In the Face of Grief

Scripture Focus: Mark 16.6-11
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. 

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

From John: We all need the reminder, from this 2019 post, that Jesus is not ashamed of us in our grief. He comes to us in the midst of it.

Reflection: In the Face of Grief
By John Tillman

Christ’s resurrection—an event he directly predicted over and over in the scriptures—is the miracle the disciples seemed the most unprepared for. 

They continued with the normal obligations of life. They continued in societal expectations. But inwardly they carried a deep sorrow. And it is in this sorrow that Christ visited them.

Mary’s veil of tears concealed Christ from her. He parted it by calling her name.

Peter’s experience after the tomb left him doubtful as opposed to convinced. Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to Peter specifically and Peter’s experience on the shore with Jesus after returning to fishing for fish instead of men showed the raw and sensitive reality of his emotional state. Peter’s fear of failing (again) paralyzed him, but Christ re-called him, reinvigorated him, and continued transforming him from Simon to Peter, the Rock.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus were described as downcast. They were headed in the wrong direction, too grief-stricken to follow Christ’s instruction to travel to Galilee. Jesus enlightened them intellectually and changed their direction and purpose.

Mark’s account gives us the unique detail that the disciples in the upper room were gathered, weeping and mourning before the women reported to them and Christ appeared.

None of Christ’s followers had to leave their sorrow behind for Jesus to come to them.
They didn’t have to defeat their crippling fear before they were worthy of Christ’s presence.
They didn’t have to know the theological answers about why Christ died or where he had been for all this time.
They didn’t have to be in the right place. (Only the encounter after fishing is in Galilee, where Christ, through the women, told the disciples to meet him.)

The resurrected Christ seems to have a special preference for appearing to the grieving. Why then do we seem to assume that this stopped when he ascended?

Every instance of grief in our lives will not be met with the miraculous reversal of a resurrection. But in every instance of grief, we can be assured that Christ will come to us. He will call our name as he did Mary’s. He will seek to transform us as he did Peter. He will change our direction and our purpose as he did Cleopas and his companion.

In the face of grief, seek the face of Christ. He is coming to you.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; hearken, O God of Jacob. — Psalm 84.7

Today’s Readings
Genesis 39 (Listen 3:08
Mark 16 (Listen 2:34)

Read more about The Grace of Holding Space
As Christ-followers, we are called to carry one another’s burdens. Although it can be awkward, during these sacred times, silence is our ally.

Read more about Undignified Weeping and Dancing
Hannah carried the weight of her grief to God’s presence and broke open her heart with shameless weeping.


Scripture Focus: Mark 13.37
37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”

Reflection: Watch
By John Tillman

Jesus follows the model of many apocalyptic prophecies from the Torah; he speaks about two things at once. Biblical prophecies often directly describe something happening soon and figuratively describe something in the future. Revelation, written by John, also follows this model.

This greatly complicates interpreting biblical prophecy. We must determine what is figurative and what is literal; at the same time, we must interpret what applies to the near future of the speaker, which is our past, and what may apply to our future today.

Jesus’ prophecy most directly refers to events that will happen in the near future. In 70 CE a crackdown by Rome would raze the Temple to the ground, just as Jesus described. The site of the Temple would be barren for centuries. Under Byzantine Christians, it was neglected and became a trash dump. Eventually, Muslims restored it as one of their holy sites. It swapped hands many times, being a fortress for Templars, a church, and today the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Jesus also spoke about his future return, which we anxiously await. Jesus says many similar things in this passage: watch, beware, keep watch, be on guard, be alert, stay awake, be ready. He never says, “predict.” Yet, somehow, “decoding” the exact time and manner of Jesus’ return became an irresistible quest for some believers.

Jesus’ return is not a flight we schedule in advance where we know the gate, the time, when to board, and when we will take off. It is an experience we should constantly be ready for. What we know, is that we will not know what time he will come. (Mark 13.32-33)

Rather than try to predict his arrival, we are to prepare for it. Jesus used the analogy of awaiting a returning master: “Do not let him find you sleeping.” How do we stay prepared? Jesus tells us that as well. Do not be alarmed, worried, or deceived. Listen to the Spirit, bear witness, stand firmly, and testify. Pray.

Let him find us at work. Let him find us crying in the wilderness, making his path straight, smoothing the rough places, so that all will see his glory when he comes.

Jesus, help us to watch and wait.
Don’t let us sleep on justice and righteousness.
Don’t let us be drowsy-headed or faint-hearted.
Come to us, as we make your paths straight.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“I will appoint a time,” says God. — Psalm 75.2a

Today’s Readings
Genesis 35-36 (Listen 9:33)
Mark 13 (Listen 4:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 37 (Listen 4:56Mark 14 (Listen 8:37)
Genesis 38 (Listen 4:24Mark 15 (Listen 5:16)

Read more about The Work of Faith
Actively waiting for the return of Jesus begins with the work of faith.

Read more about Breaking the Rhyme Scheme
Christ will break this rhyme scheme. The rhythms of oppression will be rewritten.

False Dilemmas

Scripture Focus: Mark 12.15-17
15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” 

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 

“Caesar’s,” they replied. 

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” 

And they were amazed at him.

Reflection: False Dilemmas
By John Tillman

A “false dilemma” or “false dichotomy” is an argument that attempts to pressure someone to agree to one of two bad answers. Despite being considered a logical fallacy, it is a commonly used rhetorical device.

The Pharisees and the Herodians were political and theological enemies who came together to pose just such an argument to Jesus.

The Pharisees stressed strict interpretation of the Law. They weren’t revolutionaries but many aspects of Roman rule were despicable to them, including using Roman currency. The denarius bore an image of Caesar, which was forbidden. (Exodus 20.4) It also was stamped, “Caesar is Lord.” To many Jews, even touching a denarius meant participating in blasphemy.

The Herodians were politically minded. Power through Rome was more important than principle. They saw Herod’s dynasty as politically expedient, despite their scandals and being descended from Esau rather than Israel. Herod the Great wanted to be seen as Israel’s messianic king. This is partly why he responded with genocidal violence in his attempt to kill Jesus after his birth.

These warring groups came together with a question intended to condemn Jesus as a political revolutionary or irreligious apostate. “Choose a side, Jesus,” they say.

Jesus refuses. 

Questions asked with an impure motive reveal much about the questioner. These questioners were concerned with power and influence, not truth. They were angry about their corruption being exposed, not concerned with moral purity. (Mark 12.12)

I used to read Jesus’ answers as “burns” and “mic drop” moments where he owned his opponents, humiliating them. In our culture, that’s how a “plain reading” sounds. But instead of intending harm, Jesus intended healing. His firm, gracious answers challenged their errors, yet offered a way forward. We may celebrate sick burns but Jesus celebrates merciful healing. 

Both the political and religious systems Jesus lived in were corrupt. Jesus chose to follow God within corrupt systems. That did not mean just going along to get along. He challenged religious and political assumptions of everyone, whether Pharisee, Roman, or Samaritan.

Many forces within and without the church pressure us to “choose a side” on many issues. We don’t have to choose from the options offered. False dilemmas are truth-avoidant.

This doesn’t mean that some mushy, non-committal-middle is the right answer. But it does mean that we don’t argue by humiliating our opponents. Like, Jesus, we can offer gracious answers that push for change without pushing people away.

From John: This devotional owes a lot to the And Campaign and their book, Compassion and Conviction. We recommend putting it at the top of your reading list.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1.14

Today’s Readings
Genesis 34 (Listen 4:18
Mark 12 (Listen 6:10)

Read more about Gift of Noticing
The other religious leaders lost their objectivity in their attempts to discredit Jesus, the wise teacher found a better path.

Read more about The King We Want
This humble king wasn’t what many wanted. Many rejected Jesus then. And many still reject him now.

Urgent Desire for More

Scripture Focus: Mark 10.17
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Reflection: Urgent Desire for More
By John Tillman

Everything about how the rich man approached Jesus communicated urgency.

The rich man rushed up to Jesus and knelt down in a show of humility and concern. The way he approached was similar to the way Jairus approached when his daughter was dying. It was the way lepers knelt, desperate for healing. It is similar to the way a father approached Jesus when his demon-possessed child could not be healed by the disciples or the way the Syrophoenician woman begged for her child’s life to be delivered from demonic oppression. It was the way the demoniac of Gerasenes approached Jesus. 

Most everyone who approached Jesus in this way had someone’s life on the line but the rich man was concerned with something else. He asked to know how to “inherit eternal life.”

The word translated “inherit” is fairly common in scripture. It consistently refers to receiving something of value that one has not earned. There are many promises of God that we can inherit, but none we deserve or earn. 

We don’t know much else about the rich man but it seems safe to assume that he was familiar with earning and with inheriting. He was immersed in a system of earning and a system of spiritual achievement. He saw eternal life as the cherry on top of the delightful treat his life already was in contrast to those around him. 

Jesus’ answer dashed his anticipation. Urgency melted to apathy. The wealthy young man wasn’t ready to give up earning and he didn’t yet trust what he would stand to inherit. We are so similar to him. Especially in the West, we have more in common with the rich young man than we do with Christ’s disciples who “gave up everything” to follow him. 

Do we trust what we will inherit by giving up our worldly possessions to benefit others?
Are we willing to give up earning our righteousness and counting our trophies of achievement?

Scripture is silent about it but I like to imagine that the rich man eventually came back. After all, Jesus tells the disciples regarding this, “…all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10.27) The rich young ruler is not beyond saving and neither are we.

May we have an urgency about eternity and a dispassionate hold on the temporal. 
May we have an urgent desire for more than we can earn.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

Today’s Readings
Genesis 32 (Listen 4:40
Mark 10 (Listen 6:42)

Read more about The Catch All Commandment
This last commandment, therefore, is given not for rogues in the eyes of the world, but just for the most pious.

Read The Bible With Us
It’s never too late to join our Bible reading plan. Immerse in the Bible with us at a sustainable, two-year pace.

The Miracle of Faith

Scripture Focus: Mark 9.23-24
23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Reflection: The Miracle of Faith
By John Tillman

At the beginning of this passage, the disciples are failing at ministry, surrounded by needs they can’t meet, and distracted by arguments with religious opponents. Then Jesus comes to them.

In many sermons, I have heard pastors scold the disciples for their lack of faith, for not praying and fasting, or for not believing, but Jesus doesn’t scold them.

Christ’s complaint about unbelief is directed to “this generation” not to the twelve. When Jesus tells the disciples that “this kind only comes out by prayer,” he isn’t necessarily impugning the disciples’ prayer lives.

Jesus knew what it was like to be unable to succeed in ministry due to a community’s lack of faith. When Jesus was in his own hometown, not only did they attempt to kill him after he preached that they would have to share the benefits of God’s kingdom with outsiders, they had so little faith that Jesus couldn’t do many miracles there. The scriptures tell us that Jesus was “amazed” at their lack of faith.

Many times in his ministry, Jesus addressed spiritual healing before physical healing. Jesus’ greatest miracles were not ones of stopping storms or diseases or demons. His greatest miracles were helping the faithless to believe again. Helping the cynical to trust again. Helping the hardened to love again.

And when we, or our communities, are faithless, cynical, and hardened, Jesus comes to us as well, to change our prayer like he changed the prayer of the father in this passage.

The father’s nakedly honest prayer has long been one of my favorite verses in the Bible. It has also been one of the scriptures that I turn to as a prayer in my own life.

I long to be filled with faith, but I’m often filled with other things.
Sometimes I am filled with doubt, like John the Baptist in prison.
Sometimes I am filled with fear, like the disciples after the storm.
Sometimes I am filled with shame, like the woman caught in adultery.
Sometimes I am filled with pride, like the rich young ruler who claimed to have kept all the commandments.
Sometimes I am filled with feelings of inadequacy, like Peter, begging Jesus to keep his distance.

Despite this, Jesus comes. Bringing faith for those who ask.

Let Jesus change your prayer today. Ask him to drain you of sin, anxiety, and inadequacy and fill you with faith.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Look upon you covenant; the dark places of the earth are haunts of violence. — Psalm 74.19

Today’s Readings
Genesis 31 (Listen 7:47
Mark 9 (Listen 6:16)

Read more about Humble, Welcoming Servants—Guided Prayer
Help us to remember with thanks the transformative work you have done in our lives.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
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