Tag Archives: Mark

Review of Reading Backwards by Richard B. Hays

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READING BACKWARDS: FIGURAL CHRISTOLOGY AND THE FOURFOLD GOSPEL WITNESS, by Richard B. Hays. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014. 155pp $34.95

Richard B. Hays began his work of examining how the earliest followers of Jesus were interpreters of scriptures in 1989 with his work The Echoes of Scriptures in the Letters of Paul. Twenty five years later, after changing the dynamic of the way many people view Paul’s engagement with the Hebrew Scriptures Professor Hays now gives us a short introduction into what he states he hopes will be a much larger projects examining each of the evangelist’s engagement with the scriptures, but this short and provocative work should help continue the conversion of the imagination he challenged his readers to see in Paul now in the voice and words of the authors of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. The book is the adaptation of the Hulsean Lectures presented at Cambridge University in the fall of 2013 and the spring of 2014 and is a work that will encourage its readers to understand the manner in which these early evangelists use the Hebrew Scriptures prefigure their experience of Christ.

The relationship of the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament is an important question for the church, but one that has often been overlooked. Richard B. Hays invites us into an exercise in learning to place ourselves in the evangelists’ places and see these scriptural texts that they used through their own eyes. Dr. Hays is convinced that “the Gospels teach us how to the OT, and –at the same time—the OT teaches us how to read the Gospels.”(4, emphasis author’s) Rather than seeing the evangelists as proof-texting pieces of the Hebrew Scriptures to make a certain points but rather invoke a set of rich and intertextual relations between the experience of the words of Jesus and the experience of his followers with the vision and world presented by the portions of scripture that the evangelists cite or allude to. The readings of each of the four gospels that are presented in Reading Backwards provide a rich and concise with the way in which each gospel distinctively uses scripture to paint its picture of Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark tells a story that is more suggestive and allusive in its narrative style and likewise many of Mark’s uses of the scriptures are allusive as well. Mark rarely quotes scripture but frequently uses language that alludes to how Jesus’ work and God’s work are mysteriously linked. Mark intimates that Jesus is, “in some way that defies comprehension the embodiment of God’s presence. Mark never quite dares to articulate this claim explicitly; it is too scandalous for direct speech. For Mark the character of God’s presence in Jesus is a mystery that can only be approached by riddle-like allusions to the OT.” (19f.) By looking at the way Mark creatively cites and alludes to scripture from the beginning of the story in Mark 1: 2-3 and running through the crucifixion narrative examining the way the larger context of the scriptural allusions to open the readers to the mystery of Jesus’ relationship with the God of Israel. Mark’s characteristic tension holds this identity in suspension as well, never overtly coming out and claiming Jesus’ identity but rather in a poetic way hides this answer in order that it might be revealed to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Mark attempts to lead his readers into an exploration of the mysterious way in which Jesus is recognized as the embodiment of the God of Israel.

The Gospel of Matthew is much more explicit in its claims and the ways in which it uses scriptures. Matthew quotes scripture explicitly more than any of the other evangelists and from his first citation of Isaiah 7.14 in the birth narrative where Jesus is titled God is with us until the end of the gospel where all authority has been given to Jesus who will be with them forever Matthew presents, in a much more direct way, that Jesus is the presence of God among the people and the appropriate response is to worship the living presence of God who is present with them. Matthew uses a combination of scripture quotations as well as allusions to the Old Testament stories, like Herod in the slaughter of the innocents certainly would be heard as echoing Pharaoh’s decree in the Exodus narrative, to show how Jesus comes to embody not only God’s presence but also comes to be the fulfillment of the hopes of the law and the prophets. Where Mark encourages us to explore the mystery of the way divine presence of the God of Israel is present in Jesus, Matthew wants us to see this presence in order that we may worship God where God has now been found.

Luke reads the scriptures in a way that points to Jesus being the one who is the hope of Israel. From the prophecy of Zechariah, where God is praised for having “looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.”(Luke 1.68) to the journey with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus where these disciples, in their sadness, say, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24. 21) Hays invites us to read again how Jesus might be seen in Moses and the prophets and how Luke might use the scriptures to help us see who Jesus is. Luke uses language and events that reflect the type of things that happened in the stories of the scriptures while never simply the same. The effect is to create a powerful but indistinct relation between the saving acts of God in the story of Israel and the liberating acts of fulfillment in the story of Jesus. (59)

For John’s gospel the fundamental hermeneutical claim is that the scriptures are the ones that bear witness to Jesus, but to understand those same scriptures one must first come to Jesus to receive life. This retrospective reading of Israel’s scriptures allows John to use a more visual set of images and figures from the narrative of the people where Jesus through verbal echoes and direct quotations link Jesus with both the wisdom of God as well as the images of the temple and sacrifice. Through these images John wants to illustrate that Jesus is not only the temple—but also the place where God’s presences comes to meet us and deliver us into union with the divine presence. (82) Since John understands Jesus as the Logos of God the entire narrative, the temple, sacrifice and the festivals of Judaism are a rich set of signs and symbols of God’s activity in the life and presence of Jesus.

In this short work with numerous illuminating explorations of the way the evangelists read their scriptures and the scriptures provide a fuller meaning to the telling of the story of Jesus, Richard B. Hays invites the reader to discover a gospel shaped hermeneutic. This, he argues, involves a complex poetic sensibility that pays attention to the narrative arc of the scriptures. Hays argues that the more we explore the way the evangelists explore the scriptures the more clearly it is apparent that each of the evangelists in their own unique portrayal point to Jesus being the embodiment of the God of Israel.  This short work, which continues Richard B. Hays long work with intertextuality and the art of reading scripture, is a very generative and helpful introduction to the deep question of how the evangelists became interpreters of the scriptures and how the experience of Jesus reframed their reading of scripture while scripture gave them the language and symbols to express the mystery of who Jesus is to their communities.

The Rejected Kingdom- A Sermon on the Crucifixion in Mark’s Gospel

Time Heal All Wounds, by kparks@deviantart.com

Time Heal All Wounds, by kparks@deviantart.com

 

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Mark 15: 33-39

When I began seminary one of the first books that I was required to read was Gerd Theissen’s The Shadow of the Galilean which follows Andreas, a first century merchant who kept walking through the places where Jesus had been, hearing the echoes of his passing, seeing the effects that he had on people. He never meets Jesus while before the crucifixion but I enjoyed this scholars attempt to wonder what it might be like on the ground in ancient Palestine at the time of Jesus. Through the story the author tries to figure out who is this Jesus and why did he die, and those are questions that Christians and others who live in the wake of this Galilean have wondered for two thousand years. In the words of the Appalachian carol ‘I Wonder As I Wander’

I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor ord’n’ry people like you and like I.
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.

And each of the gospels wonder as they wander with Jesus, narrating his story in their own way. They pull on their experiences, on the stories they’ve heard, on the things they’ve seen, on the world they understand in light of their scriptures and they call us into the mystery as well. So as we wonder about the cross and why Jesus did die we come to Mark’s gospel and one answer, and that is that God had a dream that was rejected. Jesus comes and proclaims that the kingdom of God is at hand, that God has a vision for the world and that because of this the world was changing. It was not a new dream, the prophets had pointed to it, the psalms sang of it, and the law envisioned it, but just as the people had never accepted the prophets in their own time they did not receive the son. But why would people reject this dream? Why would they turn away from God’s calling and desire? Why would they choose something else than the kingdom of God?

Well in part because this dream challenged the reality had grown up experiencing. It challenged people’s practices, how they could judge and exclude one another, who they could ignore, who they could exploit. It challenged the temple and the religious, for healing was coming from a source other than them. Jesus didn’t do the right things, hang out with the right people, and show the right people the proper deference. Who did he think he was? It challenged the Romans and the powerful of the day, it didn’t believe that a person’s value was based on their power or position, it didn’t occupy strongholds or build armies but it did undercut the threat of violence. It challenged the rich and the wealthy because it told people to place their trust not in wealth or possessions or land but instead in the presence of God who had come down to be a part of the world. It called people away from their trades, their homes, their families and their lives. It made lepers clean and allowed the blind to see and yet those with eyes to see and ears to hear were few indeed. It lifted up the weak and the widow, the outcast and the orphan, the foreigner and the forgotten. It imagined a place where the first where last and the last were first where people found a new community in being gathered together around this Galilean. It taught people to love and that aroused hate.

Why did Jesus die, well on the ground level there are a number of answers: fear, power, authority, security. The religious of Jesus’ day felt that he was a blasphemer and a heretic, the Romans crucified him as a rebel and he dies on a cross viewed as a traitor to both Israel and Rome. He dies because the dream was rejected, the kingdom cast aside and its king crowned with thorns. Jesus dies to kill the messenger and destroy the message. Crucified to erase his honor, name and memory from all traces of history. But in this crazy dream where the first are last and the last are first, where the irony of Jesus’ mocking title hung over him on the cross is somehow true, where one consigned to be forgotten becomes remembered far beyond any other figure of any day or time, this mystery of the message lives on in us. We are those who come today and wonder as we wander out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior did come for to die. And while there are many answers to this question and what happened on this day will continue to defy our attempts to lock it down and so we come together and we wonder about the mystery of the cross and the one who went to the cross. We learn to dream God’s dreams, to live in God’s kingdoms, and to be transformed by the message and the messenger who died on the cross and yet live.

The Beginning of Jesus Ministry: A Sermon

James Tissot, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

James Tissot, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

Years ago, when I was going through Airborne School at Ft. Benning, GA, I remember one of the black hats there that would continually shout at us, “This ain’t Burger King, Airborne, you can’t have it your way.” When Jesus came down to dwell among us, the world changed- the Word became flesh and lived among us. The very force that gives creation its shape and form took on our form and was born of Mary and Joseph, two ordinary people with a big problem in the lower story became the parents of God’s Son, the bearers of the Word. And God come down and the very people who should have been able to see and recognize him, did not and there was no room for the Son of God.

Now we see Jesus beginning his ministry, God has come down, dwells with us. The hopes expressed by Isaiah have come to light:

Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down! How the mountains would quake in your presence! 2 As fire causes wood to burn and water to boil, your coming would make the nations tremble. Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame! 3 When you came down long ago, you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations. And oh, how the mountains quaked! 4 For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!(Isaiah 64: 1-4)

The people have longed for the barriers that separated God from them to be taken down, for God to be present and active. It is so easy to look out at the world and see all that is wrong, and to want God to come and fix it and the good news, the gospel is that God does…but not on our terms. God was not going to act like in the stories of the Exodus with the same type of mighty works. The mountains were not going to tremble, forests were not going to spontaneously combust and the nations around them were not trembling in their boots. Many seemed to hope that God coming down would mean that the nations around Israel would become their captives and they would come and bring their wealth and serve them, but the God we encounter in Jesus is much different.

Mark’s gospel echoes the language of Isaiah’s bursting from the heavens when Mark discusses the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” (Mark 1: 9-11)

The heavens, that place where God dwells which seems so distant now are split apart, ripped open and God is on the loose in the world. No longer content to stay in a temple or up in heaven, God has come down and everything has changed. We see in Jesus the goal of our own lives, where we are also dearly loved ones who bring God great joy, people in whom God’s Spirit wants to descend upon, people’s whose very identities are made and claimed in the waters of baptism, for it is there that our lives are joined to Christ’s life and we are his brothers and sisters, and yet, this ain’t Burger King, Airborne, you don’t get to have it your way, your isn’t your own. And God will not be God in the way that we think God should be God.

You see we tend to think that being set apart should make us special, and on the one hand it does, but we follow a God who came to serve and not to be served. We are set apart for the sake of others and not for our own sake. We were never set aside to place ourselves higher than others, but that we might serve. Paul talks about sharing the mind of Christ in this way:

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 5-8)

Jesus’ ministry begins, but it is about service not being served. It will involve hardship and suffering. Jesus’ identity and our identity do not preserve us from suffering or guarantee us an easy life. Jesus’ is not Superman, he is not going to fight the battle on those terms-unable to feel pain, unable to suffer and able to shoot laser beams out of his eyes and pulverize his enemies with fists of steel, instead he will enter into the weakness of the world in the confidence of who he is.

All the gospels go directly from the baptism to the temptation, they went together in Jesus life and the go together in ours as well. Mark continues:

12 The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, 13 where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him. (Mark 1: 12-13)

Martin Luther talks about in his Large Catechism that baptism is not to be taken lightly lest we hang a life-long enemy around the neck of a child, for in declaring a child for God it is also declaring the child against the devil and the ways of the world. Just because we are baptized does not save us from temptation, instead it might lead us directly into it.

Luke expands Mark’s brief temptation narrative like this:

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

3 Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.'”

5 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.'”

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. 11 And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.'”

12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the LORD your God.'”

13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. (Luke 4: 1-13)

The temptations come from the temptation to be the son of God in the world’s terms, to be the Messiah everyone else thinks he should be. The son of God shouldn’t be hungry, the son of God should wield power and rule over the nations as a king, the son of God should be invincible and strong and be impervious to danger, shielded by the angels from any harm.  If you are really God’s son feed yourself and everyone else along with it , if you really are about God’s kingdom then rule in God’s place, put Caesar and the kings of this earth under your feet, show people how powerful you are and they will follow you. And yet Jesus will not be the Son of God on Satan or our terms, and if we follow him we too may find ourselves walking into some of the same temptations that he faced and be confronted in our own weakness. Yet in our weakness we are not alone, nor are we abandoned, we are beloved by God. Beloved so much that God came down, ripped open the heavens to be on the loose in our world to be among us, to claim us and name us and in the waters of baptism to join us to Christ.

Pastor Erik has mentioned several times in the time I have been here that we need to remember that there is a God and it isn’t us. We don’t get to have it our way, we don’t get to cast God in our own image, when God acts in a way that is different than the way we would choose we don’t get to go out and choose a new god that better suits our liking. And yet the same tempter whispers in our ears: ‘if you are a child of God, you shouldn’t have to struggle’ ‘if you were really the child of God, you would be powerful, or rich, or famous’’or if you are really a child of God you would be a superhero’

Christ’s journey led him from his identity in baptism, into temptation and then to proclamation-pointing to the ways in which God was already on the loose in the world. That God’s kingdom was at hand and calling people to turn their ways back to God. As we continue in our journey may we also come to the point where we can see and say:

14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. 15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1: 14-15)

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