Mark 9

Getting back to our Lenten reading…

In the first verse Jesus says there are people listening to him who “will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God has come with power.” Some interpreters have taken this as evidence that Jesus thought he was living in an end time. If he did think so, he was wrong. Could Jesus make mistakes? Or is the Kingdom of God a state of being or state of mind that people could indeed “taste” in their lifetimes? Or is something else going on here?

We move from this verse to the Transfiguration. An interesting side note here. Verse 2 begins with the words “six days later.” Chronological precision is not exactly rife in the New Testament. Wonder what is up with this?

I have nothing to say about the Transfiguration that you haven’t heard before. The passage definitely establishes Peter and the others as first among the apostles. And it establishes Jesus in a noble Jewish line of succession. In some ways, it makes you wonder how Peter and the others could ever have entertained doubt again.

I have never actually been able to come up with a satisfying image of what the transfigured Jesus looked like. And as I was thinking about this, I did a little Web trolling and found that this is one of the least frequently depicted scenes in the life of Christ. Witnessing the Transfiguration must have been a staggering visual experience. Yet, it has inspired comparatively little art. Maybe it is beyond our imagining. Maybe any attempt to portray it would have seemed immediately cliched.

In this chapter we also get more of Mark’s fascination with Jesus’ relationship with and knowledge of demons. I get a kick out of Jesus saying “This kind can come out only through prayer.” As though he were reflecting on a long medical career and giving the apostles a useful craftsman’s tip. My Oxford Annotated contains a footnote that says: Failure is attributed to a wrong attitude. The disciple must speak from faith, not from argument.” Now, that last sentence is very good advice, but in this context, it seems like an attempt to read a moral into a story that is too unusual to support one.

Verses 42-48, if your eye offends you, pluck it out, etc. are generally interpreted metaphorically, and I don’t quarrel with that. I don’t think you should pluck your eyes out. But sometimes I think we read the metaphor too broadly. Jesus isn’t just saying stay away from stuff that might jeopardize your salvation. He is saying cut yourself off from things you previously considered essential to your well being if it gets in the way of your relationship with God. I am trying to think about whether I have ever done that, or felt I had to. There is a bit of a conundrum here. Ideally, you would not make something an essential part of your life if you thought it got in the way of your relationship with God. At least not knowingly. It seems Jesus is asking for some fairly intesne self-scrutiny, a measuring of every element in your life against the standard of whether it helps or hinders your relationship with God.

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