The all-changing First
What the Old Testament prophet Elijah asks of the widow from Zarephath is not difficult: bake bread for him. There is a decisive condition though: it has to be done first. That changes everything.
First or afterwards? There one can see what really counts. Often the decisive things do not get a chance because they are considered subordinate: after feathering one’s own nest, after everything is sorted out, after this life. With this widow it is different: She goes and does as Elijah has told her. She first gives God’s story a chance and afterwards she takes care of her own things. Surprisingly, her own things turn out for the best then, too. ruk
The prophet Elijah arose and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called out to her, “Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.” She left to get it, and he called out after her, “Please bring along a crust of bread.” She said, “As the LORD, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a few sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Afterwards you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says: The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.” She left and did as Elijah had said. She had enough to eat for a long time—he and she and her household. The jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD spoken through Elijah.
What does it even mean to “love God”?
The scribe wants to test Jesus’ orthodoxy. His question about the most important commandment aims at the center of theology: What does God want from us?
Jesus quotes from Israel’s bible. But as a Fortschreibung of the original text he adds to how people should love God: “with all your mind.” And he adds another accentuation. He combines the main commandment form Deuteronomy with the one of loving your neighbor from Leviticus and moves both of these to first place: “There is no other commandment greater than these.” What does that mean? It means that the way to God leads through the world. bek
One of the scribes saw how well Jesus had answered them and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Because salvation must be seen
If the healing of the blind man is not merely an isolated scene, but gospel within the gospel, then the blind Bartimaeus is a special patient.
He can hear, he can talk, he can even scream, he can beg and maybe he gets everything he needs, he even has a coat. He just can’t see. This reminds us of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which is about man’s search for knowledge and truth. In contrast to the people in the allegory, however, this man senses that seeing clearly is what matters, especially when Jesus walks by. We should be able to see what God does, how he acts and approaches people, after all. And that he sees means that he goes with him, freed from the prison of sitting in one spot. And he goes to Jerusalem with Jesus and sees more and more: the last supper, the cross and the resurrection. tac
They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
Not like this
What is negotiated in today’s gospel could be translated with “the alternative”. But that does not really work, since there already is a party claiming that world for itself, at least in our country.
The reader of the gospels often encounters James and John, the sons of Zebedee, together with Peter, as those three whom Jesus prefers, for example when he climbs the mount of transfiguration. Apparently this got to their heads and they forehandedly declare their wishes for the seats of honor, which they derive from their closeness to Jesus. They are deceiving themselves. All twelve need to rethink. They have understood nothing, even though they have already been on the road with Jesus for some time. Only later do they realize: He laid the foundation for a different life. An alternative for many. ars
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, “What do you wish [me] to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The coming world
Aren’t the phrases coming world and eternal life, which are mentioned at the end of Sunday’s gospel, those used up words that discredited the biblical faith as the drug of empty promises?
A coming world that one can only enter after death, where surprisingly everything would be better than it is here, would be ridiculous. The Baalschem, a well-known Jewish rabbi, who thought about this, said to himself: “If I love God, then what do I need a coming world for?” Loving God, living according to his commandments, this is exactly that world that comes into our now and here and changes this world. That is what the coming world is like; it is otherworldly because so different, but in the world. acb
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through [the] eye of [a] needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
Seen from the beginning
The problem of divorce is an age-old topic. In the Judaism of the turn of the eras there was a traditional and generally accepted view on this ascribed to Moses.
Jesus also draws on Moses. And he leads the listeners further into the context of the commandment and makes the original intention of the creator accessible. In the issue of matrimony his intention aims at the personal unity, which the man cannot just take charge of. The woman is equally responsible, as Jesus explains to the surprised disciples. He confidently names the intention underlying the Tora and reveals the wisdom of the creator that is at work within the law. hak
The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Blessing of the Children. And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child* will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
Not going through with anything alone
During the passage through the desert it happens that two newcomers take up responsibility that they had not been thought capable of.
The indignation among the people is great: How can that be, since they were not slated for it at all? Moses answers with foresight: If only all the people of the Lord were prophets! He knows: An undertaking as big as the liberation of the people from slavery cannot be pulled off alone. God looks for the people he needs because he too cannot and does not want to pull anything off by himself. Until this very day he recruits assistants, newcomers and long-time companions alike. ruk
The LORD then came down in the cloud and spoke to him. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, he bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied but did not continue. Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in the camp, yet the spirit came to rest on them also. They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent; and so they prophesied in the camp. So, when a young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp,” Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses’ aide, said, “My lord, Moses, stop them.” But Moses answered him, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the people of the LORD were prophets! If only the LORD would bestow his spirit on them!”
For many the declaration of how bad times are is part of the daily ritual like the newspaper at breakfast. Has this stereotype maybe overlooked something?
Namely that each era has people with a clear, incorruptible vision, who point out the true dangers and necessary course settings – but are pushed to the side? Israel’s wisdom literature describes this reflex towards those people who think critically and against the tide: “Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us; he opposes our actions”. In threatening times, 1927, Thomas Haecker said: Times have thought that the western heritage could be preserved in spite of or even because of the emancipation from the one faith. “Without the Christian faith Europe is merely a grain of sand in the whirl of opinions, ideas and religions.” Are these proven words of a clear-sighted admonisher heard today? bek
The wicked said among themselves, thinking not aright: Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us; he opposes our actions, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him in the end. For if the righteous one is the son of God, God will help him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With violence and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.
“Go in Peace”
With scorching criticism the letter of James zeros in on the attitude faith could be separated from deeds.
A notion that already surfaced in the contention of the early Church with the Greek worldview. Faith as solely an inner mindset or opinion is barely possible in Judaism, where a certain kind of action, loyalty to the Tora, is the way of faith itself. That is why there can be no division of labor here: some believe, others act. The biblical faith exists only with works. James explains the connection using the example of Abraham, the first believer, and concludes: “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.“ So it neither comes down to faith alone, nor to works alone, but to the cooperation of both. tac
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone may say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.
It is extremely rare to have an original quote of Jesus’ preserved. When he raises Jairus’ little daughter he encourages her: “Talitha kumi – little girl, arise”; in today’s gospel he addresses a deaf-mute: “Effata – be opened.”
He heals his ears, in which he places his fingers, and makes his tongue speak again. With this story Mark places Jesus’ work in the tradition of the prophets: When God himself comes – what happens then? “Then the eyes of the blind shall see, and the ears of the deaf be opened”. Here the bystanders say: “He has done all things well.” In Jesus’ action the God of Israel’s trademark is revealed: “Here is your God!” (Is 40,9?). The Effata has been adopted into the ritual of baptism. Maybe Effata has its origin in the words of the servant of God: “Morning after morning he wakens my ear.” ars