Wednesday, April 02, 2008

New Blog Location

It is official now. I am currently posting at my new blog with

Read it here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

New Blog Location

I have shifted to another site and will begin blogging anew very soon at the new location. Join me there.

John Mark

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Christian Affirmation

Though I have not yet seen it, I understand that the "Christian Affirmation" of last May 2006 has been republished as a printed advertisement in the Christian Chronicle of July 2007.

I hope it is not true though I fear it is. I am surprised--very surprised--to hear that the "affirmation" has been republished. I had no idea it would be published again, and if I had know it were to be, I would have removed my name from the signatories.

I thought it served a good purpose the first time around, and I gave my reasons for that on my blog (indeed, started my blog for the reason of contributing to the discussion--but have not done much with it since as some are wont to point out to me). You can read those reasons at May 13 and May 14 in 2005. I am quite disappointed that it has appeared again. Once was sufficient to make the point, but a continual reappearance that fosters disunity (it seems to me) is not the intent with which I signed the affirmation in the first place.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jesus Shakes His Head in Disappointment

"In the splendid palace chapel a stately court preacher, the cultivated public's elite, advances before an elite circle of fashionable and cultivated people and preaches emotionally on the text of the Apostle, 'God chose the lowly and despised'--and nobody laughs."

Soren Kierkegaard

And Luke's Jesus shakes his head in utter disappointment as the rich young rulers continue to serve themselves instead of the poor.

Thanks to my good friend Gary Holloway for alerting me to this gem of a quote which appears in Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Soren Kierkegaard, ed. Charles Moore (Orbis Books, 2003), p. xix.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Zacchaeus—Epitome of Luke’s Story

The journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel begins in 9:51 and it ends in 19:11. The last story Luke tells on that journey is the Zacchaeus episode (Luke 19:10). Its placement at the end of the journey gives Luke the occasion to summarize the ministry of Jesus in the person of Zacchaeus.

• Jesus takes the initiative to include outsiders like the tax collector Zacchaeus.
• Jesus declares his mission to seek and save the lost.
• Jesus sits at table with Zacchaeus the “sinner.”
• Zacchaeus gives half of his possessions to the poor.
• The mission of salvation is social as well as individual.
• Repentance means a lifestyle change (discipleship).

All of these themes have connections with Jesus’ ministry beginning in Luke 4. The themes of poverty (poor), discipleship, mission, social transformation, inclusion of the outsiders are integral to Luke’s portrayal of the ministry of Jesus. It stands in continuity with some stories (like the calling of Levi in Luke 5) but in contrast with other stories (like the "Rich Young Ruler" in Luke 18).

Meditating on the Zaccaheus story in the context of Luke helps us sense the undertow, meaning and significance of the ministry of Jesus…and, consequently, the mission of the church in the contemporary world.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Apologies to Readers

I had not posted on my blog since August till today. I apologize.

I have been in Europe since September 7 till the end of December, and then with the holidays and school beginning....well, I do have some excuses though they are, perhaps, not sufficient.

In any event, I will try to be more attentive though I cannot make any promises. I still have many projects on the table--several journal articles due soon, a book manuscript due soon, and working on another collaborative project with thirteen other writers.

Nevertheless, it is good to be back in the saddle...for a while.


John Mark

Luke is Still on My Mind

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. Jesus wanted to save Zacchaeus. The correlation between these two is hidden in our English translations of the text. Luke uses the same verb to describe their mission—Zacchaeus sought to see Jesus and Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:2, 10). This language brackets the theological significance of the Zacchaeus story.

Text: Luke 19:1-10

The component parts of the story, so familiar to Bible students from their childhood, give the seeking language their significance.

• Zacchaeus is not only a tax collector, but he supervises other tax collectors (he is the chief, or “ruling” (archi-), tax collector.
• Zacchaeus is wealthy and probably gained this wealth in questionable ways—he at least gained his wealth through complicity with the pagan Roman oppressors.
• Zacchaeus is regarded by his neighbors as a “sinner” and thus excluded from the community of the righteous (and his name is a shortened form of Zechariah which means “righteous one”).
• Zacchaeus is an outsider to the children of Abraham—politically, religiously, socially.

But he wants (seeks) to see Jesus. He goes to embarrassing lengths to fulfill his desire. He runs ahead of the crowd—he is determined and eager. Imagine a short, wealthy and politically-connected man climbing a tree to see this prophet passing through Jericho. It is a humorous picture and has been the subject of jokes for almost 2000 years. Do you think he tried to hide himself behind the evergreen branches of that small sycamore tree? Perhaps he was spotted—and mocked—by others.

But he wants (seeks) to see Jesus. No doubt he has heard about Jesus, but what he has heard? Perhaps he heard that Jesus was a friend of tax collectors; maybe even that one of his disciples was a former tax collector himself. It seems obvious that Luke wants us to hear this story in the context of Jesus previous ministry. As readers, we know Jesus is Zacchaeus’ friend, but Zacchaeus is uncertain.

Jesus wants (seeks) to see (save) Zacchaeus. Indeed, he must go to his house today. He initiates contact. He offers the invitation—though it is a self-invite to Zacchaeus’ home. Jesus crosses the boundary that shocks everyone else. He will gladly enjoy the hospitality of a sinner because his mission is to “seek and to save the lost.” It is the nature of his ministry to cross boundaries—it is demanded by his identity and his mission. This is who Jesus is.

Others, however, “see” something else. Zacchaeus sees the grace of Jesus. Jesus sees the need of Zacchaeus. But the crowd (not just the leaders) “see” something different. They are scandalized by Jesus’ self-invitation. They want to distance themselves from this act of grace. Zacchaeus is undeserving; he is a “sinner.” The crowd that crowded the streets to “see” Jesus did not know him and what they “saw” appalled them. They were shocked by what they saw when they actually expected something else.

Do we really want to “see” Jesus? To see Jesus is to be transformed, changed. To see Jesus is to repent and act in penitent ways. It means that we regard our wealth as secondary to the experience of eating with Jesus. It means we share our wealth with the poor. It means we make amends to those we have wronged or offended. It means we eat with those whom we would otherwise avoid. It means we become seekers of others—especially outsiders—just as Jesus sought out Zacchaeus. To “see” Jesus is to become Jesus and to act graciously toward those others would reject.

This changed is highlighted in the text, though hidden by the NIV. Indeed, Luke uses a form of the verb “to see” to highlight it. “Behold,” Luke writes, when he introduces Zacchaeus in verse 2, and then “Behold,” Zacchaeus announces, in verse 8 when the penitent sinner declares his commitment to discipleship. “Behold the sinner” and “Behold the change” is the effect of Luke’s language.

Do we really want to “be Jesus” in the world? Do we really want to change and experience the discomfort of discipleship? Perhaps we are too comfortable with who we are and where we are. To follow Jesus and to be Jesus makes radical demands upon us. Some are not willing to follow (“the rich young ruler,” for example). But Zacchaeus is willing because he sees his own faults and hears the grace in the invitation of Jesus.

Do we really want to “see” Jesus? To see him is to see our own failures, but to see him is also to experience his grace. If we truly “see” Jesus, then we hear the gracious invitation to follow him, embrace his mission to outsiders in the world, and embody his identity in our own lives. Our vision of Jesus becomes our vision for meaningful life.