are important. The smaller picture is often instrumental in showing us what the big picture actually is; the big picture manifests itself within these smaller pictures of Jesus’ encounters with people. It is important that we remember both pictures, and try to keep both in view, rather than only ever focusing on one of them to the detriment of the other. This scene with the demoniac is a good example of this phenomenon.

This episode of Jesus and the demoniac begins in the same manner that we have seen at the climax of Mark’s gospel. We begin with a man naked, shunned and isolated, outside the town, wounded and being torn apart by physical and spiritual forces bent on his destruction. This is also the way Jesus will end up, naked, alone, on a cross outside the city, being torn apart by all that this fallen corrupt creation can throw at him. Jesus shares the plight of his people, walks the path of pain in order to take the full force of evil upon himself, and defeat it so that others can go free. Mark might be showing us a glimpse of the big picture of the salvation and restoration of all creation here, but he is doing so through this individual story of the deep pain and distress of a human being, and through the healing and restoration that Jesus brings to this man.

Question to Consider
How have you seen the big picture of God’s restorative work in your life?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, may I always be aware of both the outworking of your will in my life and the wider picture of your plans and purposes for all creation – and the way the two always fit together in harmony. Thank you for the role you have given me in your bigger picture of creation. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)