An oxymoron consists of two contradictory words placed together to create a new and sometimes profound expression. Examples include deafening silence, open secret, virtual reality, seriously funny. You get the idea.
In this week’s passage from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus wants to know who the crowds think that he is. The quick poll of the disciples suggests that most people think Jesus is some sort of prophet, based on his teaching and healing ministry. Jesus then asks the question of the disciples who have spent much more time observing Jesus both in public and in private spaces. Peter, the spokesman for the disciples, suggests that Jesus is the Messiah (or Christos in Greek, both of which are shorthand for King).
Now the title Messiah carried certain expectations, which pointed to a super version of King David of old. Different Jewish groups had slightly different expectations, but generally the Messiah was hoped to be a victorious, military leader who would crush Israel’s enemies and also sort out the Temple in Jerusalem and usher in a period of lasting peace and justice. Jesus turns these expectations on their head, predicting instead that he will be rejected, will suffer and will die before mysteriously rising again. A suffering Messiah? That’s an oxymoron for Peter who rebukes Jesus for even having such thoughts.
While we have had nearly 2000 years to get our heads around the concept of a suffering Messiah, it was a big leap for the first followers of Jesus. What was also problematic was Jesus’ assertion that his followers must be prepared to walk a similar path of suffering. It’s equally problematic for us. We are quite happy to follow in the footsteps of a compassionate and loving Messiah, but a suffering Messiah who calls us to take up our cross and follow, that’s rather more extreme. What might it look like for your community?Posted: Friday, February 23, 2024 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Mark 8:27-38
In The Lord of the Rings story, the one ring of power is clearly evil. In the first movie, there are several scenes where various characters are tested to see their response to taking the ring of power for themselves. Gandalf the wizard, Aragorn the long lost king and Galadriel the elf queen all ‘pass’ the test by refusing to take the ring. But Boromir the warrior from Gondor fails the test as he tries to seize the ring by force, with severe consequences.
In this first week of Lent, the gospel reading is always the testing or temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. He is being tested in a positive way by God’s Spirit to see if he will remain true to God’s ways. At the same time he is being tempted in a negative sense by Satan to choose a different and easier path. The key word can be translated as either test or tempt.
The tests or temptations that we face may not carry the same weight or consequences, but are just as real. Every day we are bombarded with advertising messages both blatant and subtle to buy this product or take up that limited offer. These tests ask us a subtle question over and over again, namely where do you get your worth and value from? Buying our product or service is your route to happiness and fulfilment! God’s promise that we are valued and loved for our own sake is often drowned out. We fall into the trap of building the kingdom of self rather than building the kingdom of God.
This issue is serious, though, which is why Jesus included the line in his model prayer ‘Do not lead us into temptation’ (traditional form of the prayer) or ‘Save us from the time of trial’ (modern form). It’s a prayer asking God to give us the strength and wisdom to resist the tests and temptations that come our way every day. Will we choose to follow God’s ways of loving others and seeking justice and mercy or will we follow the world’s ways of looking out for ourselves first and foremost?Posted: Friday, February 16, 2024 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Mark 1:12-13, Matt 6:13
This is Mount Tabor, the traditional setting for this week’s Gospel reading about Jesus being transformed. The story is quite unusual as Jesus’ appearance is suddenly changed and he appears to talk with Jewish heroes Elijah and Moses. The story is full of symbolism and echoes that evokes other significant encounters on mountain tops – experienced by people such as Moses and Elijah. God’s imminent presence in the story is signified by the cloud that covers the mountain, a voice that speaks from the cloud and the dazzling appearance of Jesus.
Three of the disciples – Peter, James and John – have front row seats to the unusual drama. They are blown away by what they see, hear and feel. They are astonished, confused and very frightened all at the same time. Yet it’s clear that the amazing sound and light show is primarily for their benefit. They hear that Jesus is God’s beloved Son and that they must listen to him.
So as we approach the season of Lent, what might we learn from this evocative story? Perhaps we need reminding that there is rather more to Jesus than we often imagine, that Jesus has connections with the spiritual realm and with God that are mostly hidden from our normal senses. And perhaps we might learn that our perceptions and thoughts about Jesus need to be transformed just as much as Jesus was transformed. Perhaps when Jesus says hard things like take up your cross and follow me (which comes in the immediately prior passage and which we return to in the second week of Lent) we need to listen and ponder afresh what it means to follow Jesus.Posted: Friday, February 9, 2024 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Mark 9:2-9
Health matters are often in the news, whether it’s the latest push to get a Covid booster shot or statistics about bulk-billing rates or the threat of mosquito borne diseases after a wet and humid summer. Health issues also affect our friends and family, especially as we get older. For instance, there is rarely a week that goes by where my mother, who is now in her 90s, doesn’t have one or two medical appointments with frequent trips to the chemist. (A related question is whether modern medicine helps us to live better and more fulfilled lives or just longer lives?).
Health matters were also important during the time of Jesus. There were no GP clinics or hospitals or chemists dispensing drugs of course. But there were recognised places where one might go to seek healing and more than a few charlatans or magicians who claimed the ability to heal (usually for payment). Given this backdrop, it’s interesting that well over half the miracle stories recorded in the Gospel accounts are about healing, including in this week’s Gospel reading from Mark. They are usually reported in a simple matter-of-fact way with few details provided, yet their frequency in the Gospels suggest that Jesus was known to be a healer, that this greatly enhanced his popularity and that his direct hand-on approach was viewed as somewhat unique.
We may have all sorts of questions that arise in relation to such healing stories (e.g. Did Jesus really heal such large numbers of people? How? Was this ability unique to Jesus or is it available today?). The Gospel accounts don’t answer these questions directly, but rather are written to suggest that these instances of healing demonstrated Jesus’ authority over sickness, showed Jesus’ compassion for people and stirred up controversy, especially when healings took place on the Sabbath day.
With our modern health system, we may be tempted to gloss over the significance of Jesus’ healing ministry, but its prominence points us towards the character of God present in and through Jesus – compassion, care, and desire for wholeness and restoration. May these same characteristics shine through our service and witness in the community.Posted: Friday, February 2, 2024 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Mark 1:29-39
Headlines in the media this week have featured a range of perspectives on modern Australia. A typically summer headline is that Queensland is bracing for the arrival and impact of tropical cyclone Kirrily. Meanwhile the main political headlines have been about changes to Stage 3 tax cuts and whether a fairer distribution is more to be welcomed than a broken election promise. And in sport there have been headlines about Australian cricketers daring to have a view on 26th January as the most appropriate day to celebrate Australia Day. Which begs the question as to whether and why this date should mark our national day when it has long been observed as a day of mourning for Indigenous people rather than a day to celebrate.
So what are we really celebrating on this day? A common suggestion is that we are simply relishing the opportunity for a long weekend at the end of the summer holidays before the year proper starts. A more reflective response might be that we are celebrating that Australia is a modern, multicultural, prosperous and peaceful nation where we welcome everyone – whether immigrants or refugees – from all around the world. This suggestion is partly true and partly myth, as our treatment of Indigenous people and asylum seekers has often been shameful and cruel. Another suggestion, often overlooked in the debate about the date, is that we are celebrating being home to the oldest living cultures on the planet in our Indigenous peoples and there is much to be learned from their resilience, wisdom and connection with country.
But even as we pause to celebrate Australia Day, we are reminded that Australia is in the main a highly secular country and the influence and presence of Christian faith is steadily declining. Our challenge as followers of Jesus is not so much to focus on how we might survive or find new relevance in modern Australia, but to remain faithful to Jesus’ call to love God and love our neighbour (Mark 12:28-34). As we do this we will contribute to and build a more just and compassionate nation whose place in the world is worth celebrating.Posted: Friday, January 26, 2024 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Mark 12:28-34
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Historic photos in remembrance of ministries that used demolished halls on Tallent St site