The Good Book Club is wrapping up its fourth week today with the conclusion of chapter 10. Our household is participating once again this year, albeit more slowly. So rather than reading about blind Bartimaeus over dinner tonight, we’ll be back in chapter 8 discussing the costs of following Jesus.
I’m a rule follower by nature; I show up early and meet deadlines. Doing my best means giving everything I have so that I actually do offer my very best. In seasons past when the Good Book Club offered a reading plan, then our family stuck to the reading plan. I printed it the week before, folded it neatly, and placed it within our blue Adventure Bible to serve as a bookmark and guide.
But this year is not like other years.
Our family started reading the Gospel of Mark a week late and have been playing catch up since then. Some nights we read two full chapters, while other nights we don’t read anything at all. If COVID-19 has taught me anything over the past ten months it’s that doing my best doesn’t always mean doing the best. It means offering what I can when I can. The Good Book Club is a nightly reminder that Jesus loves me, even when I don’t do things perfectly.
One of the new additions to our participation in the Good Book Club this year is a map of the the Holy Land kept on our table. As we finish dinner and one person begins reading, slowly other folks around the table will pull this map closer to their spot to find where Jesus and his disciples are immediately heading.
Over the past couple of weeks we’ve followed Jesus all the way around the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum to the country of the Gerasenes to Gennesaret.
A few things have stood out to me as we’ve read Mark together, some expected and some not.
My kids are just as curious about Jesus’ desire to keep his identity secret as I imagined. After each miracle is performed, our children now jump in to finish the story with the line, “And Jesus ordered them to tell no-one what had happened.” We’ve wondered a lot over the month why Jesus commands this vow of secrecy. After hearing a couple of stories about Jesus sailing out into the sea to remove himself from crowds, our daughter suggested that maybe Jesus is super introverted and doesn’t want masses of people around him all the time. Our son thought Jesus was playing at reverse psychology. “If they were told not to tell people, Jesus knew they actually would tell tons of people and his message of Good News would spread.”
While many of the miracles Jesus performs in Mark are familiar, some were new like the second feeding of the multiples Mark describes in chapter 8. Yep, he feeds five thousand men in chapter 6 and then four thousand people in chapter 8. We flipped back and forth between the two stories comparing and contrasting them as they might do for a school reading, then wondered why Mark chose to include both versions.
One of my favorite passages in Mark’s gospel completely confounded our kids. Mark chapter 6 opens with Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The people present can only see Jesus as the carpenter, son of Mary, and brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. They cannot possibly imagine him as the Son of God and wonder where he got all this wisdom. The Adventure Bible translates verse four this way, “Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own town. He doesn’t receive any honor among his relatives or in his own home.'”
Our two children couldn’t understand this story at all. Why were people who knew Jesus so mean to him? And why wasn’t he welcome there anymore? We kept trying to explain why the people of Nazareth saw Jesus as the carpenter’s son rather than God’s son, but nothing made sense. I was baptized, confirmed, married, and ordained in the same church…the church where my parents still attend today…and feel like this story has always made perfect sense to me. We realized that our kids don’t have a hometown, not really. They’ve lived in three different states during their short lifetimes. The adorable, ridiculous or embarrassing things they did as the priest’s kid in one church don’t follow them to the next one. They won’t ever have a reputation that comes from living in the same place for childhood, adolescence, and young adult years.
We sat around the dinner table for a long time that night asking question after question.
Do you think you could ever change your opinion on someone you’ve known for a long time?
Who is someone you know now as a child that might be a prophet?
Is there a place where you don’t think you would be welcome?
What would it take to get people of Nazareth to believe?
Once again the Good Book Club invites us to explore ancient, familiar stories with a new perspective.