Reflections for the Week of Sunday September 30, 2018

Gospel: Mark 9.38-50 Jesus says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” In other words, if anything interferes with your life in Christ, do whatever it takes to eliminate it. Jesus should come first in our lives; anything or anyone coming ahead of Jesus is idolatry.

Today’s Gospel implies that man faces a problem. The story of the fall in Genesis 3 gives an explanation. God created man ‘good’ (Gen 1.26-31), but man disobeyed God and was estranged from Him (Gen 3). In Gen 12.1-3ff., God made a covenant with Abram to begin to restore mankind to loving relation with God. This is the story of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, told in the Old Testament which ends still seeking a conclusion. The New Testament provides that conclusion in Jesus of Nazareth who together with God the Son in one Person is the Christ, the Messiah, who finally fulfills the covenant promise to restore man through Israel. N.T. Wright says exile and restoration is the meaning of the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15.11-32) who represents mankind in general and Israel in particular going into exile. This is man’s plight: we are  all born into exile, not knowing God the Father, and not knowing what is expected of us or what is the meaning of life. It would be nice if our parents would tell us but they usually don’t know either. When the prodigal in his estrangement from his father hits bottom, feeding pigs and being so hungry he longs to eat their food, he ‘comes to himself’ (v.15). He recognizes his plight, he is in exile, and realizes that returning to the father is what he wants and needs. The father has been waiting for him and is glad to see him, but there is an obstacle––the prodigal’s older brother. He despises the prodigal and doesn’t want him to return, like the Pharisees to whom Jesus is telling the parable. The father implores the older son to be charitable and welcome his brother back home. The prodigal’s problem is his own desire to seek pleasure by rejecting the father and living his life his own way. A constant refrain in the Book of Judges is ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’. This is what Adam and Eve did, isn’t it?  It is what we all do. We love the song ‘I did it my way’ extolling our freedom and independence. That’s what our nation is founded on, isn’t it? Jesus is telling us that there is a reality in life that is invisible but important. We call it God and know Him as the Creator of our world, and the Bible says we flee from Him and His message because we don’t want anyone to tell us what to do. We are rebels and stubborn. We are all born with an important personality characteristic called ‘pride’ (or self-centeredness) which wants to be free and independent and to do things our way and not listen to others. But what if there is a Creator (God/Jesus) who has revealed Himself and told us the right way to live but we don’t want to listen: ‘whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?’ (Mt 10.39, 16.25, 26; Mk 8.35, 36; Lk 9.24,25). Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God (Mt 3.2; Mk 1.15) where He is king, and we are told how to live to please the king which is best for us, but we prefer to do it our way, to please ourselves. God lets us choose whether to live life our way or to do it His way. Perhaps after ‘who do you say that I am?’ (Mt 16.17-20) the most important question of all is ‘do I follow Jesus or myself?”

Memory Verse: If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it (Luke 9.23,24).

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