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Mark, Episode 8: How Jesus Takes a Break

I’ve often struggled deciding when to work and when to rest. Work too much and you’re a workaholic. But too much downtime and you’re a lazy bum. So where’s the balance between the two? God created the Sabbath for a full day of rest, but does that mean the appropriate ratio is one day of rest to every six days of work? Is there no time for Netflix at the end of a long Monday?

Jesus recognized the need for both work and rest in his ministry.

Read Mark 6:30-56.

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Just resting my eyes for a second… Credit: michael (https://flic.kr/p/nrgY)

Many studies on productivity recommend frequent short breaks for more efficient, purposeful work. The Pomodoro Technique uses 25-minute work periods followed by 5-minute breaks. After a few work/rest cycles, there’s a half-hour break. The 52/17 Method by the Draugiem Group bases its ratio on the schedules of its most productive employees. Their sweet spot is 52 minutes of work to 17 minutes of rest.

After the disciples finished the mission assigned to them, Jesus told them to take a break. Even though there would be more work to do, he knew they would need to “refuel” before going on. This wasn’t a hindrance to the ministry or putting the ministry “on hold.” It meant the disciples would be refreshed and ready for the next leg of following Jesus.

Jesus meant to rest with his disciples, but he put that aside temporarily when he saw the great need of the crowd, people who were so lost and desperate that they had chased him on foot. I read another book last week that mentioned this story. Ministering Cross-Culturally by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers pointed out how Jesus perfectly balance the priorities of task (going to rest) and people (meeting the crowd’s needs). He didn’t ignore the people to accomplish his task, but he didn’t give up his task either. After healing, teaching, and feeding everyone, he sent the disciples on in the boat and sent the crowd home. Then he went alone up the mountain for quality time with his Father.

“Few of us have the strength or will to follow this example,” wrote Lingenfelter and Mayers. “Jesus attended to the multitude around him, and then he ministered to himself.”

 

But Jesus didn’t stay away any longer than he needed. In the early morning, he could see the boat making slow progress and went to meet them. The wind stopped as soon as he stepped into the boat, recalling the time he calmed a storm after taking a nap. The disciples had been shocked that time too. Even after everything they had seen, they still didn’t know what to make of this man.

Jesus could have controlled the wind from the mountain rather than going down on the water, but then the disciples would not have witnessed his power and received further confirmation that he was something more than an ordinary human. Jesus came down from the mountain because he had more to teach them. His rest on the mountain prepared him to continue the work.

Reading this passage, I wonder if the key to work/rest balance is an awareness of needs–both that of others and our own. Jesus was acutely aware of his disciples’ need for rest, the crowd’s need for a “shepherd,” and his need to be alone in prayer. The amazing thing is he didn’t let any of these needs suffer. He may have put some on hold for a time to meet whatever need was most urgent, but he eventually addressed everything that he had to.

We can follow his example by being more intentional about weighing needs around and in us. Is the most important thing to meet work or social responsibilities or do we need to slow down for our own health and well-being? We can do as Jesus did to decide whether work or rest takes priority in the moment.

But we can also fill the roles of the disciples or crowd and know that Jesus will look after our needs (even if we don’t!). We may need to join him in the boat or chase after him along the shore, but Jesus will have compassion on us, satisfy our hunger, and walk across stormy seas to be with us.

…But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Mark 6:50b

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Posted by on May 10, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Mark, Episode 7: When the Disciples Spread the Word

The twelve disciples had a passive role in Jesus’ early ministry. They listened to Jesus, learned from him, and followed him around the countryside and across seas. But Jesus had more planned. He had work for them to do.

Read Mark 6:7-29.

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Credit: Tommy Clark (https://flic.kr/p/gpgfji)

Jesus sent his disciples out to announce his coming. Just like John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, so did his disciples. They were his publicists. They called people to repentance, freed the possessed, and healed the sick. Jesus delegated to them what he was doing already, what people crowded around him for. The people came to Jesus, and now he sent his disciples to the people.

You may note that this story shows Jesus’ power was transferable. He wasn’t some superhero with special powers only he could control. He could actually share his ability to banish demons and heal diseases, perhaps because of the intensive time the disciples had already spent with him.

Power alone wouldn’t guarantee acceptance though. Not everyone accepted Jesus or his teaching, and he knew his disciples would face the same challenge. If they would be welcome everywhere, then why would he give them instructions on what to do when they were not?

John the Baptist was also unwelcome. He criticized Herod for marrying his brother’s wife (Matt. 14:4). He was killed for speaking the truth. Herod was apparently not threatened by John because he “heard him gladly.” He was also afraid of the public backlash if anything happened to John. But Herodias did feel threatened. She wanted John gone. She did not want to repent for marrying her husband’s brother.

Not all good teachers will be respected or treated like they deserve. Some people don’t want to hear the truth because it might mean they are wrong or have to change. They would rather be left alone to do whatever they want, despite the possible consequences. Fun facts: Herod’s domain was later attacked by the kingdom of his ex-wife, whom he left for Herodias. Soon after, Herodias’ mischief led to the Roman emperor banishing Herod to Gaul. Not a wise marriage on Herod’s part.

Jesus knew that his disciples would be rejected, like John and himself, but there was good news too. He sent them with nothing but staffs in their hands and sandals on their feet. Just the minimum tools for their travel. I will be traveling this summer, and I’ve been working on my packing list for months. I can’t imagine leaving with nothing more than a hiking stick and shoes. But leaving with nothing more than a staff and sandals meant they would have to trust God on their journey. It meant there would be people to receive them in their homes and listen to their message.

Some people would ignore, criticize, or chase the disciples out of town. But it would be worth it for those who would listen, repent, and be freed and healed. That gives me hope. No matter how much opposition I might face for my faith and following Jesus, God will open the right doors and provide the opportunities he means me to have.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus, John 16:33

 

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Mark, Episode 5: Why Jesus Told Stories

Sometimes it’s easier to teach truth with a bit of fiction. Think of all the fairytales that manage to teach children about life, lessons like generosity, kindness, and honesty. A child might not listen to, let alone understand, a straightforward harangue on always telling the truth, but they won’t forget the boy who cried wolf.

 

Jesus was king of the metaphor. He wanted to teach people about the kingdom of God, so he told stories. Like Aesop’s fables, every one of Jesus’ parables had a message.

Read Mark 4:1-34.

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Credit: Paul Kline (https://flic.kr/p/nwcSf1)

Jesus used parables that the common people could easily understand to introduce complex concepts harder to grasp. He was speaking in their language, which was richly agricultural. The Israelites lived everyday with the realities of livestock, crops, and harvests. So those were the subjects Jesus would use to talk about other, less relatable concepts.

Theologians have analyzed and interpreted each of his parables, sometimes devoting entire books to the study of a single one. You can find those books if you’re curious to really get into the details. I won’t do that today. Instead I will focus on the same theme of my previous posts: what does Mark tell us about Jesus?

First, Jesus is still being careful about his public image. He would teach the general public, but he wouldn’t tell them everything. He saved that confidence for his closest disciples. The last two verses of this passage are a perfect summary: “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”

I believe this reveals a careful shrewdness in his character. He knew the public would not be able to accept everything he had to say, so they heard abridged versions–fairytales–while the disciples traveling with him heard the full story. Why? It isn’t much different from mass media today. Every story is bound to get distorted or misunderstood at some point between the original source and the audience. Personally teaching a small group of students, though, creates much more accurate and effective communication. Jesus says the disciples are given “the secret of the kingdom of God.” They are the good soil that received the seed and will produce an abundant harvest.

Jesus quotes a vision of Isaiah, when the Lord told Isaiah to prophesy to the Israelites: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10).

I’ve never studied ancient Hebrew, but my friends who have told me the verb tenses can be tricky to translate. In the case of these verses, I’ve heard it explained that the prophecy states Israel’s already hardened heart rather than declares a curse to make it so. It’s saying how things are, not how they should be. God didn’t want Israel to hear and not understand. But that was exactly what Israel was doing. It was their own indifference that kept them from repentance and healing.

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Credit: mental_surfeit (https://flic.kr/p/GYCaV)

In quoting this prophecy, Jesus compares Israel of his day to the Israel of Isaiah’s. The people still had hard hearts. Even if Jesus explained everything to the public like he did for the disciples, they would not understand, would not repent, and would not receive forgiveness. They were the bad soil where the seed could not grow.

But Jesus did not give up on them and ignore the crowds. Here we see his compassion for Israel. Matthew and Luke quote Jesus near the end of his ministry saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34). Jesus yearned for Israel to have an open heart and receive the word he described as producing a harvest to the hundredfold. He kept teaching, even if in parables, because good soil can be hidden in the path, rocks, or thorns.

He invested more time, though, where it would be most useful: his disciples. They were the ones who would keep sowing after he was gone and until the whole world heard the word. They were the ones who would watch the seed grow without knowing how (Mark 4:27). They were the ones who would gather the fruit, making more disciples just like Jesus taught them (Matt. 28:19-20).

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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