Our lectionary readings today bring us two fairly complex and curious passages with which to wrestle. The first testament reading from Numbers may be totally unfamiliar. If you suffer from Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), you might find it especially disturbing! Our Gospel reading, on the other hand, is likely to be familiar to all. It contains perhaps the best known and often repeated line of Christian scripture that’s out there…“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” What is the connection between these passages?
The account of Jesus “cleansing the temple” is told in all four Gospels but with several significant differences. Matthew, Mark and Luke place this account toward the end of Jesus’ life, while John places it much closer to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus enters the temple during Passover – a very active, busy time – and turns everything, literally and figuratively, upside down
Our scripture reading from Genesis this week focuses on Abraham and Sarah, who started their journey as Abram and Sarai. But in their relationship with God and as a part of the covenant between them and God, they received new names. We’ll spend some time today thinking about what that meant for them and what our names and labels mean for us, as people of faith, today.
What is your “wilderness”? Today we spend time with Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism and his subsequent 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. It is also the first Sunday of Lent, a season in the church marked by themes of light and shadow, confession and repentance, and frailty and humility.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday in the life of the church. It’s the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent and we travel with Jesus, Peter, James and John to a mountaintop. There they have an experience of witnessing Jesus being changed in an instant. It’s an experience that has the potential to change them, to shape them for the rest of their lives.
Today we spend some time exploring what’s come to be known as the Messianic Secret. We’ll see that Jesus consistently tells not only unclean spirits, but also people, including his disciples, not to tell anyone what they’ve seen or heard in their encounters with Jesus. Why on earth would Jesus do this? How did this play a part in the unfolding of Jesus’ identity? How did it help or hinder him in “keeping on” toward his mission?
Our focus on Jesus as “trusted authority” will guide us into a time of reflection about trusting Jesus as the one who stills the waters at certain times, bringing peace and calm, and who troubles the waters at other times.
In some ways our scripture passage for today is similar to last Sunday’s text. Last Sunday we heard about the call of the first disciples from the Gospel of John. Today we hear of the same events but from Mark’s perspective. The earliest disciples, two sets of brothers, Simon/Andrew and James/John, were hard at work in their trade of fishing. They seemed to drop everything and wordlessly follow after Jesus in response to Jesus’ invitation to, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”