Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Mark’s Big Story: Freedom and The Jesus Way

Last night, around 30 of us spent two hours reflecting together on the theme of freedom in Mark, particularly how the actions and teaching of Jesus would have been received by the crowd who appear on a regular basis in the Gospel, the ‘common people’ whose daily lives were blighted by problems of Roman occupation, debt, and the ‘purity code’ which was so vigorously policed by the Sadducees and Pharisees.

At the end of the evening, we talked about the issues which impact people in our local community in Billesley, the ways in which people here are ‘trapped’ because of family problems or financial problems and the lack of opportunity. And then we asked ourselves the question: how would Jesus have responded?

Among the various comments people made, I was particularly struck by the observation that, throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t appear to be tackling ‘underlying’ problems. He heals people, feeds people, teaches people, but there’s little evidence that he wants to attempt a root and branch reform of structures in 1st century Palestine. Instead, he is usually reacting to the cases of need which present themselves to him. I’m not sure that analysis covers the whole story – for example, at the beginning of Mark we read of Jesus attacking the ‘tradition of the elders,’ using provocative language, and of course there’s also his cleansing of the Temple. However, this is definitely a question we need to consider.

Mark only provides a brief summary of Jesus’ temptation, but perhaps it’s in the longer accounts of Matthew and Luke that we find an insight into the reason for Jesus’ lack of a big programme. He faces three different temptations, each of which threaten to distort the agenda of his ministry. He resists the idea of turning stones into bread, because his mission is not just about feeding people’s empty stomachs. He rejects the notion of a circus-style leap off the Temple pinnacle, because he knows the crowds need more than a ‘showman Messiah.’ He turns down the offer of political power because the Kingdom’s rule cannot come about through earthly structures.

In his introduction to his wonderful book The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson writes: ‘The ways Jesus goes about loving and saving the world are personal: nothing disembodied, nothing abstract, nothing impersonal. Incarnate, flesh and blood, relational, particular, local. The ways employed in much of our Western culture are conspicuously impersonal: programmes, organisations, techniques, general guidelines, information detached from place.’

So here’s the question: how do tackle injustice but do this in a personal way? All answers gratefully received.


  1. I wonder if the heart of the matter is to be found in Mark 8v2 "I have compassion for these people.." and in 1 Corinthians 13 "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."

    This requires a love and compassion and is not just PREPARED to become involved, but is COMPELLED to become involved, to roll up our sleeves, get stuck in and get our hands dirty,.

    Without the same love and compassion that Jesus displayed in his dealings with people we are empty, wrapped up in ourselves and incapable of reaching out to any one else.

  2. I think that we should tackle the injustices that we see locally, with love and compassion. YWBC is surrounded by an area that is quite deprived in a variety of ways. As individuals and as a church we need to get involved in a loving and practical way to support people as they struggle with life.
    The 'Jesus Way' reminds me of the banner that Occupy London Stock Exchange unfurled 'What would Jesus do?' He did meet people's immediate needs and also challenged the status quo, sometimes directly and at other times, quite subtley. His mission to preach as he travelled around gave him a type of freedom that we are not able to re-create, but having spent some time on Wednesday night thinking about the things that 'trap' us in our lives, we have an opportunity to loosen those bonds.

  3. Thanks Claire and Ian. It seems like the same theme is coming in out in your responses – that it’s not all about the big projects, exciting and important as work like TLG is. The danger is these initiatives can almost become a ‘red herring,’ because we end up thinking of mission in these terms. There’s a risk that we regard mission as being done for us ‘by proxy,’ whereas what matters more is our individual outworking, in our everyday encounters with those we meet.

  4. The Big Project has the temporary advantage of pointing the entire church in the same direction for a season. TLG has taken us collectively out of our comfort zone into a place where we have wanted to depend on God more, and so we have learnt to pray together better. If we who are less actively involved in TLG maintain and develop that corporate (and individual?) prayerful communion with God we will start to hear better his voice and his heart for the people of Yardley Wood and Billesley (and those in our other, personal relational networks). Perhaps that will help us in our everyday encounters as individuals and perhaps kick off some more chaotic sanctified response networks.

    However, recent talk of a Season of Rest and Recuperation, while very appropriate for those who have been over-committed may indeed play to a sense of 'proxy-mission': those spiritually committed but not deeply temporally or emotionally committed may be misled into feeling that developing deeper personal, relational involvement down non-Big-Project avenues is not a universal calling.