Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Gospel of Mark on the Good and the Beautiful

I've been struck, for the last two Sundays, that both RCL passages from Mark end with the notion of secrecy. There have been a number of theories about this secrecy, some bordering on the conspiratorial. I think the answer is much simpler than that, and they have to do, at least in the past two weeks, with the completion of the good and the beautiful.

When Jesus cleanses the leper, healing him and sending him to the priest, he asks him very specifically not to tell anyone. But instead, the cleansed leper goes out to proclaim it freely, and Jesus is no longer able to go into a town openly.

Let's begin by saying that this is not an example of evangelism, for two reasons. First, the news this man has to tell is simply of him receiving a benefit. We could only call this a text about evangelism if we thought our gospel was simply about what we get out of a relationship with Jesus. The second reason that this is not evangelism, is that evangelism is never borne out of disobedience, but out of obedience.

But we can confidently say that what Jesus does for the leper is good. It is the revelation not just of what is good, but also of the divine good. Healing, even if it is a simply a temporary relief from sickness, is good. And for the leper, the chance to return to human community, and to be able to be embraced without fear, is very good. But it is not the completion of the good, hence the command to say nothing. Simply, the leper doesn't know the whole story yet. Half the gospel is not the gospel at all.

After the Transfiguration, Peter and James and John are again asked not to tell the story. And as far as we know, they don't. Despite the disciple's inability to understand the meaning of many of Jesus's miracles, in this instance they show that they are at least obedient.

What Peter James and John witnessed was, at least in part, the revelation of divine beauty. Jesus's true form is revealed, and his clothes become dazzlingly white such as no one on earth could bleach them. It is a spectacular moment, when divine beauty is revealed bodily. Even if it is for a short time, divinity is revealed to the three, and it is glorious.

This time the three are asked not to tell anyone until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. This is the clue to the meaning of the secrecy: the story is yet to be completed, and the fullness of the good news is made known in the events that lead up to, and include, the Son of Man rising from the dead. The Transfiguration is not quite a preview of the resurrection. There is more yet to come.

We now come to know what completes the story, and what completes the good and the beautiful. As a result our notions of what is good and beautiful are overturned, or perhaps more accurately, are transformed entirely in their completion. When we know the rest of the story, we see that the good is made complete only in the passion, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. The good is not simply about receiving, but about total self-giving, and the life that comes from that giving. The beautiful is not simply about spiritual and bodily integration, or about the bright and dazzling, but the beautiful includes the disintegration and the blood of the passion and the cross, which are only then completed in the resurrection.

This is the key to the secrecy: telling half the story is not yet the gospel. Telling the whole story does include miraculous healing and the dazzle of divinity. But the whole of the good, and the whole of the beautiful, and as a result the whole of the good news, is only made complete with the passion and the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus.

Only after that do we tell the story of the good and the beautiful. And it is good news indeed.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

My Lenten Series

I'm happy to announce my Lenten series for 2009:

On Thursday evenings at 7:30pm during Lent, the Rev'd Preston Parsons will lead a series called Crazy Monks and Holy Bishops: The Story of the Seven Great Synods, where we will listen to the people and explore the circumstances that led to the essentials of Christian reflection on God, Mary, and worship (among other important things). We will end the evening with Compline.

I can't wait. It's my first real opportunity to teach from the heart at St. Mary Magdalene.  I love this stuff, and I hope that others can find my personal interest contagious.  (I may even use the d-words.)

If you're in Winnipeg, drop in!