"Stories Around the Table"#88-23
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 7, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Mark 6-8
You've been there, sitting welcomed around a table. During that time after everybody has eaten and had their fill, and somebody asks the question, "What was it like? What was it like being sent off to boarding school when you were only seven years old?" Or "What was it like being out at sea on a ship? Or "What was it like growing up on a farm before there was electricity? What was it like?" And you know that if you let yourself be honored, honored to hear that person's story, they will no longer be a stranger to you.
That's how it is and that's how it was with the first followers of Jesus. What was it like to be one of the first followers of Jesus? Well, Jesus was Jewish, as were most of His first followers. And the Jewish people were people who lived by their stories. If you asked them, "Why don't you eat certain kinds of foods?" They would answer with a story: "Because the Lord, after He brought us out of Egypt, set us apart to be His own people, that we might be different from all the other peoples on the face of the earth, so that we might be a light to the Gentiles." The Jewish faith was a faith that lived and thrived in these stories.
Or on the other hand, a faith that faltered when people stopped listening to the stories and to the God at the center of them. And it was the same way for those first Jewish followers of Jesus. They continued to gather in the synagogue on the Sabbath with their fellow Jews to hear the stories of Moses read aloud from the Torah. And if you asked them, "Why do you also gather together on Sundays?" They would answer with a story: "Because the Messiah, Jesus, who was crucified for our sins was raised from the dead on Sunday." And so they would gather on Sundays for the sake of the story and to let themselves be honored by hearing more stories about their Messiah. And it probably started with something as simple as a question, "What was it like? What was it like to follow Jesus?"
Somebody asked that question, or some form of it, around a crowded table, in a house, in a ghetto, down by the Tiber River in the city of Rome long ago. Someone asked that question, "What was it like to follow Jesus?" And whoever asked that question needed an answer. They needed to hear because Peter was dead. Peter, he was one of the original twelve, the apostles whom Jesus had sent out, the disciples who had got to see Jesus and follow Him for those three years before He was crucified and risen and ascended to the throne of God in heaven.
After this life-changing experience, Peter spent the next three decades of his life, traveling around the Roman empire, telling people what it was like, but now he was dead. And so people looked to Mark, Mark, because he had traveled around with Peter for years; he had heard all of Peter's stories, dozens of times, maybe hundreds of times. And so they looked to Mark, and they may have said to Mark something like this, "Mark, we want to follow Jesus on the way, but it seems like it would be so much easier to follow, so much easier to understand, if we could just see Jesus and be with Jesus like Peter and the disciples got to see Jesus and be with Him." And Mark, chuckling to himself about this word "easier," answers with a story.
You know there was a time when the apostles, after Jesus had sent them out to teach, they began to gather around Him and report to Him, all that they had done and taught. And He says to them, "Come with Me to a deserted place and get some rest." Many people were coming and going so that very often they didn't even have a chance to eat. So they went away in their boat to a deserted place by themselves, but many people saw them going and recognized them and they ran there on foot from all the surrounding towns and villages and got there ahead of them. When Jesus came ashore He saw a great crowd, and He was moved with deep heartfelt compassion for them because they were like sheep that didn't have a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things. By this time it was getting late in the day and so His disciples came and started saying to Him, "This is a deserted place, and it's already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and buy themselves something to eat."
And He said to them, "You give them something to eat." And they say to Him, "Should we go and buy eight months wages' worth of bread and give it to them to eat?" And He says to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." And after they found out, they say, "Five, and two fish." And then He directed them to seat all the people by eating parties in the green grass. And they reclined group by group, by hundreds, and by fifties. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, looking up into heaven, He said a blessing, and He broke them and began giving them to the disciples for them to start setting it out among the people. And the two fish He divided for them all. And everyone ate and had their fill. And they took up leftovers, broken pieces, and some of the fish, twelve baskets full, twelve Jewish baskets. And those that ate of the loaves were 5,000 men.
And straightway He made His disciples get into their boat and start going on ahead of Him, toward the other side of the sea, toward Bethsaida, while He began to dismiss the crowd. And after He had expressed His farewell to them, He went up on the mountain to pray. When night had fallen, their boat was out in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. And when He saw them straining at the oars, the wind was against them. During the fourth watch of the night, around 5 a.m., He comes to them, walking upon the sea. And He was intending to pass by before them. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they thought it was an apparition, and they yelled out. Everyone saw Him, they were terrified. And straightway, He spoke to them and He says to them, "Take courage. It is I, do not be afraid." And He climbed into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. They were utterly astounded. They did not understand. They didn't understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
As Mark finishes this story in that little house in Rome, there might've been a man in the back of the room who had a look on his face, which made it seem as though the light of a profound mystery had just dawned on him. The man's name was Rufus. He was a Roman, a Gentile, not a Jew by birth. Rufus raises his hand and asks what he thought was a stupid question, but he asked it anyway: "What's the deal with the Jewish baskets?" he said.
And they explained to him the Jewish teaching about clean and unclean. They said, "When God brought us out of Egypt, He had us be separate from all the other people. And this included, not eating certain foods. And over the years, our teachers instructed us to go above and beyond to avoid anything that might make us unclean or impure. And so we had special food baskets to avoid cross-contamination, and we washed our hands religiously, and we avoided contact with unclean things and unclean people like, like ... "Like Romans?" Rufus said.
An awkward silence descended upon the group. Here they were, Jews and Gentiles with about as much in common as Fox News watchers and those who watch MSNBC—almost nothing in common, no reason to share a meal together and nothing humanly speaking to keep them together, and yet welcomed nonetheless to the same table.
After a few moments more of silence, Mark breaks in with another story. There was a time when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem proceeded to gather around Jesus. And when they saw some of His disciples, that they were eating their loaves of bread with unwashed hands—the Pharisees and all the Jews at this time, if they do not wash their hands from elbow to knuckles, they do not eat, holding on to the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the marketplaces, if they don't wash, they don't eat. And there are many other traditions that they hold on to, the ritual washings of cups and pitchers and copper kettles. So the Pharisees and the scribes proceed to question Jesus, saying, "Why are Your disciples not conducting themselves according to the tradition of the elders, but are eating their loaves of bread with defiled hands?"
And He answered and said to them, "Isaiah did right when he declared what would come to pass concerning you hypocrites. As it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. In vain do they worship Me. Their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commandment of God and are holding on to the tradition of men." And He continued saying to them, "You have a fine way of setting aside God's command in order to establish your tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Whoever speaks evil of his father and his mother, let him perish.' But you, you say, 'If a man says to his father and his mother Corban,' (that is, whatever help you would have otherwise received from me is a gift devoted to God). Thus, you do not allow him to do anything for his father and his mother, making you void God's Word by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this."
And again, He called the crowd to Him and began saying to them, "Listen, all of you, and understand there is nothing that is outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles him." And after He had gone into a house, having left the crowd, His disciples began to inquire of Him concerning this parable, this saying. And He says to them, "Are you without any understanding? Don't you see that whatever, anything that goes into a person from the outside cannot defile him because it does not go in here, into his heart, but into his belly. And from there, it goes out into the sewer." (Well, by saying this, He declared all foods clean.) And He went on saying, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him, for from within, out of the human heart, come evil schemes, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, arrogance, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they are what defile a person."
From there, He went out into the bounds of Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory. He went into a house when He didn't want to be noticed, but He wasn't able to avoid being found out. And when she heard about Him, straightway, a woman whose little daughter was in the power of an unclean spirit, came in and fell down before Him. Now, the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she began to argue with Him that He drive the demon out of her daughter. And He said to her, "Allow the children to have their fill first, because it's not right to take the bread of the children and toss it to the little dogs." And she answered and says to Him, "Yes, Lord. And even the little dogs under the table eat from the little crumbs left over by the kids." And He says to her, "On account of this argument, go. The demon has already gone out of your daughter." And she went home and found her kid having been laid on her bed, the demon gone.
And from there, He went out of the bounds of Tyre, and He passed through Sidon down to the sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis, the ten Greek cities. And in those days, when, again, a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat. He called His disciples and He says to them, "I have compassion for the crowd, because they've been with me now three days and they have nothing to eat. And if I send them home hungry, they will collapse along the way and some of them have come from quite a distance." And they began to answer Him, "From where will someone be able to fill this people full with bread here in this deserted place?" And He began to question them, "How many loaves do you have?" "Seven," they say. And He took the loaves and blessed them and broke them and began giving them to His disciples for them to start setting it out, and they served them to the people. And they had a few fish, and after He had blessed them, He said, "Serve these as well." And everyone ate and had their fill. And they took up leftovers, broken pieces, little crumbs, seven baskets full, seven Roman Gentile baskets. And there were about 4,000 people.
And after Mark finished that story, I imagine that Rufus, the Roman, said to Mark, "Mark, you really got to write this stuff down." And Mark said, "I'm working on it." And Rufus looks over and he sees Priscilla, smiling thoughtfully. Priscilla, in whose house they had gathered, whose food they had all shared, Priscilla found herself once again admiring this Syrophoenician woman who had argued with Jesus. Priscilla, who was born Jewish, but had a Greek name and was immersed in Greco-Roman culture, she knew what it was like to be slighted, to be insulted, not only by Gentiles for her odd Jewish customs, but also by her fellow Jews for associating with unclean Gentiles. So this Syrophoenician woman had long been one of her heroes in the faith—the way she looked past what could have been taken as a slight, as an insult, being compared to a dog, and took it as an invitation to seek the gracious and generous heart of her Lord.
Priscilla looked at the motley crew gathered in her house, this little church that she and her husband Aquila cared for. And she thought about all the other churches that had been planted around the Roman Empire, and all the churches that would be planted throughout the world, and all the people who had learned what it's like to follow Jesus with them—people just like her, people like you and me who have far more in common than we realize with our stubborn hearts filled with all kinds of unclean things—unclean like the dogs, yet welcomed nonetheless to the table as God's beloved children, honored to hear the stories of Jesus.
If you're willing, wherever you are, I invite you to join their table with me and pray. Messiah, Jesus, thank You for these accounts of Your gracious words and works that have been handed down to us by Your servant, Mark. You have offered Yourself up as a ransom sacrifice for all people, and You have welcomed us to Your table. By Your crucifixion, put to death all that is evil in us. By Your resurrection, break open the tombs of our unbelief, and by the giving of Your Spirit, through the hearing of Your Word, give us clean hearts that we would follow You on the way. Because You live and You reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for February 7, 2021
Title: Stories Around the Table
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. Our friends from the "Speaking of Jesus" podcast discussed today's text from the Gospel of Mark, and here's part of what they said.
Mike Zeigler: What was a word or a phrase that stood out to you, or a sentiment that—it's a big picture—Mark takes about two chapters to paint that picture. What's something that stands out to you?
Cyril Loum : For me it's when He says, "Not what you put in your body defiles you." That really stands out to me, about what goes in your body defiles you.
Mike Zeigler: All right. We'll come back and talk more about that. What else? Sarah, what about you, what was a word or phrase that stood out to you, or a scene?
Sarah Mullen: The word or phrase that stuck out to me was, "take courage, it is I."
Mike Zeigler: Good. Jessica?
Jessica Bordeleau: When Jesus told the Gentile woman, "Because of what you have said."
Mike Zeigler: I always have been intrigued by the "And He was intending to pass them by." What is that all about when He's walking on the water? All right, Cyril, tell us more about what goes into you can't defile you, can't make you unclean.
Cyril Loum : Yeah, so when I hear that it just, you're so many things that we think of, outside, right? We think of the outside world and how it's affecting us. But for me what the Lord shows in that whole thing is about the heart, what's coming from within. So, I pulled up Proverbs 4:23. It says, "Keep thy heart with all diligence for out of it are issues of life." So, many time with things the issues of life are the things we see or the things that are hitting us, but rather I feel as though the Lord is saying, "Where's your heart?" Right? What is coming out from within you? That's really what matters.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah, and I like how you referenced Proverbs, that what Jesus is talking about here is an Old Testament idea, that even from the beginning with all the rules and laws about clean and unclean, the Old Testament bears witness that this was more about the heart and less about the hands, and what goes into your body in terms of food. Good. Sarah, you said, "Take courage."
Sarah Mullen: I am kind of an anxious person, and so when something happens that's out of plan, or out of place, I just kind of am automatically in panic mode where I'm like, "Oh, my gosh! What's going on? What do I do?" In those moments I feel like I really seek comfort. So for Jesus to just come right out and say, "Take courage. It's Me. I'm here." You know, that to me is just He automatically is in that place of "I'd like to comfort you. I'm here for you." I don't know, something really encouraging, and nurturing about that to me.
Mike Zeigler: Jessica, what about you? What got you with what Jesus said to the woman, the Gentile woman?
Jessica Bordeleau: In the translation that you read, you said the words, "Because of this argument." Instead of being like, "Who are you calling a dog? Come on," she's like, "Okay. Yeah, maybe I am, but can I please have a little crumb?
Mike Zeigler: In the Greek text, she doesn't say, "Yes, but," she says, "Yes, and." She's not contradicting Him; she's agreeing with Him. She's like, "Okay, let's roll with this metaphor. Children and dogs, I'll be a dog, I'll be a little dog under the table, but the little dogs even get the crumbs." There's also a lot of kind of informal language in that scene. She's called her little girl, whose little girl was in the power of an unclean spirit. Then Jesus, instead of just using the word for dogs He uses the word for little dogs, the puppies, the little doggies. Then, she uses the same words, the little doggies, and then the little bits, the little crumbs. So, there's just this kind of this playful sense to the whole conversation, that they're kind of this bantering back and forth.
A friend of mine, his observation he made is that Jesus isn't insulting her, but He sets her so that she can spike and make the point that the kingdom of God, though, just the crumbs is enough to feed 4,000 Gentiles in the next scene. Yeah, it's an amazing, amazing account.
Mark Eischer: Look for "Speaking of Jesus" wherever you find podcasts, or go to jesuspodcast.org.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Hail to the Lord's Anointed" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)