Tag Archives: Ears

“The Woman”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Mark 14:3 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, Jesus was at a dinner party given in His honor. Mark wrote the shortest of the four biographies of Jesus, and his efficiency in story-telling requires that details be left out in order to get to the heart of the matter. In this case, however, I found that the omission of certain details also reduced the power of the moment.

Mark states that “a woman” anoints Jesus with some audaciously expensive perfume. John, who was present at the dinner party, explains in his account (John 12) that the person Mark calls “a woman” was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. The other thing we know about Mary is that much earlier when Jesus paid a visit to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus she had been chastised by her sister, Martha, for not helping with dinner (see Luke 10). Mary was intent on sitting near Jesus and listening to Him while Martha dutifully prepared supper. In John’s account of the dinner party, Martha was once again focused on serving. Mary was focused on Jesus.

I had a couple of observations as I contemplated the scene this morning.

Jesus said that Mary, in anointing him with the perfume, was preparing Him “for burial.” Because of the lack of modern embalming methods, bodies were covered in perfumes and ointments that would counteract the stench of death that the body would emit relatively quickly. Yet, Mary’s act is happening a couple of days before Jesus would be arrested and executed.

While #TheTwelve and Jesus’ other followers are deaf and defensive to Jesus repeatedly insisting that He would suffer, die, and be resurrected, Mary embraces what Jesus has been saying. She shows faith and trust that no one else did. Her act metaphorically tells Jesus, “If this is what must be done, then I’m in. I’m going to trust you, that it will be just as you said. Allow me the honor of preparing you for what you say you must do.”

Mary does this immediately after she witnessed Jesus literally calling her brother out of the grave. Mary was standing there when Jesus said to her sister Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Mary’s anointing of Jesus also symbolically says “I believe. I believe you are the Resurrection and the Life. I believe you will die and that you’ll be raised from the dead just as you said.”

It is, ironically, Judas who questions the “waste” of the expensive perfume (worth an entire year of typical wages in those days) which he says could have been sold and used for more “practical” purposes. Jesus rebukes Judas sharply. To paraphrase: “Judas, shut up and leave Mary alone. This woman understands what I’m doing better than you and the other eleven.” I can’t help but hear the echoes of Jesus repeatedly asking #TheTwelve in previous chapters: “You still don’t understand?” It was Mary, who had been intent on watching and listening to Jesus, who saw it better than anyone else. It was this rebuke that sends Judas over the edge. He leaves the dinner party to arrange his betrayal.

I also hear the echoes of Jesus’ repeated admonition, “If you have ears to hear.” Mary’s spiritual ears were wide open to hear what no one else heard. Her spiritual eyes saw what no one else did. She was the only one connecting the spiritual dots between what Jesus had said and done raising her brother from the dead, and what Jesus said was going to happen to Him. And, she was the one who had been intent on sticking close to Jesus to watch, listen, and learn.

In the quiet this morning, I find it poignant that the person who seemed to “get it” was a woman outside of #TheTwelve. In those days, women were considered second rate to men. They were often treated as possessions and they typically had little education or social standing. It is a recurring theme in the Great Story for God to choose and to use the least, the youngest, the broken, the weak, and the marginalized to demonstrate His power. At the beginning of the Great Story is was “the woman” who was blamed for Adam and Eve’s disobedience. In this case, it was “a woman” who understands what Jesus is doing. In a few days, it will be “the women” who first hear of the resurrection. It will be “the women” who are the first to believe it. It will be “the women” who are entrusted to share the good news with #TheTwelve. I believe that there is an important lesson for me in this.

I have observed along my journey that even today it is often “the women,” like Mary, who show a greater interest in and sensitivity to the things of the Spirit, as well as a greater understanding of what God is up to. I have come to embrace that I have a lot to learn from them. I also have come to embrace the reality that it is sometimes those whom I’d least expect who get the things of God better than I do. Mary reminds me that in this spiritual journey, humility is required.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Seeds, Soil, and Fruit

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Mark 4:9 (NIV)

As I am fond of saying, God’s base language is metaphor. Jesus was famous for speaking in parables, similes, and word pictures. In today’s chapter, Mark chronicles four different parables. All of them are examples from the everyday life in the agrarian culture in which Jesus and His listeners lived:

  • A farmer sowing seed over his field and the different things that happen to the seed that is sown.
  • An oil lamp like the kind of lamp every one of Jesus’ listeners used in their homes at night.
  • Crops that grow to maturity and produce fruit despite the sower doing nothing other than scattering the seed.
  • A tiny mustard seed that grows into a giant tree.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Romans 1:20 as I read:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

In the same way that an artist’s work reveals things about the artist, God’s creation reveals things about his divine nature. Jesus simply identified the ways that creation reveals truth of God’s Kingdom and turns them into a parable.

The thing I found myself contemplating this morning was the fact that Jesus knew not all of His listeners would hear and understand what He was getting at. Some would have the spiritual “ears” to hear what He was saying. Others would hear the words but be deaf to its meaning. Jesus accepts this as a matter of course and embraces it.

I became a follower of Jesus during my Freshman year of high school and was an active follower during those high school years. This past year I attended my 35th high school reunion and really enjoyed renewing acquaintances with my classmates. In the course of conversations, I got to hear stories of others who had themselves become followers on the course of their own journeys even though it happened on a different stretch of road than it did for me. Wendy has had similar experiences with former classmates and sorority sisters whom she has discovered became followers; Individuals she would have never expected to have any interest in spiritual things.

That’s the thing I’ve observed about soil as I’ve lived most of my life amidst the farm fields of Iowa. Some years a field might be less productive because it’s too wet, too dry, or the soil isn’t right. Another year, the soil might have changed because the farmer worked it a certain way and the weather cooperated so that it was ready to receive the seed and allow it to take root, grow, and produce. And, there’s another parable.

Not every heart is ready to hear or see at the same time. Some soil takes time and seasons of preparation. Jesus drew large crowds with His miracles. It’s easy to draw a crowd if you provide a good show. At the same time, Jesus knew that not every one in the audience was ready to hear and He was okay with that. He was speaking to the few who’s hearts were ready to receive the seeds He was planting. In another message He would identify them as those who were asking, seeking, and knocking. Not everyone is.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reminded of another parable that comes from my observations in the Iowa heartland. Fruit from one season becomes the seed for the next season. The spiritual fruit my life produces today in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and the self-control that I extend to others today is the seed that I scatter. Without me ever knowing it, some of that seed will land in a heart or life that is primed and ready to receive it. Based on Jesus’ example, that’s the way it works.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

“‘I See,’ said the Blind Man”

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced,and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”
Zechariah 12:10 (NIV)

Ever notice that people have favorite sayings? My Grandma Vander Well, when struck by a realization, would always say, “‘I see,’ said the blind man when he picked up his hammer and saw.” Wendy’s Grandfather used the same phrase though he had a different twist: “‘I see,’ said the blind man to the deaf dog when he picked up his hammer and saw.” We have a friendly, ongoing feud about which one is “right.”

If you regularly asked my dad how he is you’re likely to hear that he is “busier than a cranberry merchant” a phrase that originally was a variation of “busier than a cranberry merchant in autumn” (when cranberries are harvested). He also might say he is, “slower than molasses in January.

If you read the Jesus stories by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John you’ll find that Jesus also had a favorite phrase: “He who has ears, let him hear” which also occasionally included a variant of “Let he who has eyes see.”

Jesus explained to his followers on different occasions that truths He spoke of God’s kingdom were things that many (especially the most institutionally religious people, interestingly enough) didn’t understand. Though they had ears they didn’t hear it. Though they had eyes they didn’t see it. They heard the words and saw Jesus’ miracles but they were deaf and blind to what He was really saying and doing. Jesus invited all those who listened to his stories and watched what He was doing to open the eyes and ears of their spirit to see what He was really up to.

In our journey through the prophetic writings of Zechariah I’ve been noticing a pattern. There’s a theme that’s been coming across in the past few chapters. On the surface meaning of Zac’s prophecies he is addressing his people, at his time of history, in the circumstance he and they were experiencing. Buried in the words, however, there are little nuggets that don’t seem to fit neatly in Zac’s current circumstances but eerily preview key moments in Jesus’ story, a story that would take place 500 years in the future:

  • In chapter 9 Zechariah presents the King of the Jews “gentle, riding on a donkey” which aptly describes Jesus’ “triumphant” entry into Jerusalem the week before His death when the crowds shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
  • In chapter 11 Zechariah prescribes the “thirty pieces of silver” given to Judas to betray Jesus, blood money Judas threw back to the Chief priests and was used to buy a “potter’s field.”
  • In today’s chapter it happens again (see the verses pasted at the top of this post) as Zac clearly describes the crucifixion scene of Jesus (who claimed Himself to be “God’s one and only Son”) pierced by the Roman soldiers’ spear and mourned by His followers.

Interesting pattern, isn’t it? Just as God in creation buries fractal patterns in the seemingly random nature scenes we see around us all day long, so He buries patterns in the prophets poetry and the  patriarch’s stories that point to the design of a much larger story that He is telling across time. The patterns don’t appear on a cursory reading of the text any more than a cursory view of Jackson Pollack’s drip painting reveal the eerily exact fractal patterns of nature that he somehow was able to achieve in his seemingly chaotic and messy painting, yet “he who has eyes to see…”

This morning I’m thinking about layers. Layers of meaning prophecy. Layers of meaning in Jesus’ words and actions. Layers of meaning and design that have been buried in creation that eventually reveal themselves through the perceptive eyes, ears, words, and work of artists, physicists, writers, and philosophers.

I don’t want to go through this earthly  journey deaf and blind to the incredible things that God is doing all around me. I want the eyes and ears of my spirit wide open, perceptive, receptive so I can understand and experience more and more of what God is doing in this divine dance we call life. Then I can repeatedly honor Grandma Vander Well in my repeated realizations as I mutter: “I see said the blind man when he picked up his hammer and saw.

But for right now I have to finish this post and get ready for my day. Because, you know, “I’m busier than a cranberry merchant in autumn.”

The Language of God

Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
John 10:6 (NRSV)

I taught a class a year ago called The Language of God,  and in the class I and my classmates walked through the Great Story, unpacking evidence that metaphor (something that represents something else) is the medium God incessantly uses to communicate Himself to us. God is Creator. God is an artist. God reveals Himself in creation and in word pictures.

John understood this better than Matthew, Mark, or Luke. In his biography of Jesus, John begins by revealing Jesus as “The Word.” Since then, John has communicated different metaphors that both John the Baptist and Jesus used to communicate who He was…

Lamb of God
Water of Life
Bread of Life
Light of the World
The Gate
The Good Shepherd

John isn’t done. There are more metaphors, more word pictures, to come in the remaining chapters.

I find it fascinating that John records that Jesus used “this figure of speech” or way of speaking, “but they didn’t understand what he was saying to them.” Later in the chapter the religious lawyers even make it more blunt, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus response: “I have told you.” And indeed, Jesus has been telling them all along. They were so myopically focused on the scribes’ ink on the papyrus of their precious scrolls that they couldn’t interpret the language of metaphor, the living Word, that was being communicated in front of their eyes and in their very own ears.

“Those who have the ears to hear,” Jesus said. Those who can interpret the word pictures Jesus is verbally painting, those who can understand the language of metaphor, they get what He is saying.

Understanding God’s Message is deeper than being able to read the ink on the page. You have to understand the language of metaphor our Creator/Artist God is using in His works of creation and the Great Story He authors.

 

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