A Pretty Steep Price to Pay

Beheading can cause kids stress
At the Newseum<br />Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/creativedc/4636639255/">Amanda Hirsch</a>

Mark 7:17-29

Herod himself had arranged John’s arrest and imprisonment. Herod had married his brother Phil’s wife, Herodias. John had called Herod on it, saying “It’s against the law to marry your brother’s wife.” Herodias, therefore, had wanted to have John offed, but Herod wouldn’t allow it because he recognized that John was divinely inspired, which both confused Herod and at the same time aroused his curiosity. So Herod was afraid to allow anything to happen to John.

Eventually, the time came on the occasion of Herod’s birthday banquet. All kinds of dignitaries and important people, the who’s-who of Galilee, were there for the occasion, and Herodias’s daughter performed a dance that so thrilled Herod and the assembled guests that Herod said to her, “You may ask for whatever you like, even half the kingdom, I swear, and whatever you ask for you shall have.”

The girl went running to her mother exclaiming, “What should I ask for?”

Without a whit if hesitation, her mother told her, “Ask for John the Dunker’s head.”

So the girl rushed back to the king and said, “I want John the Dunker’s head. On a platter.”

Herod regretted to do it, but to avoid the embarrassment of not keeping the promise he’d made in front of his guests, he hated to refuse her. Right away, Herod sent one of the guards with orders to bring John’s head. The soldier went to the prison, cut John’s head off, returned with it on a silver platter, and presented it to the girl, who in turn, gave it to her mother.

Upon hearing of this, John’s students came, took his body, and buried it.

All joking aside, what can be the purpose of this gruesome story?

It’s purpose is to demonstrate, in crystal clear terms, what happens to people when they take on those who are in power: they tend to get killed.

It comes just after the disciples are given their mission of going out into the world. As if to say, when you start turning people’s lives around and standing up for what is right, look out. And it comes as a foreshadowing of what will happen to Jesus for taking on those powers. (The note about John’s students coming to get the body is also setting the stage for the contrast in Mark 15:42-47 where Jesus’ disciples will not come to get his body.)

This story is a dramatic picture of what Luke quotes Jesus as saying: “If you want to follow me, count the cost.” (Luke 14:25-33)

Christianity, before the established version we see most often today, wasn’t for wimps and politicians. It was for those who were willing to stand up to politicians (especially those who, like Herod and his guests, sell off peoples lives for the sake of entertainment), to be arrested, to be thrown in jail, and even to be executed.

For those who want to follow Jesus today, the implications are no different. Only the names of the politicians have changed.

Who Are Your Fans?

NY Jets fans
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/4029349282/sizes/z/in/photostream/">Ed Yourdon</a>

Mark 1: 14-20

Then, when John was arrested, Jesus returned to Galilee where he started working toward the goal. “It starts now,” he said. “The goal is close. Turn your life around! It’s going to be awesome.”

As Jesus went along the Galilean seashore, he saw brothers Simon and Andy, fishermen, casting nets in the sea. He said to them, “Follow me and I’ll show you how to capture people’s hearts. Without hesitating, they followed him. A little further on he saw Jim and John Zebedee in their boat fixing nets. As soon as he saw them, he called them, too. And they left their father and their hired help and followed him.

[See also previous comments pertaining to verses 14-15, The Only Way to Start, and on verses 16-20, Paradox of Opportunity. You may also be interested in previous comments (and a video) on the parallel passage in Matthew 4:18-25, First Followers.]

Not even Jesus can go it alone. World-changing work requires community. Even “building community” requires community. Whether you’re a church, a company, a school, service club, a family, or a not-for-profit whatever agency – the first thing you need (even before you need money!) is community engagement.

Back in 2008, Kevin Kelly (founding editor of Wired Magazine) wrote that a successful enterprise needs 1000 true fans. That’s a much larger endeavor than the vast majority of churches. So really, the number is probably much less than that. Jesus settled on 12.

12 is doable for most people. Start, like Jesus, with just four.  You’ll get there. It’s not really about the number, it’s about the quality of the relationship, and the shared mission in which you’re engaged. 12 people (or just 4) who are highly engaged in capturing people’s hearts can go a long way. So, then again, if you’re really in the business of capturing people’s hearts, whose to say 1000 fans is out of reach? In a conversation last year with Mark Behan about a church looking to “re-brand” itself he said, “Your greatest asset is the people who are already sitting in your pews.” They are your true fans. If they don’t engage, no one will, but if a small company of the committed are willing to leave everything to follow their calling, you can do just about anything.

Every endeavor that sets out to change the world, or even a little rural village in upstate New York, or on the Kansas prairies, or a forgotten neighborhood in East LA, or an affluent suburb of Austin starts with three or four people, maybe 12, who have a vision and are ready to leave everything they have to make it happen.

Is that you?

[Bonus: Think about your community’s “fan base.” It may be larger than you think. What about all those fans who are on the inactive roles, and the non-resident fans? What about the people who come just for special occasions? Weddings and funerals? People who turn up at the chicken and biscuit dinner? Chances are, they’re not going to be your Peters and Jameses. But many of them may be leaving the doors of their hearts open to being (re)captured. Even the ones who are a pain in the butt are still engaged, and in an age when attention is at a premium, you’ve got theirs. I’m not saying you should change your “business model” for them. You shouldn’t. But you’re missing an opportunity if you’re pretending they’re not there.]

Jesus and the Skeptic

man walking toward the light in the woods
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/2895860359/">Hartwig HKD</a>

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Phil and said, “Tag along!” (Phil was from Bethsaida, the same city Andy and Pete were from.)

Phil found Nate and said, “We’ve found the guy Moses and the truth-tellers were talking about. He’s Jesus, Joe’s kid, from Noweheresville.”

“Nowheresville?” Nate said, “Nothing good’s ever come out of Nowheresville.”

Phil said, “Just come and see.”

When Jesus saw Nate coming, he said, “Now here’s a real patriot! Not a skeptical bone in his body.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” Nate said.

Jesus said, “I know you were sitting under a fig tree when Phil called you.”

“Professor,” Nate said, “You’re the divine one! You’re Israel’s king!”

Jesus said, “You’re saying that just because I told you I saw you sitting under a fig tree! You’ll see bigger things than that. No joke. I’m telling you you’ll see the open gates of heaven and God’s messengers coming and going to the human one.”

Beyond this incident, Nathanael is mentioned only at the end, post resurrection, among the seven who encounter Jesus after an unsuccessful night’s fishing (Jn 21:1-3). So the disciple who questions whether Jesus will amount to anything turns out to be one that disappears into the woodwork.

The whole point of Jesus saying, “Not a skeptical bone in his body,” is that he’s skeptical through and through. Not to mention that a true patriot would never address a peasant from Nowheresville as king and mean it.

When Nate says, “You’re the divine one,” Jesus calls his bluff, saying he will see God’s messengers come only to a human one, but it’s ok, since being human is an “even greater thing.”

In the midst of all this sarcasm and skepticism, the point is that Nate’s expectations of the messiah are completely the opposite of who Jesus really is, and who in spite of that, is still promised, “no joke,” that someday he will see.

For now, Nate is only engaging because he’s going along with his friend Phil. He’s a second-hand disciple. Jesus didn’t call him, Phil did. If Jesus had called him, he probably wouldn’t have come. But that’s ok, too. Because that’s how many of us got into the movement. We were skeptics just checking it out as a favor to a friend. Until we really did see for ourselves that it’s greater to be human.

A Paradox of Opportunity

Friendship Parados MathMark 1:16-20

(See also Matthew 4:18-25)

As Jesus went along the Galilean seashore, he saw brothers Simon and Andrew, fishermen, casting nets in the sea. He said to them, “Follow me and I’ll show you how to capture people’s hearts. Without hesitating, they followed him. A little further on he saw James and John Zebedee in their boat fixing nets. As soon as he saw them, he called them, too. And they left their father and their hired help and followed him.

Both in the calling and the following, there is no hesitation. No second guessing. No “let me think about it for a while and get back to you.” The response to the opportunity is immediate. The moment Jesus sees the people he needs, he calls them. The moment they see the leader they have been looking for, they follow.

According to the Friendship Paradox, “most people have fewer friends than their friends have, on average.” Strange, but mathematically true. It happens, though, because generally speaking, you’re more likely to find and interact regularly with people who are, on average, more socially active. The people who have the most friends are the people who are most outgoing and receptive to new friendships. On the other hand, they, by being more active, are more likely to find less active people – like you and me.

The connection to this story about Jesus calling the first disciples is this: opportunity works the same way. And opportunities expand with the number of people you know.

Finding the right people for your movement doesn’t happen every day, of course. But it certainly won’t happen if you’re not open to the possibilities. You’ve got to be looking. Even when there are other routine things to be done (mending nets). And, if you’re not ready, the people who are looking for the opportunity to be a part of your movement will probably find something else.

But the opposite is also true. The more you look, the more you find.

Strange, but mathematically true.