Tag Archives: Donald Juel

Walk by faith or by sight?

Women Arriving at the Tomb by He Qi

The glory of Easter worship still rings in my ears and heart. The Gospel of Mark’s bold message announced to the women and to us, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised” (Mark 16:6). The resurrection is what sets Christ apart from all other prophets and religious teachers. It is central to our Christian faith, yet seems so beyond our personal experience.

Perhaps that is one of the reason so many people become uncomfortable with how Mark’s Gospel ends. Reliable scholarship points to the final verse being verse 8:

So they (women) went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The gospel writer provides both the empty tomb and the young man’s witness that Jesus is raised and believes that is sufficient for the reader. This seems inadequate and unsettling at first. Where are the appearances of the risen Jesus as described by Paul (I Corinthians 15) or Matthew (28:16-20) or Luke (24:13-53) or John (20-21)? Where are the final instructions from Jesus to his disciples? Verse eight has an unfinished feel to it. In fact, early in the church’s history, additional endings were added to Mark to give a more “comfortable” and “respectable” ending.

As I preached on this yesterday, I think Mark’s ending makes sense at verse eight, if we see it as the challenge to us and our faith that it is. The writer wants us to wrestle with the message of resurrection and the promise that he is going ahead of us.  Stories of Jesus’ appearances may give some comfort but none of us have actually seen the resurrected Jesus. We have only the written reports of the Gospels, such as the young man at the tomb. Ultimately we will have to judge the validity of the witnesses. Paul makes this case in I Corinthians 15.

I continue to think that the most valid testimony of Christ’s resurrection is the transformed lives of his followers. They had trusted him to be the Messiah, but he had been crucified. Their hope was crushed that day. The were like the frightened women, tongued-tied.  Only the actual resurrection of Jesus could have changed them from frightened ex-followers into courageous ambassadors of Jesus. And I have seen such transformation in people’s lives today as they trust in Christ.

The end of Mark’s gospel pushes the reader to trust in the message of the young man.

It is only fitting that just at the tomb will not contain Jesus, neither can Mark’s story. Jesus is not bound by its ending; he continues into the future God has in store for the creation. In the meantime there is only the Word, the bread, and the wine, and the promise that “you will see him.” We walk by faith and not by sight. We can only trust that God will one day finish the story, as God has promised. (Donald Juel, Mark, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. p. 235.)

Lord Jesus, help me to walk by faith and not by my own narrow vision.

Widow Problem

The story of the Widow’s Offering in Mark 12:41-44 troubles me. Or more exactly how we interpret it.

(Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

I grew up hearing the widow described as a model of Christian giving, a heroine of giving sacrificially. The moral is that we are to give more financially to the church. Yet, I never heard anyone teach or preach that I should give away everything like she had.

However, I rarely read the story in its context. Jesus observed the widow during his final week in Jerusalem. He had been in direct confrontation with the temple leadership and its institution throughout chapter twelve. Immediately preceding the story of the widow’s offering, Jesus warned against the religious officials, “Beware, of the scribes, who . . . have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at the banquets! They devour widow’s houses” (Mark 12:40).

Could it be that Jesus’ observation of the widow is a reinforcement of that warning? Could it be that instead of being observed as a heroine of giving, she is rather a living example of how the religious institution has devoured all her property? After all, Jesus observed what she has done, but he does not praise it.

Furthermore, the story is immediately followed by Jesus prediction that the temple will soon be destroyed. “Do you see these great buildings: Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2). Would an offering to the temple treasury be such a laudable act if the temple itself will soon be destroyed?

I realize that the widow’s action may be a call to radical discipleship. One of my seminary professors, the late Don Juel, wrote,

She was able to part with her possessions—unlike the young man who came to Jesus and ‘goes away sorrowing’ because he cannot sell what he has. We can recall the promise of Jesus earlier: those who lose their lives will save them. The woman gives ‘her whole life,’ as Jesus will give himself as a ‘ransom for many.’ Donald H. Juel, Augsburg Commentary on Mark, 1990, p. 173

Can the widow be a model and a victim at the same time?

Lord Jesus, show me how to give myself completely to you.