Mark tries to capture this moment for his congregation. He is not just using John to make a path for the coming Messiah; Mark is also trying to connect his people to God’s salvation highway, a welcoming, smooth, spacious straightaway to the heart of God.
We don’t spend a lot of time reading apocalyptic literature – Daniel in the Old Testament or Revelation in the New Testament. But every year, on the first Sunday in Advent, the Revised Common Lectionary invites us to spend an hour dwelling in this strange land …
Maybe the gospel writers, especially Matthew, feel like they have told us all that is important, or at least enough, so that we should be able to recognize him.
Do you think you could spot Jesus in a crowd?
[Matthew] had been waiting for 50 years for his savior to come back and in weak moments he feared that he might die and miss it. But mostly he feared that some people in the congregation were beginning to doubt – not just Christ’s return, but the whole gospel. So he was trying to write down as many of the stories from those days as he could remember before it was too late – the stories that might help them believe; the ones that might help them wait.
But the gathered group asked one other question that was unique:
• What if there had been another servant who lost everything in a down market?
If you are wading through grief like a person tracking mud through a flooded out house, being told that someday God will wipe away all your tears is almost too good to be true! But you can hope!
On the other hand, if you are spending the night locked in a bathroom because you can’t afford a roof over your head, being told you have the keys to the kingdom of heaven in your pocket is even more of a shock!
One of the foundational insights of the Reformation was that the God of the Bible is a God of grace. That truth made Luther and Calvin, and all those that followed, look at the Bible in new ways and what they saw there turned the world upside down.
So what happens if we pull a reformation move and turn this parable on its head?
So this was a test designed to be impossible to pass. The Pharisees and the Sadducees put their heads together and hammered out a question with sharp thorns dipped in poison. Whether Jesus answered yes or no, it was going to land him in hot water … either with the crowds or the authorities. They were trying to trap him.
He knows they are hurting. He knows the division between Euodia and Syntyche has spilled over and divided the rest of the congregation. He knows division will threaten their witness, and rob them of joy, and undercut their boasting about the power of grace.
So he writes them this heart-felt letter from prison, because sometimes the best time to talk about peace is when its absence is making it seem all the more precious …
That is the picture Paul is trying to paint.
He’s never been a runner, but he knows about striving, staining, struggling toward something.
He’s been chasing a goal all his life.