Re-reading Mark's Gospel - 1
Should we be happy to smell like Jesus?
Reading His story is a bit like dabbing on Jesus' scent.
††† ††† By this stage we have read our way to Mark chapter six verse six where Jesus' home town gave Him the cold shoulder. There's been 36 separate stories. Now it's time to take stock; I have a suggestion. It is important. Why not get mum or dad to read the whole of Mark with you in three or more sittings, say one Saturday or Sunday afternoon in front of the fire. Or even take a whole week to do it. Why do I suggest this?
††† ††† Sooner or later we have to try to grasp the whole of Mark's story - we need to get the overall picture and not get lost in "bits" and "verses". The bits are important of course but this story is different from say, Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. It is like those books but it is also different from them. Mark's Gospel is like a novel in places, but it is different because of what it is, the good news that God has sent his Son. There's nothing else like this. Jesus came to get our lives back on track; the purpose of Mark telling us this is so we can understand what God wants for us. It's about how God wants us to be happy members in His family. We need to hear the family's story!
††† ††† Sometimes we just need a break, to take a breather. God knew this when He created us. That is why He said we should have a day of rest. Not just to help us understand our lives; actually, that wasn't it. Having the day of rest was so we could get a sense of what God had done for us (as well as thinking about God's own day of rest - what He has surely got in store for us); an idea, a whiff if you like, of how God felt about all of what He had been doing and when we understand that we begin to understand why He says we are important to Him. Well it's break-time. Relax. Have a breather. It's more important to understand the Bible story, than to read Uncle Bruce's 120 Bible Hunches.
††† ††† If you spend a week reading and quietly listening to all of Mark's story then, when you have done that, you can come back and start reading number 39. It will come. It's there already on the internet for when you want it. And Mark didn't write his story so we could read it just once. He wrote it so we could be members of "Jesus' school" just like he was, just like any other disciple. And so, as we read it, again and again, we realize something earlier helps us understand what we are reading. Then when we read it again later we come to realise that something we are reading now makes sense because of something we know comes later on in the story. And sometimes when we are re-reading it for the eleventy-third time we are startled because we see things we have not understood before. "I haven't read this before!" we say, and really we have but it hits us in a new and surprising way.
††† ††† Remember Mark's book was first written almost 2000 years ago. (My book, on the other hand, was only started in March 2000.) There are things in Mark's story that people living 50 years or 100 years afterwards knew better than we know now; we can't understand some of these things. But we know enough of what it meant to him, when he wrote it, from the story we have now. Mark knew more about what was happening, and who the people were he was writing about, than we do. We know they were important; but we don't always understand why they are included and why other things are left out. This is something we have to face when we read books that are so old.
††† ††† Let me give you an example. In 1963 Geelong defeated Hawthorn for the VFL premiership. If you look in the newspapers you will see photos and you will read reports and you will learn that Hawthorn still had a chance to win at 3/4 time. But it won't tell you about the fence that ran around the outside of the MCG. That fence was an old fence and it had fleur-de-lys running along the top of it. Now I know that they were there because I was at the game and I saw Hawthorn lose that day. But you won't read about the fleur-de-lys in the newspaper reports.† A photo of play near a boundary line may help you pick them out, but just reading what is written in the newspapers about the match will not tell you about what was part of the fence.
††† ††† On that day another competition was going on; everyone there knew about it because everybody could see it - but maybe that's not totally correct. For instance, if you were blind and your Labrador had taken you to the footy you might not know about this other competition unless someone told you about it and described it to you. But anyway, the other competition was between the rival cheer squads and it was about which one could get their fence hangings onto the fence around the boundary line. Hawthorn didn't have too many of those banners; but just because Geelong had more didn't mean they won because Collingwood, who weren't even playing, had the most banners decorating the fences around the ground. Now you won't find that in the old newspaper reports. You might see it on the old TV footage of the game but, unless someone points it out, you won't know that it was going on. I think this is a bit like some of what was happening in Mark's gospel. That's why, at times, I tell you, straight up, what my hunch is about something or other. Mark and his readers might have seen something which those who didn't know what was going on at the time might easily miss. So that might mean it's harder for us in some ways, than Mark's readers who lived at that time in that place. Some things Mark wrote will have been understood better by them. That's an extra reason to read the whole lot through slowly and carefully. I'll suggest this again when we get to Mark 10. By listening to the whole lot in one go there will be questions, lots of them, that come into your head. What was Mark trying to tell us here? How was he trying to help us there? How does this relate to that? Keep a pencil and notebook handy. Write down your questions and hunches.
††† ††† When I was first writing these stories down, I got to about this point and I felt I had run out of puff. It was too hard to write each new story - it was like climbing up a steep hill; the further you go, the harder it gets. I wondered why. I wondered and wondered about it. I read what I had written again. And again. And I read Mark again from beginning to end. And I wondered if I should start re-writing the whole lot from the start. More ideas seemed to come into my head every time I read it. And then I thought, well maybe the person who reads this stuff will have the same thing going on inside her head as well. So? Were you?
††† ††† Anyway, that is why I think it is a good idea to be ready to write down the ideas and questions that pop into your own head as you listen to mum or dad reading it to you, or as you read it yourself. Maybe you can write it with a pencil on the printed copy or [even type it into the text version on your computer in red, with your initials and the date next to it BCW 26.7.02]. †In this way you keep a diary record of your thoughts. Sometimes you might not have any thoughts. But when you want to, write them down; it's important to do so. It's important to develop your own ideas and hunches about what Mark was writing. Mark was not the only one who had hunches about Jesus. If Mark's gospel is about him trying to follow up on his hunches then it is likely he wants us to have our own hunches too!
††† ††† Sometimes you just might have such a head full of questions that when you start writing them down you do not stop until bed-time. That's OK. Save up your pocket money and buy an exercise book to keep with your Bible and write down your questions. Or ask Grandpa to buy a special hard cover exercise book with lots of pages so you can keep a record of all your Bible hunches. And your thoughts. And your questions. Put one into dad's shopping trolley next time you're at the supermarket. When he says "What's this for?" just say "It's just a hunch I have that I'll need it sometime!"
††† ††† Sometimes my story does not discuss all of the passage; instead I just suggest some important things to keep in mind. Remember our memory is a very precious gift and we can often remember things, like video movies we have seen, or stories we have been told, or events we went through, in great detail. We should be willing to use and develop our memories so that we can carry the story of Jesus around in our heads with all the other things God wants us to think about.
†††† †††† So, as I have often said before, Mark seems to have written down his story especially for those who were already in it, and up until the place we have got to, that means they lived in Galilee. This was so they could hear the whole lot and check their part in it with the parts others had in it. So at first it was not just a matter of reading and re-reading and re-reading. It seems this Gospel was written to remind people about what they had experienced already about Jesus so they could talk about it among themselves, and tell the story, their own bit and also the earlier and later bits. When we hear it now and as we read it today it has to be somewhat different. It must be. But it's good to have something like this, a reliable record of what Jesus did, what He said and why.
†††† †††† Now I want to say something which might sound a bit strange. It is about what we have just been discussing said in a different way. Sometimes when you eat garlic or onion it makes your whole body smell like garlic or onion. Maybe mum or dad put some garlic in your soup at lunch time and it wasn't as crushed as it should have been and you chewed it and afterwards Ö well Ö don't your hands smell like garlic, and your hair smell like garlic? Has that ever happened to you? The smell of what you eat becomes part of you.
††† ††† I used to work for a funeral firm. There I learned that the smell of dead bodies can sometimes be something awful. Terrible. Just thinking about it makes me shiver. But when I had that experience I also realised that one of the miracles about Jesus, when He rose from the dead, was that He did not smell dead. He was obviously so fresh and alive.
††† ††† Remember the women who were going to rub perfume on Jesus' dead body in the tomb? They must have been pushing a wheelbarrow because this kind of thing was usually done with lots of salts and oils and perfumes. Maybe it was the barrow of Nicodemus. I can't imagine that they expected it to be over by breakfast; probably sometime after lunch at the earliest, or maybe they were expecting to come back a few times later in the week to finish the job.
††† ††† But then they got the perfumes and oils there and they realised they weren't going to need them. Mary had already anointed Jesus' body with costly perfume on that occasion when Judas went ballistic. Remember? But you don't usually need burial oils and perfume for someone who is resurrected!
††† ††† Have you ever wondered what happened to that perfume? I'm sure those women would have treasured it, particularly if they had kept it for their own funeral use later on. But maybe they gave it back to Nicodemus who had donated it all, when Joseph let them use his tomb for the burial. But imagine it. Thanks Nic! Thanks Joe! The women would have had to tell these guys that their funeral gifts were not needed! I wonder who told them?
††† ††† Garlic can make you smell garlicky and if you are next to a dead body for long enough you will begin to smell like the corpse. But why not think about the way we listen to Mark's gospel as if it is trying to catch the smell of the living Jesus from Mark's gospel? It's like that. You have a sense of things and you're right. Sometimes you come home and you know dad is there even though he hasn't said anything and you haven't seen him. You sense it. You feel it. And he is there. Of course you can make a mistake but often you donít; you know he's there and he is.
††† Itís a bit like this sometimes when we read the gospels. It's as if we catch Jesus' smell. We keep on saying that His story is about life, our life, and then we are surprised when we realise - sometimes in the twinkling of an eye - that yes He has been with us. It's a bit like we catch a whiff. I'm not saying you can throw the deodorant away. I'm saying that when we stay close to God's story, Jesus' story becomes part of us. When we know the story we begin to smell like the story, we may even begin to smell like the Person who the story is about. It's as if we carry around with us the perfume of Jesus. Now I'm not saying this for you to take in the wrong way. Reading the bible is not a substitute for perfume or deodorant. But it is important to let His story become part of us. It should fill our lives with its aroma. Something like what happens when mum puts garlic in our soup, or dad is cooking bread. A bit like that. In fact, somewhere in the Bible it says just that: Ö. when we are led by Jesus it is through us that God spreads the perfume of the knowledge about Him everywhere .Ö (look it up for yourself and think about what it meant when Paul first wrote it in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17.)
††† ††† So, living our life as Jesus' students is a bit like smelling just like Him. As you read these stories, and think about them, and understand more about what Jesus wanted to teach people, then, sooner or later, people are going to wonder about the Person you've been with. We get to know the story and its details because of the lovely living perfume of God's love. It's not magic. It's not as if you learn all the chapter and verse numbers and then somehow "Hey presto!" your friends at school will want to follow Jesus. But being a friend of Jesus, being a Christian, being a member of His school, is all about listening to this story. It is a story that will only be completed when God's kingdom comes in its fullness. In the meantime Mark's gospel teaches us about the Person who had helped to gets us ready for what is still to come!