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Pontesbury Cemetery

From The Church Wardens

Pontesbury Cemetery: an update

There has been some discussion of our local cemetery in “social media” recently. This has led to some changes which may affect all who visit the cemetery. But first, it may help if we set out the background….

We are fortunate to have a cemetery in Pontesbury that’s near the centre of the village, with sufficient consecrated space for some years to come. The cemetery is actually an extension of the Churchyard that surrounds St. George’s Church and so it’s the property of the Church of England, and it’s the responsibility of St. George’s Church to ensure it is available for use.

There are costs involved in keeping the cemetery in a fit and safe state. We need to ensure that boundary fences, walls and gates are sound, that bushes and trees do not encroach, that pathways and landscaped areas are suitably laid out, and the grass is kept down. Fees are charged to meet the cost of individual burials and these provide a small fund to help meet the costs of maintaining the cemetery. But – we get no financial help from head-office! In fact – like just about all churches across the country – we have to pay our way. Churches that don’t meet their costs face having to share their Minister with neighbouring parishes – or even…closure.

So we could say that we run the cemetery on a wing and a prayer. This task falls to a very small, ageing group of volunteers. We tackle jobs ourselves when we can, to save money – and we are very grateful to those who keep parts of the cemetery and individual graves neat and tidy. When we have no choice, we do pay for work – but we have to keep within our budget. It’s very true that with more money, we’d pay for more work and make things even better.

We do know that despite our best efforts at maintaining the cemetery, not everyone is happy at times. The recent “social media” discussion is evidence of an issue regarding upkeep around grave-stones. Criticism travelled quickly and before we knew it, we found ourselves without anyone to cut the grass. So now, we are faced with a choice: pay for more time than before to keep the grass down (with money we don’t have), or leave the cemetery to become a “wild area” (fine for birds and other wild life but not for human visitors and liable to create other problems).

We will let you know what we decide to do in due course. But we would ask you please to contact us by phone (details below) if there is an issue that you need to discuss about the cemetery. We can’t work miracles but we will do what we can! Pontesbury Cemetery is a very special place of peace and quiet which we can visit to remember our loved ones. We all want to keep it that way, don’t we?

Your humble, ageing volunteer Churchwardens,

Mary Worrall 01743 791069

Allen Marsden 01743 791822

Featured

St George’s Blog

This is a message for all the villagers in Pontesbury.

We thought that we’d open up the church website to comments, stories and events within the village during this lock-down period, and if it works well, then we might even keep it in a different form after that nasty little microbe has gone.

So what are we looking for? How about articles on Home Schooling? How’s that turning out? You can share ideas across this blog. We could have a photo a day, a cartoon a day, a thought for the day, a prayer for the day, and so on, the possibilities are endless. We can add pictures too.

Here are the rules.

  • Remember where you are, so moderate language please.
  • You must sign in with a genuine email address – this will not be published, but you can use any name you wish. We’d prefer real names, but understand when it is not possible.
  • When commenting, your first comment will be moderated, thereafter you should get straight in.
  • Any article that you wish to publish as a full post should be addressed to webmaster@st-george.org.uk and the Webmaster retains the right to refuse or ask for edits.
  • That’s all, but we could add more in the light of experience

Sponsored Walk

by Bill Rowell

Before the clocks go back I am intending to walk between as many as possible of the churches of the deanery. I’ll keep a note of my total mileage, and photograph each church I visit – frankly, I’ve no idea how well I’ll do, but I’d love you to sponsor my attempt!
This is the deanery in which Thomas Bray was born and baptised – the founder, over three hundred years ago, of the mission society USPG (for whom I used to work). So half the money I raise will go to USPG, and the other half to whatever church or group of churches you wish as my sponsor. If you would like to sponsor me, please complete the sponsor form from the link below. I’ll be walking whenever I can fit it in between 20th September and 23rd October, with a last walk on 24th October, which, all being well, will be from Shelve, via The Marsh and Middleton, to Chirbury.
Completed sponsor forms can be sent to me at 17 Croft Road, Welshpool, Powys SY21 7QD, or emailed to wkrowell@btinternet.com. I haven’t yet set up an on-line giving page, but when I do I’ll pass details round!
Thanks! – Rev Bill Rowell, Rural Dean.

The full document is here, and includes a taxpayer declaration box.

The Gospel of Mark 2

A study course by The Reverend Christopher Cooke

THE GOSPEL OF MARK

A Personal Reflection and the Sources of the Study.

In 1977, the actor Alec McCowen, began to give his performances of Mark’s Gospel (King James Version) and Jane and I went to see him do this in a London Theatre. It was transfixing and it is still available on DVD.

When I was studying for my Oxford degree (1979-1981), the understanding of the Gospel of Mark was in a state of flux. I felt more confident about the other Gospels. It was clearer what the other Gospel writers were about – even the more mysterious Gospel of John seemed more approachable (and was very well served by commentators).

In contrast, a greater consensus was growing around the Gospels of Matthew and Luke which were written a little later. I felt more at ease with them. If we can assume that Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel, then:

  • Matthew’s Gospel was written after the fall of Jerusalem in AD70 and the Jewish religious leaders were formulating their Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament). The Temple had been destroyed and the Synagogue came to more prominence with the emphasis on Moses. Matthew portrays Jesus as a great Teacher and as a new and greater Moses. There are five main blocks of teaching mirroring the Books of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy).
  • Luke’s Gospel contains many more of the famous parables. There is a second volume: The Acts of the Apostles. The journeying element is very important. It tells how the Gospel starts in Galilee and climaxes in Jerusalem and (in Acts) moves from Jerusalem across the Mediterranean until it reaches Rome. In so doing, Luke is demonstrating that Christians are not a threat and are good Roman citizens. And I was taught by an expert on Luke’s Gospel! (Professor Christopher Evans in retirement).

I had read Anthony E. Harvey’s excellent short Introduction to the New Testament (“Something Overheard”) before going to Theological College. He wrote that Mark’s Gospel was full of mysteries and that it mystified him.

The commentaries of Vincent Taylor (1952) and C.E.B. Cranfield (1959 and continually updated until 1972) argued a traditional position. The Gospel was written in Rome by John Mark shortly after the martyrdom of Peter and contained Peter’s recollections of Jesus’ life. This helped explain why Peter was shown in a very poor light in Mark’s Gospel. It is true that Peter would have needed an interpreter if the Aramaic speaking fisherman was to address the Christians of Rome. However, this has been found to be over-simplistic.

The Pelican Commentaries were important for our studies. John Fenton’s Matthew, John Marsh’s John and G.B. Caird’s (rather short) Luke were excellent. [Christopher Evans’ huge Luke has now replaced G.B. Caird’s commentary]. Dennis Nineham’s Mark (1963) was, I felt, the least approachable. Dennis Nineham’s commentary was more academic and stronger on saying what the Gospel of Mark was not about and in combating the traditionalists above. He approached the Gospel as a ‘form critic’ and argued that it had all been processed by the infant Church and represented the Church’s worship and beliefs.

There was, however, a growing feeling that neither of these positions did full justice to Mark as an innovator, pastor and theologian.

Hugh Anderson’s New Century Mark (1976) was very recent and did not get into softback until I had finished my degree. It is a very well-balanced approach but he is again hesitant in claiming too much about Mark’s Gospel. I used a library copy and then my mother gave me the softback version as an ordination present!

There were also ‘The Introductions’ often written by German scholars. These were very scholarly and exceedingly dry. W.G. Kummel’s “Introduction to the New Testament” (1975) is very sound for reference.

The American Norman Perrin offered a very different and very accessible Introduction (1974). He is particularly good on Matthew, Paul and John. He argued that Chapter 13 was the key to understanding Mark’s Gospel and he entitled his chapter on Mark “The Apocalyptic Drama”. He found links with the Book of Revelation (The Apocalypse of John). I have to say that I was unconvinced then and I still remain unconvinced. There are so many imponderables about Chapter 13. I feel it is a shame that the Gospel set for St Mark’s Day is Chapter 13. It should be what we have studied: the excellent Chapter 1!

At least, Norman Perrin took the Mark seriously and saw that his Gospel was ground-breaking in so many ways. My tutor, Christopher Evans, also wrote a book about the Resurrection (1970) which has a section on Mark’s Gospel and in 1975 he gave some open lectures of the subject of the Passion which were later published.

I tried to keep up with studies during my ministry. There have been some notable contributions since then. Ernest Best wrote “Mark: The Gospel as Story” in 1983 and I think this contains some wonderful insights. William Telford edited some articles on “The Interpretation of Mark” in 1985. His opening introductory chapter is very good.

We had to wait over twenty years (nearly as long as we waited for Christopher Evans’ Luke) for Morna Hooker to produce her extremely good commentary on Mark of 1991.

In 2000, I had the privilege of attending a Retreat at my old Theological College when the addresses were given by Leslie (J.L.) Houlden on aspects of Mark’s Gospel. Reading my notes from this brings back great joy. They were wonderful. In 2003, Eerdmans produced a one volume Commentary of the Bible rather like Peake’s which now seems rather dated. Craig A. Evans provided a very good commentary on Mark’s Gospel. [He is no relation to Christopher Evans].

My ministry in the Lichfield Diocese was blessed by the contribution of two New Testament theologians. Bishop John Davies was Bishop of Shrewsbury from 1987 to 1994 and he remains a friend. [My course on Galatians owes a lot to him]. Tom Wright was Dean of Lichfield from 1994 to 1999. He spent time going round the Diocese teaching. He was Bishop of Durham from 2003 to 2010 but then went back to academia. He has written a huge amount of books under two heads. When he uses “Tom” these are easily accessible works for the laity and the clergy. When he uses “N.T.” he produces very serious academic works which stretch me to the limits.

As far as studies of Jesus are concerned, two influential works were: Gunther Bornkamm’s “Jesus of Nazareth” (1960) and C.H. Dodd’s “The Founder of Christianity” (1970).

There has been great scepticism since then about whether we can write books about Jesus’ life and ministry and some of those which have come out have not been well-received.

Since retiring I have been tackling N.T. Wright’s huge scholarly works that form his series on “Christian Origins and The Question of God”. I am midway through the third volume. The second volume “Jesus and The Victory of God” (1996) provides the most convincing picture of Jesus that I have read recently. Tom Wright sees Jesus, surely correctly, as in the prophetic tradition. As well as being the new and greater Moses, he is also the new and great Prophet who sums up his predecessors and transforms them. I cannot recommend this for the general reader but under “Tom” Wright he published in the same year: “The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary”.

In introducing the Bible Studies, I have also found very helpful the new translation of the New Testament by Nicholas King with his short comments and questions. Then there are the two very approachable and recommendable commentaries by Dick (R.T.) France and Tom Wright.

The BRF (Bible Reading Fellowship) has produced a daily commentary for Bible readers on each Book of the Bible. The advantage is that you get two pages of commentary a day. A slight disadvantage may be that different people provide commentaries for different Books of the Bible. Tom Wright has produced “For Everyone” Commentaries for each Book of the New Testament (although some Books get two volumes – but not Mark). They are published by SPCK. These are the books to go to if you want to explore more. Perhaps, Tom Wright just edges it.

  • R.T. France “Mark” BRF.
  • Tom Wright “Mark for Everyone” SPCK.
  • Tom Wright “The Original Jesus” Lion.

Questions

Chapter 1: 1-45

Is there a Prologue?

There is some debate whether Mark’s Gospel has a Prologue. The two most recent commentators think so but Morna Hooker figures it to be verses 1 to 13 but for Craig Evans, it is just verses 1 to 8. Prologues and overtures usually preface operas.

Personally, I think Mark’s Gospel begins with a bang and there is continuous forward movement from the start. This reminds me of some symphonies like Beethoven’s Fifth or Nielsen’s Fourth (The Inextinguishable).

What do you think?

Nicholas King in his translation of Mark’s Gospel suggests that we should always have two thoughts in mind as we study Mark’s Gospel:

  1. Who is Jesus?
  2. What must Jesus’ disciples be like?

Does the Gospel have a title?

There is some debate about this but the first verse of Mark’s Gospel is crucial.

Verse 1: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Does ‘beginning’ remind you of other such uses in the Bible?

What is this “good news” (Gospel)?

What does the term “Christ” mean to you?

How do you feel about Mark describing him as “the Son of God”?

Compare this with what must be the climax of the Passion account: Mark 15:31.

Who else was using “the Son of God” as a title?

Verses 2-8: The Proclamation of John the Baptist.

All four Gospels before describing Jesus’ proclamation and ministry describe that of John the Baptist.

What does John make you feel?

If John were to preach amongst us now, who would respond?

How should we treat the Old Testament? Do we ignore it?

Verses 9-11: The Baptism of Jesus.

All four Gospels make some reference to Jesus’ Baptism although this obviously caused the early Christians some problems. Just because of that, this is therefore likely to be a very genuine event.

Why was Jesus baptized?

Why was this needed when he was the ‘Son of God’?

What does it mean to call Jesus as God’s beloved son?

Verses 12-13: The Temptation of Jesus.

We are far more familiar with the accounts of Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13).

Are you missing something?

How often is there an element of urgency in this chapter?

Verses 14-15: The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry.

When is the proclamation to take place?

What do you think “Good News” means here?

Verses 16-20: Jesus Calls the First Disciples.

Does Jesus matter enough for us to take risks for him?

Who is Jesus?

What must Jesus’ disciples be like?

Verses 21-28: The Man with an Unclean Spirit.

Jesus is in the Capernaum Synagogue. What is Jesus doing?

What is the impact does Jesus make?

What causes Jesus to act in the way he does?

Verses 29-35: Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House.

Why does Jesus heal the mother-in-law?

How does she respond?

Why does Jesus command silence about his healings?

Verses 35-39: A Preaching Tour in Galilee.

What does Jesus do the first thing next morning?

What about Simon Peter’s actions?

What is Jesus’ plan?

Verses 40-45: Jesus Cleanses a Leper.

Jesus comes into contact with someone who may have a highly contagious disease.

Would you be brave enough to touch a leper?

Does this remind you of anyone else in more recent centuries?

And so Chapter 1 comes to an end!

Are you out of breath?

What do you make of Jesus so far?

What do you make of his ministry so far?

“You are sound asleep and dreaming, when suddenly the door bursts open and a bright light shines full in your face. A voice, breaking in on your dream-world, shouts, ‘Wake up! Get up! You’ll be late!’ And without more ado, the speaker splashes your face with cold water to make the point. Time to stop dreaming and face the most important day of your life. That’s what the opening of Mark’s Gospel is like”. Tom Wright.

Comment

THE GOSPEL OF MARK

Chapter 1: 1-20

Is there a Prologue?

There is some debate whether Mark’s Gospel has a Prologue. The two most recent commentators think so, but Morna Hooker figures it to be verses 1 to 13 but for Craig Evans, it is just verses 1 to 8. Prologues and overtures usually introduce operas.

Personally, I think Mark’s Gospel begins with a bang and there is continuous forward movement from the start. This reminds me of some symphonies like Beethoven’s Fifth or Nielsen’s Fourth (The Inextinguishable).

What do you think?

Nicholas King in his translation of Mark’s Gospel suggests that we should always have two thoughts in mind as we study Mark’s Gospel:

  1. Who is Jesus?
  2. What must Jesus’ disciples be like?

Does the Gospel have a title?

There is some debate about this, but the first verse of Mark’s Gospel is crucial.

Verse 1: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Does ‘beginning’ remind you of other such uses in the Bible?

The Book of Genesis – the first book of the Old Testament and of Jews most holy Torah starts: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…”

The slightly later Gospel of John starts: “In the beginning was the Word…”

What is this “good news” (Gospel)?

There is some debate about whether Mark’s Gospel is a unique new creation. I think it is fair to say that there was nothing like a “Gospel” before. There were secular biographies around in the Roman world and this might have been one inspiration. The other inspiration was surely the Old Testament with its many stories of great figures including Moses, David, Elijah and Elisha. Indeed, the stories of Elijah and Elisha are probably very significant here. Although it is an oxymoron, perhaps we can say that Mark’s Gospel is pretty unique.

The entire story of Jesus’ ministry, including his death, is “good news”. This good news is clarified by the Jewish scriptures. We find the term used particularly by the Second Isaiah (40-55) who proclaimed during the devastating days following the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity in Babylonian prison camps. There it is the salvation that God is sending at any moment.

What does the term “Christ” mean to you?

Christos is the Greek for Messiah and it means ‘anointed’. It is really a title and not a name. We might say “Jesus the Christ” but it is almost used as a name here. After this, Mark will tend to refer to ‘Jesus’ and the use of ‘Christ/Messiah’ is used on two very important occasions. The first is Peter’s Declaration at Caesarea Philippi. The second time is when he is asked if he is the Messiah during his Jewish trial before the Sanhedrin. Many Jews had been waiting for the Messiah but there were disagreements about what this would be like.

How do you feel about Mark describing him as “the Son of God”?

This seems to be a crucial part of Mark’s view of Jesus (although the doctrine of the Trinity was not to be fully developed for three hundred years). Here Mark is very close to the thinking and theology of Paul.

Compare this with what must be the climax of the Passion account: Mark 15:31.

Who else was using “the Son of God” as a title?

Craig Evans is surely right in seeing a parallel here with how the Roman Emperors saw themselves. Mark’s opening words are directly challenging the Roman Emperor cult. And this is underlined when the climatic words of the Passion are put on the lips of a Roman Centurion.

Verses 2-8: The Proclamation of John the Baptist.

All four Gospels before describing Jesus’ proclamation and ministry describe that of John the Baptist. The baptisms carried out by John are again “quite unique”. There were lustrations for Jews who had become contaminated. There were lustrations for Gentiles who were becoming Jews. Men would also have to be circumcised but this was the only rite for women. However, these lustrations (rather like Naaman’s lustration at the command of Elisha) were self-administered. John seems to have been administering baptism to other people including Jews. This was transforming one thing into something quite different.

What does John make you feel?

John was an uncompromising figure. We are told what he wore and what he ate, and both of these facts would make ordinary people uncomfortable. These details suggest that he was a prophet and particularly a figure like Elijah. His message is about confronting sin and that too is uncomfortable. Repentance involves a deliberate turning around and turning to God.

If John were to preach amongst us now, who would respond?

If John were preaching today, he might get some strange stares. Yet, in his time, people came flocking to him to hear his message. Billy Graham’s mission had a similar impact in the States and in our country.

How should we treat the Old Testament? Do we ignore it?

Mark obviously knew the Scriptures but perhaps in their Greek translation. The passage quoted is only in part attributable to Isaiah. The first phrase comes from Malachi and/or Exodus before moving on to the Second Isaiah who proclaimed during the bleak times of the Babylonian captivity. Matthew and Luke clear up this confusion.

One would not normally call the Jordan valley the wilderness, but John’s is a lone voice as if he were in the wilderness. He may well have come out of the wilderness where Jesus is shortly to go. The wilderness also points to the time when the People of Israel were wandering there after their escape from Egypt. This was a time when God was especially close to them.

John’s proclamation is also to someone who is more powerful who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John is not worthy to deal with his footwear which is the role of a slave. Certainly, the early Church and the Church ever since combines the baptism in water with the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Church for which Mark writes would have known about what happened on that Pentecost which is recorded by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles.

Verses 9-11: The Baptism of Jesus.

All four Gospels make some reference to Jesus’ Baptism although this obviously caused the early Christians some problems. Just because of that, this is therefore likely to be a very genuine event.

Why was Jesus baptized?

Why was this needed when he was the ‘Son of God’?

The other Gospel writers realized there was a problem here. Neither Luke nor John writes that John baptized Jesus. There is that inference, but they shy away from writing it in black and white. Matthew inserts 3:14-15 beginning “John would have prevented him…”

In Mark, there is no hint that John was expecting anything special when his cousin appeared for baptism. At that point, John did not know Jesus was the “powerful one”.

What does it mean to call Jesus as God’s beloved son?

This is the revelation that Jesus is the expected “powerful one”. God speaks, referencing words from the Old Testament. God does so again at the Transfiguration on the mountain (Chapter 9). On that occasion, Moses and Elijah appear to the closest disciples.

Verses 12-13: The Temptation of Jesus.

We are far more familiar with the accounts of Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13). Quite abruptly, we are told that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. This is where we get the word “quarantine”. It was not uncommon for people who were atoning for some sin or asking for some healing or preparing for some mission to go into quarantine in the wilderness. Some would have gone a little way in but where they could still be provisioned by their family and friends. It appears that Jesus went further in and was almost completely quarantined. Later, the Desert Father monks would seek a similar experience following the footsteps of Jesus.

Are you missing something?

We do not have the specific temptations that Matthew and Luke give us.

We are told that Jesus was with the wild animals. He was tempted by Satan and ministered to by angels. Satan is a term found in the law courts. He is the prosecution counsel and we see him in this role at the beginning of the Book of Job. Angels are God’s messengers and servants. They are not fully human. But with their help, Jesus survives the natural and supernatural testing. Similarly, Elijah was sustained by God in the wilderness.

How often is there an element of urgency in this chapter?

“And just as” (verse 10), “Immediately (verse 12), “Now” (verse 14), “Immediately” (verses 18 & 20), “Just then” (verse 23), “As soon as” (verse 29). This continues throughout the Gospel of Mark.

Verses 14-15: The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry.

When is the proclamation to take place?

Mark and Luke stress that Jesus’ ministry takes full flight only once John’s ministry is circumscribed by being imprisoned. We notice once again the urgency. This ministry is set in Galilee.

What do you think “Good News” means here?

There are similarities here with John’s proclamation. Like John, Jesus calls for repentance i.e. for people to turn their lives around and turn to God. We notice that Jesus does not proclaim himself as in John’s Gospel but the Kingdom of God. There has been much discussion about this because s sometimes it seems as if this is something in the future but other times, it appears to be very near. It is a key theme of Mark’s Gospel. It could be translated as Kingship of God. This translation helps our thinking. In the life and ministry of Jesus, the Kingship of God has appeared on earth. After his death and resurrection, we still await the time when that Kingship really rules the world.

As Morna Hooker remarks, this passage begins a series of paragraphs that mark out typical features of Jesus’ ministry. Some suggest this is meant to be a typical day in the life of Jesus.

We notice that we are told a minimal amount of information about John the Baptist (what he is wearing) but we are told absolutely nothing about Jesus himself. We would expect to find such basic information in a biography and most stories today.

Verses 16-20: Jesus Calls the First Disciples.

This episode is by the Sea of Galilee. We will see that when Galilee or the Sea of Galilee is mentioned, then something important is happening in Mark’s Gospel.

(While, I generally admire the NRSV translation, I think ‘fish for people’ is crass! “Fishers of people” is better even if ‘fishers’ is rather archaic. “Anglers of people” has a rather more sinister tone). We may have difficulty translating the expression, but it is undoubtedly a very clever turn-of-phrase and probably goes right back to Jesus. They are to catch people for the kingship of God. Hence, there is a great appropriateness in the fish symbol. [The Greek word for fish could also be turned into mnemonic = Jesus Christ God’s son (and) saviour Ιχθυς].

Three little things that we often miss:

  1. Andrew is a Greek name. This highlights the fact that Galilee was a mixed area with Jewish and Greek names. (Jesus is the Greek version of Jeshua/Joshua which is what Jesus would have been called).
  2. James and John may come from a bigger fishing operation because their father Zebedee and the staff are left behind. The fishing business was quite a big one. All four were busy men who left their good prospects behind.
  3. They are not called ‘disciples’ until the next chapter.

Both sets of brothers immediately follow him. Mark may be stressing Jesus’ authority when the brothers obey at once.

Does Jesus matter enough for us to take risks for him?

Who is Jesus?

What must Jesus’ disciples be like?

The immediacy of the two sets of brothers’ actions is striking. Luke introduces the call by a miraculous catch of fish. John’s Gospel tells us that Andrew was a follower of John the Baptist. The Baptist points Andrew towards Jesus. Andrew then brings his brother, Simon Peter, to Jesus.

Verses 21-28: The Man with an Unclean Spirit.

Jesus is in the Capernaum Synagogue. What is Jesus doing?

Capernaum was an important fishing village in Galilee. This is probably where Peter, Andrew, James and John resided. Jesus is teaching in the Synagogue. Teaching is an important in Mark’s understanding of Jesus, although there is more teaching material in the longer Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

What is the impact does Jesus make?

Jesus’ teaching has an immediate impact upon those there. They were astounded because Jesus teaches with ‘authority’. This is another important concept in Mark’s Gospel. He teaches with authority, but he is the opposite of authoritarian. Jesus is contrasted with scribes who will form some of the opposition to Jesus.

What causes Jesus to act in the way he does?

Jesus was not there to perform a miracle, but he is moved by the situation of this man. Miracles play a very important part in Mark’s Gospel and they make up a significant part of this the shortest Gospel.

  • If Jesus’ teaching demonstrates authority, these miracles demonstrate Jesus’ power as someone who is in tune with God.
  • In John’s Gospel, they are called signs. Similarly, what is important for Mark is what these miracles point to: Jesus’ relationship with God and his kingship.
  • Jesus never performs a miracle to show off. Later, in the Gospel, he refuses the Jewish religious leaders who demand a miracle to order.
  • Jesus can only perform miracles if there is faith involved. Later, Mark writes that Jesus could not perform miracles in Nazareth because his hometown had no faith in him.
  • Jesus sees his mission as primarily to the people of Israel, but Gentiles can receive a miracle if they profess faith. The Syrophoenician woman is one such example. Jesus is rude to her but because she demonstrates that she has faith, her daughter is cured.

On this occasion, the unclean spirit recognizes who Jesus is. God acclaims Jesus as his beloved son but so do the unclean spirits which Jesus scolds. Those who witness the healing are again astonished. Other exorcists use incantations, but Jesus commands and it happens. For Mark, this is the main point of the story: Recognized by God and empowered by the Spirit, Jesus possesses authority not previously witnessed.

Verses 29-35: Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House.

Why does Jesus heal the mother-in-law?

Jesus retires from public view, but his ministry continues. Again, there is the need which causes Jesus’ healing. He touches a woman (and one who could be near death) and therefore, breaks conventions.

How does she respond?

She is able to do ‘service’ to others. We have already seen angels serving Jesus in the wilderness and we see Jesus doing ‘service’ as will his disciples.

Why does Jesus command silence about his healings?

Once the Sabbath is over at sunset, Jesus’ fame means countless people come for healing. Jesus will not let the demons speak because they know his true identity. This is part of Mark’s Messianic Secret.

  • Some of this may go back to Jesus. Jesus does not want people to get false simplistic ideas about his ministry.
  • Mark probably uses this to explain why the majority of Jews did not accept Jesus’ message and ministry.

Verses 35-39: A Preaching Tour in Galilee.

What does Jesus do the first thing next morning?

We see that Jesus gets up early and goes to a deserted place where he prayed. This seems to be a hallmark of Jesus’ ministry and Luke’s Gospel underlines this feature on several occasions.

What about Simon Peter’s actions?

Simon and his companions ‘hunted’ for Jesus. We see that Simon already seems to have a role of leadership. They do not appreciate that Jesus needs time alone with God. However, Jesus does not scold them for breaking into his precious time of prayer.

What is Jesus’ plan?

Perhaps, this quiet time has revealed to Jesus his plan of action. Jesus goes throughout Galilee, his home country, proclaiming the message and casting out demons. We notice that this is centred on the synagogues (as was the apostles’ mission in Acts). The message must spread out from Capernaum to other towns and villages.

Verses 40-45: Jesus Cleanses a Leper.

Jesus touches someone who may have a highly contagious disease.

Would you be brave enough to touch a leper?

This is particularly pertinent at this time of Coronavirus when we are meant to avoid touching other people. There was a great stigma associated with skin diseases and these were often thought to result from God’s judgement. The leper was expected to keep his distance and not come into the centre of a town or village. They were outcasts. Again, we see Jesus is moved to pity. Some scholars translate the word as ‘anger’ but, if so, it is anger at the leper’s situation. Again, Jesus tells him not to tell anyone but to present himself to the priest and obtain his bill of cleansing. The leper spreads the news anyway.

Does this remind you of anyone else in more recent centuries?

Very many people, and indeed saints, have followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Diana, Princess of Wales, was a complicated character but she did immense good with regard to land mines. Here, I am reminded how she touched AIDs patients during that epidemic. This really changed people’s attitude to those suffering from AIDs. They were no longer ‘untouchables’.

And so, Chapter 1 comes to an end!

Are you out of breath?

What do you make of Jesus so far?

What do you make of his ministry so far?

The Gospel of Mark 1

A study course by Reverend Christopher Cooke

THE HISTORY AND THE TIMES

St mark – Often depicted with a lion

Perhaps it is useful to have a survey of the political situation during the life of Jesus the Christ and the subsequent decades when the Letters of Paul were written and the Gospel of Mark was created.

It had been a long time since the Jewish people ran their own country. On King Solomon’s death, his kingdom was divided. His son, Rehoboam, became King of Judah with Jerusalem as its capital. Jeroboam I was chosen king of the larger northern Kingdom of Israel which included Samaria and Galilee. The Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire in 722BC and ceased to exist as an entity. The Kingdom of Judah survived although only as a vassal of Egypt for a period. However, in 597BC, Jerusalem surrendered to the Babylonian Empire. They put in a puppet king, Zedekiah, but he rebelled. This led to the recapture of Jerusalem in 586BC and the accompanying destruction of the Temple, of Jerusalem and its walls, and the leading people were taken away to Babylonian prison camps.

The Babylonian Empire was itself defeated by Cyrus II of Persia in 539BC. Some Jews were allowed to resettle in Jerusalem but this was a process that took a hundred years to fully take place. Under Darius I, the Jerusalem Temple was rebuilt (520-515BC). It would seem that the Jews had a limited amount of self-control under Governors.

Floor mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, showing Alexander fighting King Darius III of Persia in the Battle of Issus

In 334BC, Alexander the Great invaded the Persian Empire. However, Alexander died in 323BC and his Empire was divided between his generals and for many years, the land of Palestine, was a bone of contention between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. The real nadir was the reign of Antiochus IV of 175-163BC which included the desecration of the Temple in 168/167BC. This, in turn, led to revolt of Judas Maccabaeus. He and his successors ruled for some years and Jewish independence was granted in 142AD.

1st-century AD bust of Pompey, after an original from c.55–50 BC

In 63BC Pompey captured Jerusalem for Rome and Judah was added to the Roman Province of Syria.
The Roman Emperors were:
• Augustus 27BC-14AD.
• Tiberius 14-37AD.
• Caligula 37-41AD.
• Claudius 41-54AD.
• Nero 54-68AD.
• Galba 68-69AD.
• Otho 69AD.
• Vitellius 69AD.
• Vespasian 69-79AD.
• Titus 79-81AD.
All of these were ruthless men but Caligula and Nero were particularly unhinged and thought themselves to be gods.

The Romans did allow puppet kings. The most (in)famous of these was Herod the Great. He became Governor of Galilee from 47-37BC and King of the Jews from 37-4BC. He had ten wives and there was rivalry between sons from different wives. After Herod’s death in 4BC, two of his sons (Antipas and Archelaus) went to Rome to argue their cases. In the end, the Emperor gave Archelaus Judea, Samaria and Idumea (to the south of Judea) with the title of ethnarch. He appointed Antipas tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (a strip of land east of the Jordan). He appointed Philip tetrarch of Gaulanitis etc. which included the north-eastern shores of Lake Galilee and stretched eastwards.

This situation did not last for long because Archelaus quickly lost his lands and they were then governed by Roman Procurators including Pontius Pilate.

The northern area, including Galilee, remained the most fractured politically. The shores of the Sea of Galilee were divided into three entities. Galilee on the western shore, including Nazareth and Capernaum, was part of the tetrarchy of (Herod) Antipas who imprisons John the Baptist and causes his death. The north eastern shores were part of Gaulanitis and part of the tetrarchy of Philip. Bethsaida and Caesarea Philippi, which appear in the Gospel accounts, are part of his domain. The south eastern shores were part of the Decapolis (Ten Towns) which was always rather separate from the rest of Palestine. It had fared rather well under Greek rule and embraced Pompey and Roman rule. It usually sided with the Romans.

Jesus’ ministry is set amongst the strained relations between the Jews and the Roman occupiers and his death occurs partly because of the confusing cross-currents in the politics of the time. Jesus’ trial is complicated because of the involvement of (Herod) Antipas who ruled Galilee where Jesus was born and where his early ministry was set. Antipas was in Jerusalem at the time because of the Passover celebrations. Jerusalem and Judea were under the jurisdiction of the Roman Procurator: Pontius Pilate. He ruled from 26AD to 36AD under Emperor Tiberius with the seeming support of the Jewish Sanhedrin (religious rulers). His rule came to an end after his brutal tactics against the Samaritans which caused him to lose the support of the Sanhedrin. Having caused uproar in Jerusalem and Samaria, the Governor of Syria had to intervene. He dismissed Caiaphas as High Priest and had Pilate recalled to Rome and replaced.

Bust of Caligula from Palazzo Massimo in Rome

Meanwhile, when Philip died in 34AD, Emperor Tiberius annexed his territories to Syria. When Caligula became Emperor in 37AD, he gave his lands and those of Antipas to his friend King Agrippa I (although Antipas did not die until 39AD). Agrippa ruled from 37-44AD. Caligula died in 37AD and was succeeded by Emperor Claudius who confirmed Agrippa’s position and also gave him Judea and Samaria. Of the Herodian Kings, Agrippa I was the most liked by the Jews and according to Acts, he was a persecutor of the early Christians which resulted in the death of the apostle James son of Zebedee. His son was only seventeen when he died, so his territories became a Roman province. In 50AD, Emperor Claudius made this son Agrippa II a puppet king and in 54AD under Emperor Nero, he acquired part of Galilee.

There is some confusion about Procurators after Pilate. However, Felix was Procurator in 52AD. He was married to a Herodian princess. Felix arrested Paul and detained him for two years. Felix was renowned for his cruelty and for taking bribes. Levels of crime increased greatly in Jerusalem. Felix was recalled to Rome (around 59AD) and replaced by Festus. It was Festus who sent Paul to Rome for trial at Paul’s request.

Bust of Nero at the Musei Capitolini, Rome

In Rome, Nero’s reign is infamous and culminated in the burning of Rome. He instigated a persecution of the early Christians. In this persecution both Peter and Paul are killed in Rome in 64AD.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, there were anti-taxation protests and attacks by Jews on Romans. Festus and Agrippa II were losing control of the situation. Agrippa II and The Decapolis supported the Romans in the subsequent Jewish-Roman War of 66-70AD. The Roman Garrison was overwhelmed. The Syrian Governor sent an army which resulted in the Battle of Beth Horon when six thousand Romans were massacred. Nero gave Vespasian the task of suppressing the Jewish insurrection. He and his son, Titus, took over Galilee in 67AD. There was a lull in the campaign following Nero’s suicide in 68AD. There was civil war in Rome and 69AD was the year of Four Emperors. Vespasian left for Rome where he became Emperor. His son, Titus, was in charge in Palestine.

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts (1850)

The Roman siege of Jerusalem began at Passover 70AD while internecine warfare raged in the city. All of Jerusalem was in the hands of Roman legions by late August. By order of Titus, Jerusalem was levelled to the ground apart from the three great towers but including the Temple. Titus suppressed the Jewish people bloodily and then he sailed to Rome with the captured Jewish leaders and the treasures of the Temple. Massada held out against the Romans for a little while. Titus succeeded Vespasian as Emperor, the first time the throne passed from father to son. Jerusalem was transformed into the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina by Emperor Hadrian (117-138AD) which then led to the Bar Khoba Revolt of 132-136AD.

These are the bare outlines of the tumultuous years which saw the ministry and death of Jesus the Christ and the birth of the early Church.

The earliest writings that we possess in the New Testament are set against this backdrop:
1. The Letters of Paul. Apart from Romans, these were occasional Letters. We must be grateful that someone decided to collect and preserve them.
2. The Gospel of Mark. As Morna Hooker writes it is also a little miracle that this Gospel survived. After all, nearly all its content can be found in the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark could have been dispensed with. Indeed, for centuries it was overshadowed by the others and overlooked. In the Twentieth Century, its importance was at last appreciated.

Week 1: INTRODUCING THE GOSPEL

Questions

When you were growing up, how often did you hear passages from the Gospel of Mark read?

What length are the four Gospels? You can compare chapters or number of pages.

How does the Gospel of Mark start? (We shall be studying this more closely next week, so just the broad outlines for now).

We compare this with the other Gospels.
How does the Gospel of John start?
How does the Gospel of Matthew start?
How does the Gospel of Luke start?

Taking the Entry into Jerusalem as our guide, we can compare the length of each Gospel before we enter the Last Week:

Mark 11:1-10
Matthew 21:1-9
Luke 19:28-38

Chapters uptoChapters left
Mark106
Matthew208
Luke19½

Do you have any initial thoughts about the make-up of Mark’s Gospel?

We can place many passages of Mark, Matthew and Luke side by side in parallel in what is often called a synopsis.

Look at the table. Do you have any initial comments?

Matthew 8:14-17Mark 1:29-34Luke 4:38-41
When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed by demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.





After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them. As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.




Matthew 8:1-4Mark 1:40-45Luke 5:12-16
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.



Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. ‘Go’, he said, ‘and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.’ But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.



Matthew 17:22-23Mark 9:30-32Luke 5:12-16
As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.’ And they were greatly distressed.



They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.



Matthew 24:1-3Mark 13:1-4Luke 21:5-7
Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’









When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’














There are other places where you can put Mark and Matthew side by side and Mark and Luke side by side. There are also passages where Matthew and Luke can be put side by side.

The interesting thing is that nearly all of Mark appears in either or both of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.

It is difficult for us to gauge the quality of a foreign language. So here are two quotes:

“Mark’s Gospel is the shortest. It is also the most austere, the least polished – almost uncouth, in fact – compared with the others.” (Anthony Harvey).
“Mark’s is the shortest Gospel, and it is probably the first to be written.
So Mark may be said to have invented the Gospel form, which gives him a
special claim for our attention. His Greek is vigorous, but not always
very grammatical…” (Nicholas King).

In my background paper, I recall the impact of Alec McCowen reciting Mark’s entire Gospel in a theatre. Almost certainly, like Paul’s Letters, Mark’s Gospel was first read out loud to a congregation. Ernest Best and Morna Hooker both underline this point.

Commentary by Reverend Christopher Cooke

Week 1: INTRODUCING THE GOSPEL

When you were growing up, how often did you hear passages from the Gospel of Mark read?

It is very possible that you did not hear readings from the Gospel of Mark very often in Church at all. Both the Book of Common Prayer and the Roman Catholic Church used Matthew’s Gospel most often. This was supplemented by readings from Luke and John’s Gospels but rarely from Mark’s Gospel. Even St Mark’s Day according to the Book of Common Prayer had a reading from John’s Gospel!

Virtually all Mark’s content was found in either or both of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. As Morna Hooker writes it is a bit of a miracle that Mark’s Gospel survived at all. This was probably because tradition linked Mark’s Gospel with Peter before his martyrdom in Rome.

Even in the Alternative Service Book readings of 1980, the Gospel of Mark was used far less often than the other Gospels.

Our current three year cycle of Readings has redressed the balance. Matthew, Luke and John appear every Christmas season. John appears every year and particularly at festivals.

  • Year A focusses on Matthew’s Gospel (this year).
  • Year B focusses on Mark’s Gospel with more of John’s Gospel (next year).
  • Year C focusses on Luke’s Gospel.

What length are the four Gospels?

Mark has 16 chaptersLuke has 24 chapters
Matthew has 28 chaptersJohn has 21 chapters

In the NRSV

Mark has 23 pagesLuke has 37 pages
Matthew has 36 pagesJohn has 27 pages

Mark’sGospel is significantly shorter than either Matthew or Luke’s and somewhat shorter than John’s.

How does the Gospel of Mark start?

It begins with the stirring words “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. Good news means the same thing as Gospel. It is the only one of the four to claim it is a Gospel.

We are then in The Proclamation of John the Baptist and then The Baptism of Jesus. All four Gospels agree about this pattern but in Matthew and Luke, this has to wait until their third chapters.

Then there is The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry and Jesus Calls the First Disciples.

Some scholars refer to this, or part of it, as the Marcan Prologue.

We compare this with the other Gospels.

John’s Gospel begins with the wonderful Johannine Prologue which we usually hear at Christmas. “In the beginning was the Word… There was a man sent from God, whose name was John… And the Word became flesh and lived among us…”

Matthew’s Gospel has two chapters of preparation. The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah; The Birth of Jesus the Messiah; The Visit of the Wise Men; The Escape to Egypt, The Massacre of the Infants, the Return from Egypt.

Luke’s Gospel similarly has two chapters of preparation. Dedication to Theophilus; The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold; The Birth of Jesus Foretold (Archangel Gabriel); Mary visits Elizabeth; Mary’s Song of Praise (the Magnificat); The Birth of John the Baptist; Zechariah’s Prophecy; The Birth of Jesus; The Shepherds and the Angels; Jesus is Named; Jesus is Presented in the Temple; The Return to Nazareth; The Boy Jesus in the Temple. (A genealogy of Jesus appears in Chapter 3).

We see that there are no birth stories in Mark’s Gospel and his Gospel begins with the Ministry of the adult John the Baptist and the adult Jesus. It is as if John and Jesus burst on the scene out of nowhere.

Taking the Entry into Jerusalem as our guide, we can compare the length of each Gospel before we enter the Last Week:

Mark 11:1-10
Matthew 21:1-9
Luke 19:28-38


Chapters up to thisChapters after this
Mark106
Matthew208
Luke19½

Do you have any initial thoughts about the make-up of Mark’s Gospel?

The Last Week accounts for 38% of Mark’s Gospel. When we consider that the Easter account is very short together with the premonitions of his death at various points in the Gospel, Jesus’ death looms very large indeed. Mark’s Passion account is very dominant in the structure of the whole Gospel.

The corresponding percentages for Matthew and Luke’s Gospels including their much longer Easter accounts are 29% and 23% respectively. As wells as their first two chapters, Matthew and Luke contain far more of Jesus’ teaching and parables than Mark.

This led Martin Kahler in 1892 to describe Mark’s Gospel as a Passion with an Introduction. This is overstating the case somewhat but he was making a point. After all, the first ten chapters of Mark’s Gospel are very important. Although I do not agree with all Willi Marxsen has to say about Mark’s Gospel, he also had a point when he wrote just after the Second World War, that Mark probably wrote the Passion first and then wrote the rest of his Gospel.

The earliest writings of the New Testament are found in Paul’s Letters. Paul has very little to say about the life of Jesus but his message centres upon the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus which is life-transforming.

There are other connections between Paul and Mark.

  • They were both theologians and pastors.
  • They both thought Jesus would return shortly.
  • They were both troubled that the Jews had not universally accepted Jesus’ message.

We can place many passages of Mark, Matthew and Luke side by side in parallel in what is often called a synopsis. Look at the Table above. Do you have any initial comments?

We notice that there is a close similarity between the three Gospels. Mark, Matthew and Luke’s Gospel are called the Synoptic Gospels because they look at the Gospel in a very similar way (syn=with + optic=eye). They present the same pattern of events in roughly the same order. John’s Gospel is rather different in the order of events and in what is included. Jesus also speaks with a rather different voice (see below).

As we can see from the parallels, although Mark’s Gospel is the shortest, individual units are often more wordy and convoluted than the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke.

Virtually all the material that is found in Mark’s Gospel, is also found in either or both of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. The few very short passages that are not so included are therefore very significant.

In addition, there are verbal correspondences between Mark’s, Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. This is significant because Jesus almost certainly proclaimed his teaching in Aramaic and the earliest Christians most likely preserved it orally in Aramaic. However, the Gospels were written in Greek. A general rule of thumb is that when you arrange the three Gospels side by side in a synopsis, Mark and Matthew can agree against Luke, and Mark and Luke can agree against Matthew but Matthew and Luke do not agree against Mark (except when they are tidying up his Greek).

The general consensus is that Mark’s Gospel was the first to be written and that it circulated fairly widely very quickly. Matthew and Luke (and even possibly John) knew Mark’s Gospel and added to it with material they had acquired.

This seems far more likely than Mark roughing up the Greek of Matthew’s Gospel for some reason and, at the same time, omitting the Birth stories, much of Jesus’ Teaching and the Resurrection appearances.

It is difficult for us to gauge the quality of a foreign language. So here are two quotes:

“Mark’s Gospel is the shortest. It is also the most austere, the least polished –almost uncouth, in fact – compared with the others.” (Anthony Harvey).
“Mark’s is the shortest Gospel, and it is probably the first to be written. So Mark may be said to have invented the Gospel form, which gives him a special claim for our attention. His Greek is vigorous, but not always very grammatical…” (Nicholas King).

In my background paper, I recall the impact of Alec McCowen reciting Mark’s entire Gospel in a theatre. Almost certainly, like Paul’s Letters, Mark’s Gospel was first read out loud to a congregation. Ernest Best and Morna Hooker both underline this point. Therefore, some of the character of the Gospel might be understood as spoken Greek rather than written Greek. It was written to be heard aloud and so certain phrases are repeated and there are recaps of what has happened so far. The other Gospels are written documents and better written at that.

Ernest Best makes the very important point that individual sections of Mark’s Gospel may be rather clumsy and less effective than the parallels in the more polished Matthew and Luke, but the whole is very satisfactory and satisfying. He draws a parallel to a composer who creates a new symphony but uses traditional elements (such as well-known and folk tunes) in doing so. Hugh Anderson argues that the success of Mark’s Gospel lies in its restless movement.

For dramatic effect, Mark saved everything that occurred in Jerusalem for the last week of Jesus’ life. Matthew and Luke follow him in this respect. John’s Gospel records several visits to Jerusalem in Jesus’ adult life. This is far more likely. A faithful Jew would attend several Passovers in Jerusalem if he could. Another consideration pointing this way is that Jesus seems to know his way around Jerusalem and he has close friends in Mary, Martha and Lazarus who live at Bethany near Jerusalem.

One further task for now:

Compare Mark 9:30-32 (part of the Synoptic table above) with John 11:25-27 or, indeed, any of the “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel.

In Mark:

  • Jesus seems to be somewhat secretive about his intentions
    • This may well represent Jesus’ concern that his Messiahship is not misunderstood. He is not going to be a fighting liberator.
    • Mark may use this device to help explain why the Jews in general have not turned to Christ. Paul wrestles with this problem as well.
  • Jesus refers to himself as ‘The Son of Man’. The titles in the Gospels tend to be somewhat fluid but he is clearly referring to himself in a slightly roundabout way.
  • The Disciples are shown to misunderstand Jesus and are also fearful to ask him for an explanation.
  • Jesus proclaims about the kingdom of God but not himself.

In John:

  • Jesus is far more open and direct in his teaching. He says “I am” numerous times (the good shepherd, the light of the world, from above, the true vine etc.)
  • He engages with Martha about being “the resurrection and the light”. Philip and Thomas are bold enough to ask him questions.

August 2020

  From the Dragons’ Den

George writing, helped by Uncle Sam and Idris:

Hello Everyone.  We three are still sitting our basket, in the cupboard, wondering what is going to happen next.  We have been sitting here for a long time (Idris says it is nearly 20 weeks!) wondering where everyone has gone.  We haven’t seen any BIG or Little Dragons and no-one has opened either the cupboard or our lid to say, ‘Hello!’   We are hoping that someone will come soon and check that we are OK.  Usually, around now, we are taken to Val’s house for a wash and brush-up, but nothing so far. 

Uncle Sam, who has big ears, says that he has heard little feet pattering about and we are wondering whether some mice have got into our cupboard. George says there is a poem about mice who live in church and that, for some reason, they think they own the place when there aren’t any people about.  That is not good.  We know, that we three are here to look after things when the big door is locked, so, if we happen to see any mice, we will tell them to go somewhere else.

Anyway, we are hoping that it won’t be long before we hear some visitors coming into the church.  We think we heard some people a few days ago.  They didn’t come near where we are, but we think they sat quietly and lit candles.  We like that! We like it when it is quiet but we know that people are there, especially when they light the tiny candles. It seems to make them feel better and it makes us feel better too; not so lonely.

Come on everyone.  Come back soon! We miss you.

Best wishes from we three:  – George     Uncle Sam   and Idris.

Disturbing The Bats?

By Allen Marsden

Photo by Todd Cravens on Unsplash

For the last few months, the bats have had St. George’s much to themselves….until now. Recently, a visit to the chancel by yours truly and my friend “Henry” took place (and we found plenty of evidence that the bats are keeping very well, thank you). This was followed by a funeral and then our first 10h30 Morning Service since lock-down back in March, ably led by Mary and Val.

The West End Room (WER) has been seeing some action too as Covid-19 restrictions start to ease. Since mid-July, the church has been open twice a week for private prayer, with the WER turned into a substitute for the Lady Chapel. We’ve put arrangements in place to ensure that visitors can enter and use the WER in as much safety as we can reasonably provide. These include Mary’s super high-tech sanitiser-dispenser…worth a visit just to have a squirt. With the help of candles and soft background music, it’s possible to have some peace and quiet to meditate and pray. Two volunteer stewards are stationed in the front porch to keep a discreet eye on the WER to ensure all necessary precautions are being met.

It’s true we stewards aren’t exactly swept off our feet by the number of visitors and we’ve yet to have to keep a queue in order, but those who have come along do seem to appreciate the opportunity. It’s “early days” and word has yet to get round – and there are still those who unable to leave home or who are reluctant to go into enclosed spaces, no matter how safe these are made.

And we’ve discovered there are other benefits. On the many fine days, we sit just inside the porch. With the doors wide open, we get the chance to chat with the many passers-by – and make a fuss of their dogs. Then we can explain why we are there. We mention plans for church services and how we have no minister but hope to appoint one soon – and we show the village that St. George’s is getting back in business and that we are keen to play our part in people’s lives. No “hard-selling” as we’d put people off and they’d stop walking through the churchyard. It’s a bit like being the sower of seeds: let’s hope they don’t all fall on stony ground

So if you pass by the church and see two stewards sitting in the porch, looking friendly, then please take pity, stop and have a chat! And even better: come inside, have a squirt of sanitiser and treat yourself to some peace and quiet while you meditate and pray undisturbed.

Allen Marsden

THE BOOK OF JONAH 4

A study by Reverend Christopher Cooke

Ruins of Nineveh today

Chapter 4

Jonah 4:1-5: Jonah’s Anger.

Why is Jonah so angry?
Is it because his prophetic message now seems incorrect?
Is it because the people of Nineveh have been spared?
Or is there a justification to Jonah’s complaint?

“And Jonah is angry! Without hesitation this time, he prays to Yahweh a complaint. Here at last is the stated reason for fleeing in the first place. It was not that he feared the Ninevites’ evil (or so he claims) but that he feared that Yahweh would not pay them the evil that was their due”. David Gunn.
“Jonah had a strongly-based covenant theology, to which was added the blinkers of too narrow an election theology. He knew that God loved Israel and extended his mercy to his chosen people; he felt, in the very marrow of his bones, that this special love of God to Israel should not be extended to gentiles, above all to evil gentiles such as the inhabitants of Nineveh… The wrath of Jonah is thus an all-too-common human phenomenon. Having tasted the divine love, he could not bear to think of it being extended to others”. Peter Craigie.
“Yet is Jonah’s frustration at God’s change of mind totally unwarranted? Yahweh may be a God of hesed (steadfast love), but Jonah may well ask, How long will it be before these repenting Ninevites forsake their true hesed (loyalty)? Are we really to believe that the overnight conversion of the whole of evil Nineveh – including the animals – is not a farce? Perhaps Jonah sees only ‘skin-deep’ repentance”. David Gunn.

Is Jonah to be condemned or understood?
Do Christians often think like Jonah?

Jonah 4:6-11: God’s Great Love.

Do you feel sympathy for Jonah?

“The lesson that God is trying to teach Jonah, and us, is that we view the world the wrong way round. We should be grateful and praise God for the good that happens, and simply accept the rest. Good things are not our right, they are a gift and should be treated as such… It is not very surprising that Jonah did not understand God’s parable of the bush that withered. He had sunk so far into himself that he could not begin to understand the point that God was trying to make. In fact, he shows quite clearly that he has learnt nothing at all from the experience”. Paula Gooder.
“By now, the caricature of Israel in the person of Jonah has become so grotesque that the story might seem to have gone too far. But such is not the case. In the final question (verse 11), towards which the whole book moves, the narrator’s purpose is driven home with considerable force. ‘Should I not pity Nineveh?’ In the tradition of the audience to whom the story was first told, everything suggested the answer ‘No!’ An evil gentile city should not experience the divine pity… It was a frightening thought, for if the Lord of Israel was also the God of Nineveh, wherein lay the special status of the chosen people?” Peter Craigie.
Jonah’s “newfound pity is misplaced. Yahweh presses the moral: if a single plant – God-given and truly ephemeral – is to be pitied in its withering, how much more a great city of 120,000 people (and their cattle) in its destruction? The addition of cattle underlines the point. If Jonah can pity one plant, can he not do the same for all those cattle, whatever his problem with the people?” David Gunn.

What in our lives today is like Jonah’s bush – not ours by right but nice to have?

Can we only fully grasp the message of the Book of Jonah if we eradicate the prophet Jonah from within each of us?

“The story reaches its end, yet it is a curiously unfinished end. Does Jonah understand and accept Yahweh’s disturbing action and unsettling hesed? Does Yahweh forgive Jonah for his ‘evil’? Does the city of Nineveh retain its newfound hesed to God?” David Gunn.

Do we understand and accept God’s disturbing action and unsettling loyal love in this book?

Should God’s love not extend to the millions of people in the world today? And even the animals?

Commentary By Rev Christopher

Jonah 4:1-5: Jonah’s Anger.

Why is Jonah so angry?
Is it because his prophetic message now seems incorrect?
Is it because the people of Nineveh have been spared?
Or is there a justification to Jonah’s complaint?

God repents of the evil he was planning to do to Nineveh. David Gunn and Paula Gooder translate the Hebrew as continuing: “That was evil to Jonah, exceedingly evil!” Jonah goes on to pray that God will take his life because he sees no point in living. These words might echo the words of Elijah in 1 Kings but there is a lack of grandeur and more self-pity. This is, not least, because Elijah’s life was really threatened by Queen Jezebel and the prophets of Baal.

“And Jonah is angry! Without hesitation this time, he prays to Yahweh a complaint. Here at last is the stated reason for fleeing in the first place. It was not that he feared the Ninevites’ evil (or so he claims) but that he feared that Yahweh would not pay them the evil that was their due”. David Gunn.

Jonah cites what many of us find so attractive about God i.e. God’s hesed [loyalty, loving kindness]. Jonah uses words from Exodus chapter 34 again. For Jonah it is a serious problem that Yahweh is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in hesed, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Jonah uses the words as an indictment against God rather than a good thing! Moses, in contrast to Jonah, seizes on this characteristic of God to seek to spare the rebellious Israelites. Jonah has been much criticized here by commentators on two main fronts.

  1. For some, he is only interested in preserving his reputation as a prophet since according to Deuteronomy chapter 18, the criterion for a true prophecy is fulfilment.
  2. Others claim that Jonah exhibits a ‘narrow’ post-Exilic religion which denies that Gentiles (non-Jews) merit God’s gracious mercy. Jonah represents nationalism as opposed to God’s universalism.

Peter Craigie thinks the first accusation levelled against Jonah is improbable. There is more in the second accusation.

“Jonah had a strongly-based covenant theology, to which was added the blinkers of too narrow an election theology. He knew that God loved Israel and extended his mercy to his chosen people; he felt, in the very marrow of his bones, that this special love of God to Israel should not be extended to gentiles, above all to evil gentiles such as the inhabitants of Nineveh… The wrath of Jonah is thus an all-too-common human phenomenon. Having tasted the divine love, he could not bear to think of it being extended to others”. Peter Craigie.
“Yet is Jonah’s frustration at God’s change of mind totally unwarranted? Yahweh may be a God of hesed (steadfast love), but Jonah may well ask, How long will it be before these repenting Ninevites forsake their true hesed (loyalty)? Are we really to believe that the overnight conversion of the whole of evil Nineveh – including the animals – is not a farce? Perhaps Jonah sees only ‘skin-deep’ repentance”. David Gunn.

Is Jonah to be condemned or understood?

The Lord God responds with a question: “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah’s pique is rather like a teenager’s tantrum, according to Paula Gooder. He makes himself a booth so he can look over Nineveh. Perhaps, the Ninevites will soon revert to their true colours. Perhaps, God will then listen to Jonah’s arguments.

Do Christians often think like Jonah?

Jonah 4:6-11: God’s Great Love.

Do you feel sympathy for Jonah?

The booth probably did not give much shade. David Gunn suggests this was a substitute templePaula Gooder notes that the area around Nineveh was notoriously short of timber, so the booth was probably made out of bricks and earth – not a very cool shelter. Jonah would therefore have been very grateful for the shade of a bush and very sorry for himself when it died. Peter Craigie thinks the word probably refers to the quick growing castor-oil plant. But then again, no-one had told him to sit in the heat of the sun and watch. This was Jonah’s choice. The worm, Peter Craigie thinks, was wood-worm or vine-weevil or some such beetle. If that was not bad enough, the scirocco began to blow – the warm air from the mountains of Iran.

“The lesson that God is trying to teach Jonah, and us, is that we view the world the wrong way round. We should be grateful and praise God for the good that happens, and simply accept the rest. Good things are not our right, they are a gift and should be treated as such… It is not very surprising that Jonah did not understand God’s parable of the bush that withered. He had sunk so far into himself that he could not begin to understand the point that God was trying to make. In fact, he shows quite clearly that he has learnt nothing at all from the experience”. Paula Gooder.

Once again Jonah declares he would rather die. But the saving of thousands of Ninevites hardly compares to a bush that died. It is the immaturity of Jonah that really strikes us.

Jonah trusts in good order and he has pity on the plant that had given him shade. His response to the death of the bush is undercutting his position and God asks Jonah a tricky question.

“By now, the caricature of Israel in the person of Jonah has become so grotesque that the story might seem to have gone too far. But such is not the case. In the final question (verse 11), towards which the whole book moves, the narrator’s purpose is driven home with considerable force. ‘Should I not pity Nineveh?’ In the tradition of the audience to whom the story was first told, everything suggested the answer ‘No!’ An evil gentile city should not experience the divine pity… It was a frightening thought, for if the Lord of Israel was also the God of Nineveh, wherein lay the special status of the chosen people?” Peter Craigie.
Jonah’s “newfound pity is misplaced. Yahweh presses the moral: if a single plant – God-given and truly ephemeral – is to be pitied in its withering, how much more a great city of 120,000 people (and their cattle) in its destruction? The addition of cattle underlines the point. If Jonah can pity one plant, can he not do the same for all those cattle, whatever his problem with the people?” David Gunn.

What in our lives today is like Jonah’s bush – not ours by right but nice to have?

Can we only fully grasp the message of the Book of Jonah if we eradicate the prophet Jonah from within each of us?

“The story reaches its end, yet it is a curiously unfinished end. Does Jonah understand and accept Yahweh’s disturbing action and unsettling hesed? Does Yahweh forgive Jonah for his ‘evil’? Does the city of Nineveh retain its newfound hesed to God?” David Gunn.

Do we understand and accept God’s disturbing action and unsettling loyal love in this book?

Should God’s love not extend to the millions of people in the world today? And even the animals?

THE BOOK OF JONAH 3

A Study by Reverend Christopher Cooke

The walls of Nineveh today

CHAPTER 3

Jonah 3:1-4: Jonah Prophesies in Nineveh.

How do you think Jonah felt proclaiming his message in Nineveh?
James Limburg believes there are two vital questions:
• What will happen to a prophet who disobeys a command from the Lord? and
• What will happen to the wicked city of Nineveh?
The first is resolved here. God manoeuvres Jonah so that he is in a position to have a second chance. Jonah is spewed out by the fish on land and straightaway Jonah is called again by God to go to Nineveh. This time the prophet obeys and his life begins again. It was a long and arduous journey across the desert to get to this city. What is described is “greater Nineveh” with its suburbs. Nineveh was far bigger than the neighbouring city of Mosul of today. Other commentators believe there is an element of exaggeration here. A day’s journey into Nineveh, Jonah begins proclaiming his message. He was, no doubt, frightened and feeling foolish. His message was: “Forty day’s more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” It was not likely to be a popular message! David Gunn wonders whether this was God’s message or whether Jonah had over-interpreted. The original message did not specify ‘forty days’. Or was this part of the second instalment promised by God in verse 2?

“Jonah disobeyed God, and when he did, his whole relationship with God fell apart to the extent that he could not pray even when his ship was in the middle of a storm. When Jonah mended his relationship, his only option was to obey God. Closeness to God and doing what he says go hand in hand; if we reject one, we lose another”. Paula Gooder.

Was Jonah worthy of the privilege of doing God’s work?
Are we worthy of the privilege of doing God’s work?

“The call of God is simultaneously a sign of mercy, in that he is willing to employ the unworthy, and also a sign of greater purpose, his concern for those nameless masses whose drab and daily existence has not yet been illuminated by the divine light”. Peter Craigie

Jonah 3:5-9: Nineveh’s Response.

What do you think about the response of the ordinary people?
What do you think about the response of the king?

The second of James Limburg’s questions begins to be answered here. A pious Jewish listener or reader of this book may well have been very surprised about the developments in this section. He may have been quite content that God condemns the alien Ninevites. Jonah’s message is that Nineveh will be ‘overthrown’. That reminds us of Genesis chapter 19 when God overthrew the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he rained brimstone and fire upon them. The prophet Nahum also condemns Nineveh as “the bloody city, all full of lies and booty” and announced its fall in chilling terms (chapter 3). Surely, no one would feel sorry when Nineveh met its end.

“Who cares for the city in the story to this point? Certainly not Jonah, the insider, representing the people of God. The answer is that God does – and God has gone to great efforts to see that a prophet is sent to the people of the city”. James Limburg.

The pious Jew then would be surprised that the Ninevites actually listen to Jonah and respond appropriately as does their mighty king. Indeed, the Ninevites, like the sailors, are portrayed in a very positive light. The people believed in the message of God, announced a fast, humbled themselves, and did something to clean up the terrorism and violence in their city (James Limburg). This was not just the reaction of a few but of everyone including the animals. Even the king takes note and his rhetorical question “Who knows?” suggests that he does not presume what God will do. The king is humble before God and concerned for his people. The storyteller delights in telling us this comic twist in the tale.

“The important feature here is that the people of Nineveh did what the people of Israel, particularly Jonah, could never do. They saw the error of their ways, repented and escaped God’s wrath”. Paula Gooder.

If the so-called evil people of Nineveh can repent, why can’t we?
What does the Church really think about the Calcuttas, Karachis and Sao Paolos of our own day?

Jonah 3:10: God’s Response.

Are we more like Jonah, more concerned about ourselves, than being ambassadors for Christ?
God is impressed and God repented of the evil he had intended for Nineveh.

“So God had indeed intended judgement against the city, although it is still unclear whether Jonah was told this explicitly”. David Gunn.

The narrator is quoting from the story of the golden calf in Exodus chapter 32. In that story the unrepentant Israelites are spared when Moses intercedes for them. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is also relevant. Then Abraham played the role of intercessor between God and the cities. In contrast to Moses and Abraham, Jonah is not an intercessor but a judge pronouncing sentence. And it is the actions of the people of Nineveh which cause God to change his mind not Jonah.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise… How does that relate to the way God acts here?

Questions

Jonah 3:1-4: Jonah Prophesies in Nineveh.

How do you think Jonah felt proclaiming his message in Nineveh?

“Jonah disobeyed God, and when he did, his whole relationship with God fell apart to the extent that he could not pray even when his ship was in the middle of a storm. When Jonah mended his relationship, his only option was to obey God. Closeness to God and doing what he says go hand in hand; if we reject one, we lose another”. Paula Gooder.

Was Jonah worthy of the privilege of doing God’s work?
Are we worthy of the privilege of doing God’s work?

“The call of God is simultaneously a sign of mercy, in that he is willing to employ the unworthy, and also a sign of greater purpose, his concern for those nameless masses whose drab and daily existence has not yet been illuminated by the divine light”. Peter Craigie.

Jonah 3:5-9: Nineveh’s Response.

What do you think about the response of the ordinary people?
What do you think about the response of the king?

“Who cares for the city in the story to this point? Certainly not Jonah, the insider, representing the people of God. The answer is that God does – and God has gone to great efforts to see that a prophet is sent to the people of the city”. James Limburg.
“The important feature here is that the people of Nineveh did what the people of Israel, particularly Jonah, could never do. They saw the error of their ways, repented and escaped God’s wrath”. Paula Gooder.

If the so-called evil people of Nineveh can repent, why can’t we?
What does the Church really think about the Calcuttas, Karachis and Sao Paolos of our own day?

Jonah 3:10: God’s Response.

Are we more like Jonah, more concerned about ourselves, than being ambassadors for Christ?

“So God had indeed intended judgement against the city, although it is still unclear whether Jonah was told this explicitly”. David Gunn.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise… How does that relate to the way God acts here?

THE BOOK OF JONAH 2

A Study by Reverend Christopher Cooke

CHAPTERS 1 and 2

Jonah 1:11-16: Man Overboard!

Is Jonah courageous? Or is he fatalistic?
What do you think of the sailors?

At last, the indifferent Jonah shows compassion and courage. He tells the sailors to throw him into the sea. From shirking responsibility, Jonah accepts it. In so doing, he moves from disobedience to God to obedience and trust in God. Surely, this is a more positive episode in Jonah’s career contra James Crenshaw’s exceedingly black view of his personality.
The sailors are good men and do not want to throw Jonah overboard. It is a positive view of, perhaps rough and ready, gentiles and outsiders. James Limburg argues that they are portrayed as humane, pious, practical and open to theological growth. They try to row against the storm. Perhaps they are concerned that if they sacrifice Jonah, his God will be even more furious. But eventually, they do throw Jonah into the sea. It was a last resort. As they do so, they pray for forgiveness. Immediately, the sea calmed. The sailors feared “the Lord”, that is Jonah’s God, and they offer him a sacrifice and made vows. So Peter Craigie comments that they too are converted as they turn to the Living God.

“Inadvertently, the reluctant prophet has helped ‘convert’ these strangers to the worship of his own god. As we shall see, this turn of events foreshadows what is to come in chapter 3”. David Gunn.

Nevertheless, the sailors are outsiders and Jonah is the religious insider. Jesus talked about outsiders (The Good Samaritan) and he conversed with outsiders.
Who are insiders and who are outsiders?
Do we really care for those outside our faith?

“The story could have ended here. Its point could have been: Do not disobey God. Remember what happened to Jonah who did!” James Limburg.

Jonah 1:17: Swallowed by a Fish.

What do you think about this episode?
Some commentators pass over this without comment. Is that right?

Again, the Lord (Yahweh) intervenes as he did calling Jonah and in stirring up the storm. He appoints a great fish to swallow up Jonah. This is a further descent even from the ship! It is Paula Gooder who considers this, what the ordinary man or woman knows about Jonah, in more detail. This stresses that Jonah’s God is not only the God in charge of storms but of all the creatures on the earth and in the sea. The sailors probably believed in the Canaanite gods such as El who was the creator of the earth and of humankind, Baal was a fertility god and controlled the weather, Shaphash controlled the sun and so on. But Jonah’s God controlled all things. The big fish may also be important here.

“Numerous religions recount a battle between one of the gods and a serpent. In Canaanite religion, this serpent was called Leviathan and it symbolized the chaotic waters of the deep. It is quite possible that God’s command to a fish, a creature of the deep, to save Jonah is another reference to his absolute power in the world. Jonah’s God has no need to battle with other creatures for supremacy because he is, above all things, supreme. He calls and they answer. Again we have the great contrast with Jonah: even the sea creatures respond to God, but Jonah runs away”. Pauline Gooder.

The fish swallows Jonah and keeps him alive for three days and nights. Jesus refers to this as a paradigm for his death and resurrection. Indeed, it is probably a reference to death.

“In various traditions, the journey from earth to Sheol (death) was thought to take three days. The use of the phrase here serves to emphasize that the fish rescued Jonah from the gates of Sheol and brought him back to the land of the living”. Paula Gooder.

Jonah has been running away from God, from his land, from his family and from working and praying with the sailors. Is he brought back to his senses now?

Jonah 2:1-10: Jonah’s Prayer to God.

“On hearing Jonah’s facile confession that deliverance belongs to the Lord, the fish throws up!” [James Crenshaw] Is this fair comment?
Or is Jonah’s prayer genuine even if it is a little limited?

The sailors have been praying but it is only now that Jonah turns to God and prays. Jonah’s prayer is very similar to some of the psalms in the Psalter. We know Jesus often referred to the psalms which were often like the hymns of our day. We often categorize the Psalms and this can be taken too far as many psalms do not fit easily into one category. However, one such type is the individual psalm of thanksgiving. Jonah’s prayer is like one of these. James Limburg compares it with Psalm 30. Paula Gooder compares it to Psalms 34 and 118. She thinks Jonah may be quoting a pre-existing prayer. The references to Sheol and the temple as well as thanksgiving for deliverance are typical of many psalms. We should use the psalms more frequently ourselves. David Gunn and Peter Craigie note how the psalm has been modified to fit Jonah’s condition.

“Yet the sense of familiarity is only superficial, for Jonah’s prayer is distinctive, its words indicating powerfully the watery abyss into which he sank. And it is not only a prayer of thanksgiving, but also a prayer for deliverance: Jonah has been rescued from drowning, but he is still in deep water! There is nevertheless a ring of expectation and hope in his words: having so narrowly escaped a watery grave, he now clings to a hope for complete rescue”. Peter Craigie.

This prayer comes at the very depths of Jonah’s pursuit of disobedience. It is peril that prompts the prayer. It contains both pathos and humour. In verse 8, the word translated “loyalty” is that marvellous word “hesed” which we found in the Book of Ruth. It is hard to translate but it encompasses all the covenant love that God possesses for his people.
Is this a form of baptism for Jonah? Is it a time for repentance?
Who is the focus of the prayer? Is it God or is it Jonah?
Would you quote or adapt scripture, hymns or songs, if you had to pray in a crisis?

Questions:

Jonah 1:11-16: Man Overboard!

Is Jonah courageous? Or is he fatalistic?
What do you think of the sailors?

“Inadvertently, the reluctant prophet has helped ‘convert’ these strangers to the worship of his own god. As we shall see, this turn of events foreshadows what is to come in chapter 3”. David Gunn.

Who are insiders and who are outsiders?
Do we really care for those outside our faith?

“The story could have ended here. Its point could have been: Do not disobey God. Remember what happened to Jonah who did!” James Limburg.

Jonah 1:17: Swallowed by a Fish.

What do you think about this episode?
Some commentators pass over this without comment. Is that right?

“Numerous religions recount a battle between one of the gods and a serpent. In Canaanite religion, this serpent was called Leviathan and it symbolized the chaotic waters of the deep. It is quite possible that God’s command to a fish, a creature of the deep, to save Jonah is another reference to his absolute power in the world. Jonah’s God has no need to battle with other creatures for supremacy because he is, above all things, supreme. He calls and they answer. Again we have the great contrast with Jonah: even the sea creatures respond to God, but Jonah runs away”. Pauline Gooder.
“In various traditions, the journey from earth to Sheol (death) was thought to take three days. The use of the phrase here serves to emphasize that the fish rescued Jonah from the gates of Sheol and brought him back to the land of the living”. Paula Gooder.

Jonah has been running away from God, from his land, from his family and from working and praying with the sailors. Is he brought back to his senses now?

Jonah 2:1-10: Jonah’s Prayer to God.

“On hearing Jonah’s facile confession that deliverance belongs to the Lord, the fish throws up!” [James Crenshaw] Is this fair comment?
Or is Jonah’s prayer genuine even if it is a little limited?

“Yet the sense of familiarity is only superficial, for Jonah’s prayer is distinctive, its words indicating powerfully the watery abyss into which he sank. And it is not only a prayer of thanksgiving, but also a prayer for deliverance: Jonah has been rescued from drowning, but he is still in deep water! There is nevertheless a ring of expectation and hope in his words: having so narrowly escaped a watery grave, he now clings to a hope for complete rescue”. Peter Craigie.

Is this a form of baptism for Jonah? Is it a time for repentance?
Who is the focus of the prayer? Is it God or is it Jonah?
Would you quote or adapt scripture, hymns or songs, if you had to pray in a crisis?

Commentary by Reverend Christopher Cooke

Week 2

What sort of literature is the book of Jonah and when was it written?

As we have seen, Paula Gooder thinks it is a narrative like the book of Ruth. James Limburg also thinks it is a narrative or story. Peter Craigie thinks it is a parable. Just as the ‘The Good Samaritan’ ends with a question so does the Book of Jonah inviting the reader to reflect on its meaning. The first two verses are rather what we would expect from a prophetic book but, as Peter Craigie argues, after that everything is the opposite of what we might expect in a prophetic narrative. The story is unusual and comical in places.

Paula Gooder notes that suggestions for dating the book have ranged between 750 and 250 BCE! The description of Nineveh seems huge as if it is rather lost in history. The Assyrian Empire was to be subsumed into the Babylonian one and that in turn was to be subsumed by the Persian Empire. This and the vocabulary suggest a post-Exilic date according to James Limburg (i.e. after Judah had fallen to the Babylonians).

Here is a list of suggestions of dating from various recent scholars:

Peter CraigieSixth to Fourth Century BCE.
James LimburgFifth Century BCE.
Terence Fretheim475-470 BCE.
Leslie AllenFourth or Fifth Century BCE.
Hans WolffFourth Century BCE.

What is the Message of the Book of Jonah?

It is important to realize that the message of the Book of Jonah is quite different from the message of the fallible prophet Jonah. The writer of the Book is criticising prophets like Jonah. James Crenshaw writes: “Although the portrait of Israelite prophecy is troubling, the radical self-criticism goes a long way toward redeeming the profession”.

According to Peter Craigie, the central message is the nature of God and above all the nature of God’s mercy toward all mankind. A minor theme is the question of obedience and disobedience. The prophets of Israel were largely nationalistic. God was the Lord of Israel, his chosen people. The Book of Jonah makes clear that God was also profoundly concerned with the behaviour and lot of all mankind. It shows a concern for Gentiles and is a way in to prophecy for the Gentile reader.

James Crenshaw, similarly, believes the issue is the nature of Jonah’s God.

  1. Is divine mercy a more powerful attribute than justice?
  2. Can the deity actually repent?
  3. Does God’s preference to grant life rather than death extend beyond Israel’s borders?

The return after the Exile, under the Persians, is charted in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah and they pursued a narrow policy of Jews first and condemned inter-marriage for instance. A very different atmosphere breathes through the Books of Ruth and Jonah.

The Book of Jonah could have been written to encourage repentance on Israel’s part rather like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The great prophets had predicted the destruction of foreign nations but this had not happened. Were the prophets false? No because the Assyrians gained time by repenting.

THE BOOK OF JONAH 1

A study by Reverend Christopher Cooke

Jonah goes overboard

Week 1

The Twelve Prophets and Jonah.
Amongst the Scroll of The Twelve Prophets, Jonah is an oddity as Peter Craigie and Paula Gooder argue. The other eleven books contain small elements of biography and history but are essentially prophetic books. But Jonah contains a story and the actual prophetic content is very small.

“The book of Jonah is much closer in style to Ruth, the other famous short narrative book of the Old Testament, than it is to the prophetic books.” [Paula Gooder].

However, there are similarities, as James Crenshaw notes, with the accounts of Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings.

Jonah son of Amittai.
There is a reference to Jonah in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet of salvation during the expansionist era of Jeroboam II. He was a northern prophet from the Galilee area quite near to Nazareth. Jeroboam’s reign was from about 793-753 or 786-745 BCE.
James Crenshaw argues that the choice of this prophet as the target of didactic satire is doubly appropriate:
1. He proclaimed nationalistic oracles
2. His name means “dove [of faithfulness or truthfulness]”.
Paula Gooder describes Jonah as not a very attractive character. He was stubborn, inflexible, and arrogant. He only did God’s will when he couldn’t avoid it. He was also down to earth, fallible and bad tempered. James Crenshaw goes so far as to call Jonah an antihero! He lists Jonah’s main failings. He thinks Jonah’s version of prophecy is also extremely flawed:
1. He manipulates the facts when answering the sailors.
2. When he prays, he exalts his ego and accuses God.
3. He is spiteful hoping the sailors’ repentance will be short-lived.
4. He eagerly awaits the destruction of Nineveh.
5. He resents the sparing of the repentant Ninevites.
6. He is unrepentant until the end.
7. His main concern was his reputation for accuracy of prediction.
8. He wants to restrict divine compassion to Israel.
This is a devastating mockery of Israelite piety as exemplified by this dubious prophet. On hearing Jonah’s facile confession that deliverance belongs to the Lord, the fish throws up!

Nineveh and Assyria.
Assyria was the great power of the eighth century BCE and threat to both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel’s capital of Samaria fell to the Assyrians in about 722 BCE and there was a policy of integration and marriage between races throughout the Assyrian Empire. Nineveh was an important Assyrian city and from 704 BCE the capital. (Judah survived until they fell to the Babylonians).

Questions.

CHAPTER 1:1-10.

Jonah 1:1-3: The Call of Jonah.

Do the opening verses remind you of other prophetic books?
Does Jonah’s reluctance to obey the divine call remind you of Moses, Amos and Jeremiah?
In what ways is Jonah’s response different from theirs?

“The atmosphere of the story is quite different from that of Ruth, for example…or Esther… This is a story about Jonah, but more precisely about the Lord and Jonah”. James Limburg.
“God seems to be telling the prophet to proclaim the evil city’s doom”. David Gunn.
“But the shock of the audience would be followed by complacency: what more could you expect from a northerner, practically a foreigner, being dispatched on a mission to gentiles!” Peter Craigie.

Is there anything similar to the flight to Tarshish in your life?
Are we avoiding God in any way?

Jonah 1:4-10: Storm at Sea.

What was the Hebrew view of the sea?
Does the storm scene remind you of other such storms in the Bible?
How does Jonah come out of it compared to the sailors?

“Jonah’s flight from God is one of perpetual descent. Having gone down to the port of Joppa, and there having gone down into a ship, he now goes beneath the deck, hoping to rest after his trying experience!” Peter Craigie.
“The captain’s words to Jonah mirror God’s own words at the start of the book. Again, this is more apparent in the Hebrew text: the captain says, ‘Get up, cry to your god’, which mirrors God’s words, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh and cry against it’”. Paula Gooder.
“One of the themes that is drawn out by this book is the obedience of the non-believers in contrast to the disobedience of the believer. Jonah, a prophet to whom God speaks regularly, gets things wrong at every turn and refuses to acknowledge God’s power and sovereignty”. Paula Gooder.

As Christians, would we do any better than Jonah “the professional”?
Can we learn with humility from the non-believers we know?

Commentary by Reverend Christopher Cooke

CHAPTER 1:1-10.

Jonah 1:1-3: The Call of Jonah.

Do the opening verses remind you of other prophetic books?
Does Jonah’s reluctance to obey the divine call remind you of Moses, Amos and Jeremiah?
In what ways is Jonah’s response different from theirs?

The Book of Jonah begins in a conventional fashion for a prophetic work. It is God who speaks first. James Limburg points out that in this short book, “Lord” (translating Yahweh) appears 25 times, “God” 13 times and “Lord God” once for a total of 39 times.

“The atmosphere of the story is quite different from that of Ruth, for example…or Esther… This is a story about Jonah, but more precisely about the Lord and Jonah”. James Limburg.

As Paula Gooder notes the Hebrew actually says: “Get up, go to Nineveh”. This is very similar to God’s command to Elijah to get up and go to Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:9. The previous book in the Twelve Prophets is Obadiah. At the beginning of that book, Obadiah is commanded to go and prophesy to nearby Edom. Jonah is commanded to go to far away Nineveh in what is now Iraq. The Assyrians were also the enemy who threatened invasion of Jonah’s homeland (and the readers would know successfully invaded and incorporated the land and people into the Empire through inter-marriage and integration). Yet this is where God commands Jonah to go! And Jonah is to go there because of the evil found in Nineveh. Jonah is not sent to make converts but to warn the people of Nineveh of the coming judgement.

“God seems to be telling the prophet to proclaim the evil city’s doom”. David Gunn.

Moses, Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah all show reluctance to obey the divine call because they think they do not have the qualities needed. Jonah just runs away. I suppose he does “get up” but he sets out in the opposite direction and takes ship on the Mediterranean and sails away heading west. (Tarshish means ‘sea’ and a lot of Mediterranean ports were called Tarshish). Jonah really does not like the sound of going to Nineveh (and who could blame him) but he does not stay at home. Perhaps, Jonah is too afraid to take a hostile message to a feared nation. He decides to put as much distance between him and Nineveh as possible. In doing so, Jonah is also fleeing from the presence of the Lord. Does he think that God is anchored in Israel and that he can escape him?

Those who first read or heard this Book would have been reassured by the opening but then unsettled, like Jonah, by the call to go to Nineveh. Then this is followed by Jonah’s disobedience.

“But the shock of the audience would be followed by complacency: what more could you expect from a northerner, practically a foreigner, being dispatched on a mission to gentiles!” Peter Craigie.

Is there anything similar to the flight to Tarshish in your life?
Are we avoiding God in any way?

Jonah 1:4-10: Storm at Sea.

What was the Hebrew view of the sea?
Does the storm scene remind you of other such storms in the Bible?
How does Jonah come out of it compared to the sailors?

“Jonah’s flight from God is one of perpetual descent. Having gone down to the port of Joppa, and there having gone down into a ship, he now goes beneath the deck, hoping to rest after his trying experience!” Peter Craigie.

Paula Gooder notes that this master storyteller captures the panic of the storm and possible shipwreck in three short verses. The gentile sailors typify the human condition as a whole. They are doing everything they can to save the ship but they are also praying to their own gods – probably Canaanite and Phoenician ones. They are realistic, pious and peaceful men. Their religion calls from them a healthy balance between action and prayer. Through all this Jonah is sleeping. Trying to escape from God, he can only rely on himself. He is exhausted and, possibly, depressed. He is oblivious to the world around him. The captain is a good man and he wakes Jonah up. We might have expected him to have demanded that Jonah help save the ship, but he wants Jonah to pray to his God!

“The captain’s words to Jonah mirror God’s own words at the start of the book. Again, this is more apparent in the Hebrew text: the captain says, ‘Get up, cry to your god’, which mirrors God’s words, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh and cry against it’”. Paula Gooder.

It transpires later that Jonah realizes that he is the reason for the storm but he is reluctant to admit this and does not cry out to God as instructed. He seems to have turned his back on God. Jonah is a prophet and professional of the faith but the inadequacy of Jonah’s faith is shown up by the amateur non-believers. The sailors cast lots and the lots fell on Jonah. In response to urgent questions, Jonah admits his faith in verse 9. It seems to have been drawn out of him. “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” [NRSV]. The RSV translates “and I fear the Lord…” We know that “fear” was used in the sense of “worship” but the sailors take him literally and they become even more afraid. They have extracted from Jonah that he was fleeing from his God. There is also an irony here in that Jonah claims the Lord as “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” but he is trying to escape from him by going to sea. However, in making his declaration, Jonah who refused to be a prophet to the gentiles of Nineveh is compelled to become a prophet to the gentile sailors! But James Limburg asks whether he is talking about God while he is not prepared to talk to God.

“One of the themes that is drawn out by this book is the obedience of the non-believers in contrast to the disobedience of the believer. Jonah, a prophet to whom God speaks regularly, gets things wrong at every turn and refuses to acknowledge God’s power and sovereignty”. Paula Gooder.

As Christians, would we do any better than Jonah “the professional”?
Can we learn with humility from the non-believers we know?

THE BOOK OF RUTH 4

A Study By Reverend Christopher Cooke

WEEK 4

THE PEACEABLE COMMUNITY [SAKENFELD]
BARTERING FOR A BRIDE [TULL]

At the Town Gate
4:1-12

In Chapter 1, two women discussed marriage, children and economics. In this chapter, two men do so. Ruth carried out Naomi’s plan during the secrecy of the night. Boaz carries out his plan in the full light of day.

Assembling the Participants (4:1-2)

Boaz does not call on Mr So-and-So to settle the matter. Instead he creates a very formal and public context for this conversation. Boaz stations himself by the city gate at rush hour when the nearer kinsman would be likely to pass by on the way to the fields. And just as by God’s providence, Ruth went to Boaz’s field and then Boaz arrived, so here the nearer kinsman arrives right on cue.
“Friend” is not an adequate translation. Mr So-and-So or “what’s his name” would be better. Boaz would surely have known his name. Is he unsettling the other man from the outset? The narrator is certainly devaluing the man.
Boaz assembles ten male witnesses but it is likely other people, including women, would have gathered to see what excitement was to be had. Indeed, more people are added as the story unfolds.

The Transaction (4:3-6)
Boaz Sets the Trap (3-4); Boaz Springs the Trap (5-6)

Patricia Tull notes that the conversation is highly complex. Though its outcome is clear, exactly what is happening to get there is, for a number of reasons, somewhat less than clear. Katharine Sakenfeld argues, with others, that as the whole Book of Ruth is well written and plotted, this would have been clearer to the first hearers and readers. But we just do not fully understand what is going on today.

Three different Biblical laws or practices have been cited:
1. Levirate Marriage – but it doesn’t really fit the circumstances and it does not involve land.
2. Next-of-kin/Redeemer – will fit the land transaction but not marriage.
3. The Jubilee Year – this was the year in which all land was returned to its ancestral owners and all slaves were freed. It happened after every 49 years and the land was left fallow for the 50th year.

It transpires that Naomi has some land after all! Of course when they left in a time of famine, it would not have been worth much. It may well be that it could not be redeemed during harvest time as the standing crops would belong to those who sowed them. The basis of all land ownership was that all land belonged to its giver, God, and was held in trust by members of the community. The Jubilee laws also suggest there was a right for lands to return to the ancestral owners. Boaz says he is giving Mr So-and-So the opportunity to buy this land first. This is a recognizable practice of the usual Next-of-kin/Redeemer transactions.

I like Patricia Tull’s idea of a trap. Mr So-and-So is prepared to buy the land. So Mr So-and-So is not only the first man who should have helped Naomi, he also has the means to do so! Whether or not the property actually exists, Boaz has smoked out the family resources and motivations.

One problem would be removed if we could follow the Revised English Bible translation with absolute confidence. Some Hebrew texts support it. In that translation, Boaz says that he, Boaz, will be acquiring Ruth the Moabite i.e. marrying her. That would be an honourable thing to state in this transaction. Mr So-and-So might well redeem and purchase the land if he thinks it is worthwhile financially. But if Boaz marries Ruth and they have a son, the son would be able to redeem the land back. If that were to occur, or the Year of Jubilee was in the offing then Mr So-and-So would probably back away. It was not worth the investment.

Perhaps the trap is a moral one rather than a legal one. Remember this happens before ten male witnesses (and perhaps numerous women) and therefore the whole of Bethlehem will hear about what happens. Mr So-and-So is prepared to benefit financially from Naomi although he has done nothing to help Naomi in her hour of need. He has done nothing to help Ruth either. Mr So-and-So refuses the whole package and therefore acknowledges the validity of the argument.

Whichever translation we follow, Boaz has cleverly and congenially set a trap for Mr So-and-So, for whom the value of this investment has suddenly plummeted. Mr So-and-So awkwardly backs out of the deal.

We notice that Boaz uses the crassest language about Ruth. He doesn’t want to lose her! The use of language is strategic.

Boaz does not view Ruth as mere property nor does she view him merely as a meal ticket. [Patricia Tull]

Declaration of the Decision (4:7-10)

The agreement between Mr So-and-So and Boaz is formalized by a ritual whereby Mr So-and-So removes his sandal. This has rather bemused commentators.
It is at this stage we learn from Boaz’s lips which of the sons was Ruth’s husband: Mahlon. Again we are probably not talking about formal levirate marriage (usually confined to brothers), but it would be true that the family and the community would remember the story leading up to a birth of a son.
The reference to Ruth’s ethnic background once again by Boaz because he wants to acknowledge what everyone is thinking anyway.

Witnessing and Blessing (4:11-12)

The official witnesses and all the people present agree to the arrangements. This is an important occasion for the whole community.
The community expresses its prayer that Ruth (who is not mentioned by name) will fulfil the same role as Rachel and Leah: Jacob’s wives who fathered the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. This is remarkable because Jacob was instructed to search out an Israelite wife and not marry a foreigner. But Ruth is reckoned with them.
The use of Bethlehem and Ephrathah links to the beginning of the Book and to David’s heritage.
The blessing ends with a reference to Perez, Tamar and Judah – a rather shocking story where levirate marriage is combined with incest. However, 1 Chronicles and Nehemiah make reference to the descendants of Perez who return from exile in Babylon. This reference may have been very pertinent for those listening to the story.
The story of Perez’s birth is also rather shocking. But we have here another story where a woman, like Ruth, challenges the norms of society.
In Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus (chapter 1), four mothers are mentioned but many more were known: Rahab, Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba. All have challenging stories surrounding them. Perhaps this prepares for Mary’s situation.

The Household of Boaz
4:13

Patricia Tull = “in a single verse, Boaz and Ruth are wedded, bedded, and blessed with a son for whose conception God is given credit”.
After all, Ruth has not conceived when married to Mahlon. Lots of women in the Old Testament, from Sarah onwards, have trouble conceiving until God intervenes. This is mirrored by Elizabeth in the New Testament. And Mary also conceives by the Holy Spirit.

The Women and Naomi
4:14-17

In a reprise and reversal of chapter 1, the women of Bethlehem are again pictured in conversation with Naomi. This time, the women speak and Naomi is silent, the words are of joy rather than calamity. Ruth is highlighted rather than ignored.
We might have expected the next of kin/redeemer they refer to would be Boaz. But the context makes it clear that it is Ruth’s son who is referred to. Again it is the general use of the word that is relevant: the son will secure the future of the family.
The Lord is blessed for reversing Naomi’s situation. The women go on to say that Ruth is worth more to Naomi than seven sons = seven is an important round number. It is Ruth’s faithfulness, kindness, loyalty, hesed, to Naomi that has led to this outcome. There is a looking forward to David as the same expression is used between David and Jonathan.
Naomi is not breast-feeding but cuddling her beloved grandson as a doting grandmother – and one who had lost her husband and sons. Naomi does not adopt the boy. Obed is the answer to Naomi’s predicament in chapter 1.

A Longer Genealogy
4:18-22

The final genealogies serve as a punchline at the end of the story. This genealogy, as Katharine Sakenfeld writes, bristles with technical problems. She writes that we should look at the important positions which are the round perfect numbers of seven and ten. Seventh is Boaz and tenth is David. Ruth’s position as a near ancestor of David is further underlined.
Frederic Bush: Recent study suggests that genealogies were expressions or mnemonics of how kinship in such societies was expressed. There is some natural telescoping with the important names of the founders being remembered as well as the more recent generations but some names in between have been lost. With this in mind, a case can be made that this is not an insipid anti-climax but a worthy closure which underlines the story’s message. Berlin’s view should be accepted: there is a poetic function of the genealogy as a coda, a story of conclusion that completes the narrative of the story.
Differing genealogies can be in use at the same time: Family inheritance claims might use the Elimelech-Mahlon line, but in the political sphere, the Boaz-David genealogy was vital.

“Not only does the connection with David elevate the story, but the character of the story elevates David”. [A. Berlin]

Questions

At the Town Gate
4:1-12
Assembling the Participants (4:1-2)

Why doesn’t Boaz just knock on the door of the nearer kinsman?
Why does Boaz – and the narrator – not name him? The best translation is something like: Mr So-and-So.

The Transaction (4:3-6)
Tull: Boaz Sets the Trap (3-4); Boaz Springs the Trap (5-6)

Why hasn’t Mr So-and-So come forward to help Naomi before this?
What do you think of Boaz’s tactics?
What is going on exactly? [Please inform all Biblical scholars as they cannot agree – Frederic Bush devotes 40 pages to these four verses!]
Why does Boaz use such crass language about Ruth?

Three different Biblical laws or practices have been cited:
1. Levirate Marriage – but it doesn’t really fit the circumstances and it does not involve land.
2. Next-of-kin/Redeemer – will fit the land transaction but not marriage.
3. The Jubilee Year – this was the year in which all land was returned to its ancestral owners and all slaves were freed. It happened after every 49 years and the land was left fallow for the 50th year.

Declaration of the Decision (4:7-10)

Why does Boaz still refer to Ruth being from Moab?

Witnessing and Blessing (4:11-12)

What do you know of the people referred to in this blessing?

The Household of Boaz
4:13

“In a single verse, Boaz and Ruth are wedded, bedded, and blessed with a son for whose conception God is given credit”. [Patricia Tull]
Does the role of God in the conception remind you of other Biblical stories?
Who is the central figure here?

The Women and Naomi
4:14-17

How does this compare with the interchange between Naomi and the women of Bethlehem in chapter 1?
Particularly as it concerns Ruth?

A Longer Genealogy
4:18-22

Is this an anti-climax to the Book of Ruth?
“Not only does the connection with David elevate the story, but the character of the story elevates David”. [A. Berlin]
Do you agree with this statement?

Comment by Rev. Christopher

Most commentators stress the importance of hesed in the Book of Ruth. It is difficult to give an adequate English translation. It is variously translated as kindness, loyalty, faithfulness or lovingkindness and it incorporates all these connotations if not more. Many of the Psalms proclaim the hesed that God showers on his people.

The Book of Ruth shows hesed working through the main characters of the story.

Katharine Sakenfeld: Ruth and Boaz, and to a lesser extent, Naomi, chooses to act in ways that promote the well-being of others. The praise accorded to Ruth and Boaz generally comes from other characters in the story. Ruth and Boaz display hesed.
Patricia Tull: In the Book of Ruth, humans are not contrasted by their role as friends or enemies but how far they are conduits of hesed.

E.F. Campbell: The three main characters both give and receive. They celebrate the portrayal of “kindness”. “The Ruth story does not represent the style of life which exercises caring responsibility as a forgone conclusion for God’s people. It is portrayed as attainable but elusive”.

It is Frederic Bush who gives the greatest consideration to this theme.
The narrator primarily advances his plot through dialogue. It is through this dialogue that the characters reveal the hesed.
1. The loving loyalty, faithfulness and obedience of Ruth, the Moabitess, expressed in her commitment to her mother-in-law Naomi which transcended religion and nation.
2. The kindness, graciousness and sagacity of Boaz, expressed in his benevolence and his faithfulness to family responsibilities both in marrying Ruth and redeeming the field of Elimelech for Naomi which transcended the claims of self-interest.
3. The loving concern of Naomi for the welfare of her daughter-in-law expressed in her risky scheme to induce Boaz to marry Ruth.
4. God’s gracious provision of fruitfulness for field and womb. Naomi’s life is restored and her old age is provided for reversing the death and emptiness of the early part of the story.
5. This story of hesed was of utmost significance for its denouement with the preservation of the family line that led from Perez through Boaz and Obed to David.

“Thus, the book of Ruth affirms that God often effects his purposes in the world through the ordinary motivations and events of his people – ordinary people like Ruth and Boaz, or like you and me, the ripple of whose lives stir little beyond the pool of their own community – and in particular through their acts of gracious and loving kindness that go beyond the call of duty”. [Frederic Bush]