Row Your Boat

storm clouds off shore
Photo credit: <a href="">joiseushowaa</a>

Mark 6:45-52

Right away, he made his students get back onto the boat and across to Fishermans Wharf, on the other side, while he remained there to send the crowds back home. After saying good-bye to the people, he went up to pray on the mountain.

Meanwhile, as evening came, and Jesus was still on land, the boat was out at sea. Jesus could see his students rowing hard against the wind. In the early morning he came walking across the sea to them, and was intending to go on ahead of them. When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost, and scared out of their wits, they screamed.

Jesus said to them, “Calm down. It’s me. Don’t worry.” Then, he got into the boat with them, the wind died down. They were incredulous. Their hearts remained unmoved, and they didn’t understand the bread and the fish.

[See also, previous comments on the parallel passage in Matthew 14:22-33, and on the first sea-crossing in Mark 4:35-41.]

This is Mark’s second story of a dangerous sea crossing. This time, though, Jesus is not in the boat. The disciples are on their own. The reason for their failure to make headway against the wind: their hearts remained unmoved, and they didn’t understand about the bread and the fish.

What Jesus had done with the disciples, Jesus now wants the disciples to do on their own. From the beginning of this passage, it’s something they don’t want to do. Jesus has to make them get into the boat and go. Again, the winds against them are symbolic of the disciples own Resistance to going where they know they must go and doing what they know they must do. It’s the same Resistance that Jesus had to deal with as he began his work.

We encounter the same resistance every day. It’s much easier click around on Facebook than to do whatever work you know you really should be doing. Check your email again. Take another break to check on what’s happening at the water cooler. Channel surf. Before you know it, the time is gone, and you’re not any closer to where you know you really want to be. The winds are against you. Moreover, the more important the work, the stronger the winds.

If you understand about the bread and the fish, you know that there are people – lots of people – who are depending on you. The command of Jesus is still ringing through this passage, “You give them something to eat.” If it were just a matter of finding your own self-fulfillment, that would be serious enough. Jesus wants you to open your heart to the reality that it’s not just about you. It’s about them. It’s about us all. We need you to go and do what Jesus is asking you to do. You’re needed on the other side. We need you on the other side of your fear.

Please, get in the boat, and row.

Deliverance Over Fear

Fish and Boy faceoff
Photo credit: <a href="">Steve Jurvetson</a>

Jonah 2

Then, from inside the fish, Jonah prayed to God:

When I was stressed out, I called on God,
And God answered me.

When my life had gone to hell,
You heard me calling.

You threw me in over over my head,
Into the sea,
Where I was drowning,
The waves and whitecaps
washed me under.

Then I said, I’ve been driven away
Out of sight.
When will I get to see your temple again?

The water devoured me,
Suffocated me,
Seaweed choked me
At the bottom from which mountains rise.
I arrived in the netherworld
Behind its eternally locked gates.

But you saved me from that pit.
Just as my life was fleeing
I remembered you,
And my prayer arrived in your temple.

People who worship idols
Do themselves in.
But I will, with thanks,
Give you everything I promised.

God delivers!

Upon these words, God directed the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land.

Just about everybody is familiar with Jonah and the whale. (I know, I know, “It’s not a whale, it’s a big fish.”) I wonder how often it’s been used in Sunday School to scare children (like it was used in my childhood Sunday School experience) into accepting other (unrelated) impossible doctrines. “See what God will do to you if you don’t do what God says…”

But that’s not the point at all. The point isn’t to show what God will do if you don’t believe, but what God can do when you do. This poem at the center of the story is about deliverance. When Jonah finally does go where he was supposed to, the result is deliverance.

The point is deliverance. The narrative construction of a big fish story around this poem is to make the point even more sharply: God delivers even from impossible situations.

For some, the idea of God is just as implausible as the story of Jonah and the big fish. But I can’t help but wonder, if the Jonah story were more often taught correctly would there be so many people in that boat?

Another Day, Another Doomsday Prediction

Harold Camping Billboard
Photo via the <a href="">Christian Science Monitor</a>

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Friends, don’t ignore the fact that for Jesus, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is only a day. Jesus isn’t putting off making good on his promise as some say. On the contrary, he’s patiently waiting for you to get your act together and change your lives rather than have you die. But the day of Jesus’ return will come like a thief. The sky will fall with a terrible bang, and the very elements will dissolve back into pure energy, and the earth and everything that’s happened on it will be laid bare.

So given that everything will be dissolved this way, what sort of people are you going to be? Shouldn’t you be religious and godly? Shouldn’t you wait for it, and meanwhile do everything you can to make it come sooner? Because that day the sky will burn down and everything solid will melt in flame. Even so, according to Jesus’ promise, we wait for a new heaven and earth where justice is the norm.

So, friends, while you are waiting for all this to happen, make an effort so that when he comes he’ll find you at peace, without any bad spots or rot. And think of Jesus’ delay as your opportunity to be saved.

This passage was written only a couple generations after Jesus to explain why the end of the world had not yet come, and to reassure the faithful that it would. By now according to this reckoning, we’re just into day 3. Still, it’s a long time and we haven’t yet got our act together. Between this early attempt to warn people of the imminent return of Jesus and this advent season, there have been hundreds of predictions and warnings. Two of them made the news in the past year alone. And we still have to get through another next month (December 21).

Sure, nothing lasts forever. But more often than not, and even in this early example, the threat of the end comes off as a desperate manipulation of desperate people’s fear. Even the promise of a new creation in which “justice is the norm” begs the question, “Whose justice?” And the coming of that “justice” with violence, and the encouragement that believers ought to do what they can to hasten it easily leads to a “kill ’em all and let God sort it out” attitude. A far cry from Jesus’ teaching.

2000 years later, it’s not too late to change your life. But please, do it because its the right thing to do. Not because you’re afraid of getting caught with your pants down when the divine SWAT team shows up at 3 am.

Don’t Be Afraid Just Because They Say So

Photo credit: ShandiLee

2 Peter 1:12-21

My intention is to keep reminding you of all this, even though you already know it and are convinced of its truth. So long as I’m alive, it’s the right thing for me to keep it fresh in your minds. And, since Jesus has told me that I won’t be around much longer, I’m doing my best to make sure you’ll keep remembering it after I’m gone.

When we told you about Jesus’ return to power we weren’t just perpetuate clever myths. We’d seen his majesty with our own eyes. He received honor and glory from God when the voice came to him from great glory saying, “This is my son, and I’m proud of him.” We heard the voice ourselves on the sacred mountain. Our word is truly reliable, and you’d best pay attention to it. It’s your light in a dark place, until daylight dawns and your hearts discern the morning star.

So first, get this: no truth of scripture is open to individual interpretation because no truth ever came from human effort. Rather, men and women spoke what God’s spirit moved them to speak.

From God’s lips to our ears. Simple as Ross Perot. Either you believe it or you don’t. Black or white, darkness or light. And there’s no room for any shades of gray. And certainly no minority report.

Except that the whole Bible is full of minority reports. Really, the whole Bible is a minority report.

But the best evidence that this particular passage is not what it claims to be is that it’s whole premise is fear. Do as we say, or you’ll be sorry. And it’s appeal to guilt. I’m going to die soon, so listen to a pathetic old man. Either Peter toward the end of his life still didn’t get the “fear not, you are forgiven” message Jesus was talking about, or (which is the most likely case) it’s not Peter writing. But it is among the origins of Christian fundamentalism.

Today insecure guilt-ridden people with no tolerance for dissent still co-opt the memory of Jesus to build their own empires. Sad, that they dupe so many people. But, always just as recognizable. Just look for fear and guilt.

I wish I could find something positive to say about it. I can’t. But I do have some advice. If you’re living in a community that holds Jesus and God over you to make you afraid and prohibits your consideration of any opinion other than it’s own, you don’t have to live that way. It’s not Jesus. It’s abuse.