I'm thankful that in this transition time from pandemic-era style online and restricted gatherings to returning to being in-person together we happen to be in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary Cycle. Boring way to start out a blog post? Year B in the lectionary is anything but boring!
Our series of readings - called the Revised Common Lectionary - works through a focused look at a different Gospel for each year. This year we work through Mark's Gospel. Mark's Gospel is very different from Matthew and Luke in a lot of ways, even though it is often seen as the foundation of the other two. Mark's Gospel is much shorter and in ways much more dramatic. It is focused less on the teachings of Jesus, like the Sermon on the Mount or the Plain and his parables, and focused more on his active ministry. In Mark, Jesus is an apocalyptic prophet engaging in spiritual warfare against the powers of this age, with exorcisms as the cornerstone of his ministry. His other miracles, like calming the storm and healings, are in this context as well, casting out the powers that oppress and enslave people and freeing them to live in the new life of the age to come.
The story moves quickly in Mark, from one exciting encounter to the next. Just look at this coming week's lectionary reading from Mark 5. We just saw Jesus rebuke the storm, commanding control over the primal and dangerous elements of nature. Now as he gets off the boat on the other side, he immediately must engage in other powers of this world that seek to possess and harm God's people. A synagogue leader named Jairus comes to Jesus, and begs for help, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.
But that's not all. Before Jesus can even make it to Jairus' daughter, he gets caught up in a crowd. And in that crowd, another desperate person, this time a woman with a hemorrhage for 12 years for whom doctors have found no solution, who reached out and touched his clothes. And that alone, touching the hem of his garment, heals her. Jesus feels that this happens, finds the woman, and says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
By the time Jesus gets to Jairus' house, the young girl has died. But Jesus says these unbelievable words to them, "Do not fear, only believe.” He goes in and he raises the little girl to life again.
These stories are striking. Jesus raises this young girl, presumably dead, to life. Even more so he speaks boldly that in the face of death itself, we need not fear, only believe. He himself not only carries this spiritual boldness but offers it, draws it out, from those around him. Look at the woman who touches his clothes. She has the audacity to believe that if she just touches Jesus she will be healed...and it works! Again even more so, Jesus celebrates her faith.
Often times I think we read these stories and we marvel at Jesus. How powerful he must have been, a god among men, that just touching the hem of his garment would heal that woman! How powerful he must have been to raise the young girl from the dead. How incredible was his faith in the Father that he could say words such as, "Do not fear, only believe." And then sometimes there's an explicit or implicit follow up to those thoughts to the effect of, "if only he were here today, then we could be healed/freed/saved."
I'm going to now jump right to my point and share the scariest thing about all of this: Jesus' ministry is our ministry. The pattern of ministry in Mark is not meant to just share Jesus' story, as if it is somehow apart from our own. Mark's Gospel shares Jesus' ministry with us because it is the ministry we are called to live also. His students, his followers, his disciples as we call them, they become apostles. Apostles has become a churchy word, but you can think of them as those now sent out, or commissioned. In other words, apostles are those sent out on a mission, and that mission is the same mission Jesus was on and it is meant to be done the same we he did it. We ought to proclaim the same kind of boldness of faith as we see in Jesus. Our ministry is meant to bring the kind of healing and freedom from disease, death, and oppression as we see in Jesus. The kind of power that led the woman to be healed by simply getting close to Jesus, that is the ministry of the Church also.
The Good News is that Jesus' ministry of freedom and healing is not just relegated to the past. The gift he gives is that the same Spirit that was in him is given to us, too. We carry that Spirit and that mission forward today. We can offer the world the same light and life and presence of God that Jesus offered. That's why we say we are his Body in the world. We are his presence and the presence of God going onward.
This week's collect prayer of the day reads, "Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone." We tell these stories of the apostles, the prophets, and even Jesus not because we want to receive comfort of ages past, or so we can make nice meaning out of them for our lives today. We tell these stories so we can see ourselves in them, and then live them again, anew, today. What would your life look like patterned on the ministry of Jesus? What would the ministry of IHS, our congregatoin, look like patterned after Jesus' ministry today? Where do the powers and principalities of this world, demonic and evil spirits, possess and oppress people in our community today? Where is there need for liberation and justice? What people have been overlooked, living for years and years in pain, suffering, or isolation that long for just the touch of Jesus' garment?
What do you think this looks like in our lives and in our congregation? I want to know your thoughts in the comments below! Let's make this a real conversation that will effect how we do things in our parish at IHS in the year(s) to come.