What’s My Story of Jesus?

Mary Magdala Community

6th  Sunday in Ordinary Time —  February 11, 2024

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div., Ph.D.  — jimryan6885@gmail.com

Pastor,  Mary Magdala Community,  maryofmagdala-mke.org

It has taken 5 weeks in the Lectionary calendar to hear and reflect upon the 1st chapter of the Gospel of Mark.  This has been the time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday.   Each Sunday we have had a few paragraphs to consider. Apropos of the condensation and brevity in Mark it takes only one chapter to not only introduce us to Jesus, but also to establish his story as a new presence.  This is the One who speaks with authority, heals with compassion, and is concerned, for good reason, to not draw attention to himself.

We hear this story and apply its lessons to our own lives.  We tell the story of Jesus to ourselves so that we may interpret it as it applies to my own life, to community life, and to the world.  This story contains meaning, depth and application in personal, social, and cultural life.  All this makes it obvious, I would think, that this 1st chapter of Mark’s gospel is especially insightful for the groundwork it puts in place for our understanding of the story of Jesus.

Unfortunately, this year the 2nd Chapter of Mark will not be included in our Sunday worship.  But I consider the chapter to be essential to Jesus’ story, so we’ll take a quick look at it this morning.  Four events make up the chapter and they are:  1) the healing of a paralytic man, 2) the call of Levi, 3) a question over the disciples’ fasting, and 4) an accusation against the disciples for doing forbidden actions on the Sabbath.   Let’s look at how these short stories are told, because that helps in telling Jesus’ larger story.  Each event is caught up in controversy.  Jesus acted without permission.  He forgave sins, something, according to the scribes who were present, only God could do.  He ate with Levi’s friends who were sinners and unclean.  His disciples apparently acted with a lightheartedness.  And they fed themselves because they were hungry, despite it being the Sabbath.

I would like to focus on two aspects of this story, features that serve to direct our application of this story to our own lives.  For example, we see that even though the miracles make Jesus popular early in his ministry, in his mind it is just as important that he spread the good news (1:38) of what he came to teach.  The first aspect is, then, the content of Jesus’ own teaching and its impact on the culture of his day.

Secondly, is the context of how Jesus went about his Teaching.  Controversy was in his wake as he saught no clearance or official approval.  The context of these stories in chapter 2 presents us with the courage of freedom, Jesus’ showing that he really was proclaiming something new.

The story of Jesus, the one we tell ourselves this morning is about content and context.  Judith Gruber’s writing would seem to agree with these words in her own work of exploring the liberation and freedom that Jesus shows to his followers.  Judith’s work uses terms like intercultural theology and postcolonial theory, belying her position as a theologian on faculty at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium.  Intercultural theology is about the widening of content to show how what may seem to be differences, let’s say between Christians and Muslims, are not so different after all.  Postcolonial theory recognizes that all people, particularly the formerly colonized peoples and nations by European conquerors, are free to develop in their own right and not seek permission to act. 

I would like to bring these ideas home to our local realities.

Content and context apply to the story of Jesus.  For example, my story of Jesus tells how important it is to listen to the good news that Jesus proclaims – to love one’s neighbor as oneself, to walk the extra mile with a neighbor in need, and to love and be thankful for the Creator who is the source of one’s life.  This good news is the content of the message that Jesus spreads among many cultures, even those that do not specifically include his teachings.  And sometimes this content is controversial as when it teaches one to value and cherish the rights of the LGBTQ+ community; or when it underpins one’s commitment to the life-affirming value of surrogacy and in vitro fertilization.

This story is also about context.  I consider it important to point out that the 4 short stories that make up chapter 2 of Mark’s gospel are only completely told when one acknowledges that Jesus is doing new things here, new things that get him in trouble; new things that are also controversial.  For example, he is accused by the scribes of playing God as he tells the paralyzed person their sins are forgiven; or it is pointed out to him that he engages in forbidden activity by eating with sinners and unclean persons; or he is faulted for allowing his disciples to enjoy his company by having good meals together rather than go about fasting; or, again, he is accused of allowing his disciples to disobey the laws of the Sabbath by doing work that makes it possible to feed themselves.

Jesus acts in new ways for the sake of applying the good news of a free life.  His story shows that content and context are central to the 2nd chapter of Mark’s gospel.  My guess is that you and I have accepted for a while that we live in a world where culture is a word we use to describe lifestyle, customs, and shared ways of thinking of how best to live life.  We also accept many cultures whose visions and ideas of God differ from our own, cultures nonetheless that form a vibrant intercultural plurality. 

I would wager that we have also embraced the belief that people, regardless of where or how they live, are and ought to be free to live out their culture without fear of obstruction.  This is the postcolonial part of Jesus’ story.  He has given us the gift of freedom to do as he did with his new teaching with authority.  As the people of his time said, “We have never seen anything like this.” ( 2:12)

My point is Jesus has not only given us these examples of how to act freely when doing new things, but he has also taught us that his is the only permission we need to do it.  It comes with Baptism and not from some ecclesiastical office.  That is why my story of Jesus provides me with these two gems to apply from his life: 

           “When one sees genuine need, one responds”

            “When the Spirit’s gifts of ministry are present, one celebrates their flourishing.”

A Prayer

             God of life, we are formed and fashioned by your Word; the One whom you sent to be our

                   sacrament.  Free us to enjoy your call to holiness and service, the invitation that hugs our  

                   hearts, gives light to our path, and encourages us to act.  Let this freedom liberate us each    

                   day as we form a community of compassion.  All praise to you, Three in One, community

                   of everlasting grace.  Amen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 + 6 =