ALL CHURCH BIBLE STUDY
Join others in reading the first half of the book of Mark together in the month of September. Retired United Methodist pastor, Bill Gordon, has written a great reading plan with questions for us to reflect on over the next three weeks.
Set aside 10-30 minutes each day, grab a Bible and let the words and life of Jesus sink into you. Where might God be leading us? Enjoy! Join the conversation over in our Facebook community.
Some 35 to 40 years after the shocking crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, something entirely new and unique appears on the literary scene: a “Gospel,” the first written account of Jesus’ life and ministry. To be sure, Jesus is mentioned in other documents circulated among the various Christian communities around the Mediterranean world. But Mark’s Gospel is the first literature of this type to focus entirely on who Jesus was, what he said, what he did, and what happened in those terrible and surprising last days of his life that has “turned the world upside down.” Although Mark’s Gospel appears second in the order of the four Gospels in our New Testament, it is generally agreed by most scholars that Mark was the first one written and circulated among the Christian communities.
The English word, “gospel,” comes from the Greek word meaning, “good news.” That is precisely what Mark declares about Jesus and his identity in the very opening sentence: “The beginning of the gospel [good news] about Jesus Christ, God’s Son.” A gospel is not merely a biography, or a hero-tale. It is a story intended to draw the reader or listener personally into the very narrative itself, to walk with Jesus on the way, to experience him as the disciples and others themselves experienced him, and to make one’s own choice about following him on the Way. That is the invitation and challenge once more to us as we take this brief journey together through the first 10 chapters of Mark over the next three weeks.
Day 1 – Good News: God’s Realm Has Drawn Near!
Read Mark 1:1-15
From the very beginning, notice the sense of brevity, urgency, and immediacy in Mark’s Gospel. There are no birth narratives. Mark is eager to get right to the urgent mission and message of Jesus. So we are introduced right away to the ministry of John the Baptist in the wilderness, the baptism of Jesus, Jesus’ spiritual wrestling in the wilderness, straight to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and message.
Reflection Questions: When you first began to know the nearness of God’s grace in your life, how did that shape the direction of your life from that point on? Where do you see signs of the nearness of God’s Realm (Kingdom-Activity) at work in the world today?
Day 2 – The Power of Divine Presence
Read Mark 1:16-45
In the remainder of the first chapter, we continue to experience the sense of lively pace from one scene to the next: the call of the first disciples, Jesus’ ministry of healing, and right away the questioning of Jesus’ teaching and healing authority.
Reflection Questions: How has the freeing and healing power of Jesus in your life challenged your way of thinking about and experiencing God? How does it bring hope?
Day 3 – Resisting the Transforming Way of Jesus
Read Mark 2:1 – 3:6
Questions continue to rise from the “establishment” regarding the ways that Jesus crosses religious boundaries and rules: offering forgiveness, having dinner with a notorious collaborator with Roman oppression, and breaking Sabbath laws.
Reflection Questions: Where have you seen religious rules, even Christian firmly-held rules or beliefs, that hurt or keep people from experiencing the freeing love of God? How will you allow God to speak to you this week concerning rules and beliefs that you may hold sacred but that may, in fact, hinder others from experiencing God’s love and freedom?
Day 4 – Jesus’ True Family
Read Mark 3:7-35
As the story moves forward, we see how the growing popularity of Jesus is matched by a deepening opposition. Jesus withdraws for a time, first to the sea where great crowds follow him, and then to a mountain where he selects and names the Twelve who will be his core followers given special status and special commission. He returns to Capernaum where both his family and some scribes (religious establishment) come to “take control of him.”
Reflection Question: What do you think it means to be a member of Jesus’ family? How would you know such a family member?
Day 5 – The Extravagance and Mystery of God’s Realm
Read Mark 4:1-34
In the turbulent wake of growing popularity and deepening opposition, Jesus gathers the crowd of followers and his disciples by the sea to teach. He teaches in parables, common images drawn from daily life that people were very familiar with, and yet taught in a manner that were both familiar and mysterious in meaning. Mark doesn’t gather these together in one place as random and unconnected parables. Mark intends that they be read as a unified whole with the aim of exhorting his followers to sow the good news of God’s reign without ceasing, leaving the results to God.
Reflection Question: What do these verses teach us as the church, and you as a disciple of Jesus, about sowing the seeds of God’s realm in our world?
Day 6 – Trusting God on Stormy Seas
Read Mark 4:35 – 5:20
Continuing on our discipleship journey with Jesus, we find ourselves in a boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee to the eastern, non-Jewish side. The raging storm that suddenly rises and threatens the lives of everyone in the boat, while Jesus sleeps, is one of the church’s most beloved stories. Early Christians adopted the story as a very symbol of the church, a ship with a cross for a mast, being tossed through the storms of life. It is important to note that while the largest share of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry took place around the Sea of Galilee, and four of his disciples were themselves fishermen, Jews as a whole were not a “seafaring” people. In fact, the sea in Hebrew scripture mostly represented barely-contained chaos and the source of the dark power of evil that threatened God’s good creation. Little wonder, then, that when Jesus awoke to rebuke the wind and silence the sea, the disciples were “overcome with awe.” As their boat finally lands safely on the eastern shore, Jesus and the disciples encounter still another “storm” in the form of a man whose life is in chaos, oppressed and driven wild by demons.
Reflection Questions: In what ways are these two stories similar, tying them together? How are the different from one another? What forces in the world today, or within, threaten or frighten? How, if at all, do these stories, help you to find trust and freedom to live unafraid in Christ?
Day 7 – Trusting God in Life’s Extremities
Read Mark 5:21 – 6:6
Crossing the lake once more, this time with calmer seas, we return with Jesus to Jewish territory. The next episode is an example of a favorite Markan technique that he utilizes often in his Gospel, called a “sandwich,” where he begins with one story, interrupts it with another, and then returns to the original story, compelling the reader to relate the two. The tale of two women dramatizes how those most vulnerable or who are pushed to the margins are given priority in the ministry of Jesus. Today’s reading then concludes with Jesus’ visit to his hometown, where remarkably he is unable to effect any change.
Reflection Questions: How do you see the first two stories inter-related to one another? Where have you seen the “bleeding one,” the little one, the invisible, the excluded, the marginalized in our community who need the restoring power of Jesus? Why do you think that among Jesus’ own, the church, it is often the last place where Jesus can effect much change?
Day 8 – Sent As Christ’s Representatives
Read Mark 6:7-56
We are on the move again with Jesus. Five episodes comprise today’s reading. Jesus sends out the Twelve giving them authority to extend his own ministry of healing and setting free. There is an interim story about Herod and a flashback to a birthday party in Herod’s palace leading to the execution of John the Baptist. The Twelve return. Jesus suggests that they withdraw for a recharging of batteries. There is another sea-crossing, but when they land they discover that a large crowd anticipated their arrival. Jesus feels compassion for them, spends the day teaching, and then directs the disciples to feed them, all 5,000 of them! There is still another sea-crossing. This time Jesus stays behind to pray. The disciples in the boat are struggling hard against the wind. When they look up, they see Jesus walking on the water. Again there are questions about fear, recognition, and understanding. And the section concludes with a summary of more of Jesus’ healing ministry.
Reflection Questions: In what ways do you hear the voice of Christ sending you and/or the church this year to represent him in his healing and setting-free mission? What does the feeding story of the 5,000 mean to you? What can you do in the coming week that will serve as a sign to point others to Jesus?
Day 9 – Challenging Religious Traditions – Lessons in Inclusivity
Read Mark 7:1-37
“Wherever he went…they would place the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to allow them to touch even the hem of his clothing. Everyone who touched him was healed.” (6:56) This summary scene from yesterday’s reading sets the scene for what happens next. Today we see a stark contrast between Jesus who welcomes and even seeks out human contact with the sick and the unclean in the public square, and the Pharisees (religious leaders) who consider such public spaces so “unclean” that when they return from the marketplace, they won’t touch their food until they first ritually purify themselves. The source of this strict practice of purifying of hands, produce and utensils has its source in the Book of Leviticus. This is not about hygiene. The Pharisees are deeply devoted Jews who are committed to following the laws and traditions of their faith. Jesus is committed to caring for people in need. Today’s reading is about traditions, religious hypocrisy, and boundaries, who’s “in” and who’s “out,” and includes example stories of an “uppity” woman who goes toe-to-toe with Jesus and a man who is deaf, both “outsiders” who receive what they need.
Reflection Questions: If Jesus came to our community today (and we can be sure that Christ is already at work in our community), who are the “unclean” and the “outsiders” whom he cares for, and calls us to care for as well? Whom do you think Jesus would ask us to extend our boundaries to include today?
Day 10 – Do We Understand Yet?
Read Mark 8:1-21
In our reading today, we are still walking with Jesus in Gentile (“outsider”) country, where another large crowd has gathered to see him but have “nothing to eat.” Four thousand are fed that day with seven loaves of bread. Some Pharisees from Jerusalem show up asking for a sign from heaven (as though what Jesus has just been doing wasn’t sign enough). The disciples realize that they, too, haven’t brought enough bread with them. Jesus warns them against “the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They are perplexed by what he says, whereupon Jesus, exasperated, asks: “Do you still not understand?
Reflection Questions: What would make Jesus groan deeply about us today? What do you think makes our hearts resistant to understanding what God is doing today?
Day 11 – The Way of the Cross
How is your life as a disciple of Jesus progressing? As you follow Jesus, are you finding your understanding of him growing clearer as time passes? Or is it sometimes less clear, even confusing at times? If the latter is true for you, you’re in good company with the Twelve. When last we were with Jesus, the disciples were becoming increasingly baffled by Jesus’ sayings and actions, to which Jesus asks in seeming frustration: “Are your hearts so resistant to what God is doing? Don’t you have eyes? Why can’t you see? Don’t you have ears? Why can’t you hear?” (8:17-18) Today, we reach the mid-point and the turning-point in Mark’s Gospel, as we follow Jesus to the village of Bethsaida on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus restores a blind man’s sight. (Note that it takes two healing touches to fully restore his sight). Then, on to Caesarea Philippi, even further north from Galilee, where Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?” After Peter boldly proclaims that he is the Messiah, Jesus shocks them with the first prediction of the manner of his death—a Roman cross—and makes it plain that if we would be his disciples, we must follow on the same Way. Troubled? Mind full of Questions? Resistant to such a call? You’re in good company.
Two notes about this reading: (1) Jesus’ reference to “the Human One” (Son of Man) comes from Daniel, chapter 7. (2) The cross was an instrument of Roman execution and terror reserved for egregious crimes and resistance to imperial rule. Its purpose was to terrorize.
Read Mark 8:22 – 9:1
Reflection Questions: If someone were to ask you straight out, “Who Jesus is to you?” how would you answer? Why do you think that the Way of Jesus is so hard and so full of risk and danger? How does the community of faith (church) help you to walk in the Way of Jesus?
Day 12 – From Mountain Vision to Valley Realities
Read Mark 9:2-29
Our life of discipleship is so full of ups and downs. Moments of inspiring vision are often juxtaposed against experiences of roadblocks, doubt, and feelings of helplessness in our faith. Following Jesus’ prediction of his suffering death and rising again and his dose of reality as to what it means to be his follower, he takes his inner circle of three disciples up a mountain where, neither taking any action or saying a word, he is transfigured in pure transcendence. Two great heroes of Israel appear to conference with Jesus: Elijah and Moses, both of whom experienced mountain encounters with God following risk and danger and rejection by the people in their own time. The only voice heard is God’s: “Listen to him.!” Do these disciples have a clearer understanding of Jesus now? Hardly. Then, down to the valley below where the rest of the disciples have been unsuccessful for the first time in their ministry of casting out a demon. Jesus successfully frees the young son and strongly suggests that seemingly impossible or intractable circumstances can only be dealt with through fervent, believing, and unceasing prayer.
Reflection Question: What do you learn from these two stories that can help you in the future when you experience failure or difficult circumstances in your life, and your faith has run dry?
Day 13 – True Greatness and Warnings Against Exclusion
Read Mark 9:30-50
Today’s reading begins with Jesus’ second prediction of his death by way of a cross and, of course, his rising up. But once again, no one seems to be listening. Instead, the disciples have fallen into a debate over who is the most important. Jesus calls them on it and pulls a child into the circle. “Whoever welcomes one of these children, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes God.” One of the disciples, John, complains that someone who is not one of them is nevertheless casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus instructs them not to prevent him, and then concludes with some of his harshest and sternest warnings against causing any “little ones” (new or struggling followers?) to stumble.
Reflection Questions: Who is Jesus unexpectedly bringing into our circle whom he is charging us to welcome? Take a few moments for an honest self-examination. What are some things that cause you to stumble or falter in your following of Jesus? What are some things Christians say or do that put stumbling blocks in the way of others seeking a faith?
Day 14 – Questions About Divorce, Children, and Wealth
Read Mark 10:1-31
Our journey now continues south into Judea, moving slowly and ever closer to Jerusalem. Some Pharisees draw Jesus into an argument about divorce, not the morality of divorce, but what constitutes the legal grounds for a man to dismiss his wife. In those days, when a man divorces his wife, she becomes essentially a social outcast, with little or no means of support. It’s hardly coincidental that Jesus follows his vision of marriage as a sacred bond with his indignation that the disciples have tried to prevent children from being brought to him. Children are another “least” and vulnerable segment of humanity. Today’s reading concludes with a question asked by a man at the top of the economic ladder about how he might “obtain” eternal life. When this good, religious man walks away because he cannot part with his wealth to be a disciple, Jesus points out how difficult it for those with riches to enter God’s realm.
Reflection Questions: What do you think Jesus would say to us today about marriage and the status of women and children and other vulnerable people in our world? What would you consider very difficult to let loose of, if Jesus asked you, in order to be his disciple?
Day 15 – Misplaced Ambition vs. Faith-Filled Following
Read Mark 10:32-52
Our final reading for this study finds us on the final leg of the journey, headed for Jerusalem. One final time Jesus tells us how he will be “handed over” to the religious leaders to be crucified. Jesus might as well be talking to the wind. Two of the inner circle, James and John want positions of power in Jesus’ Cabinet when the new regime is established. We can almost feel his exasperation when he asks them if they are able to “drink the cup” that he is about to drink. “No problem,” answer the Zebedee boys. There is one more attempt at teaching about greatness and servant leadership. And then Jesus heals a blind man who joins Jesus on the Way.
Reflection by way of a prayer: Jesus, let me truly see! Let me see though your eyes of love, justice, healing and peace, so that I might more closely follow you on the Way.