There are few things as fun as reading through the story of Jesus with a group of people for their first time. When you’ve been part of the church for a long time, as I have, there is so much we take for granted. Things that seem obvious or commonplace to us still surprise and delight a new hearer.
In the last couple months I’ve started reading through Mark’s account of the Jesus story with two different families. One family (husband, wife, son, and daughter all Catholic) lives just a few doors down from us. Katie, Jake, and Jaclyn have all been a part of the study as well. The other family (husband is Christian, wife, daughter and nephew are Catholic) lives about a 20-minute walk away. Chari, one of the Peruvian Christians we meet with, has been coming with me to their house to read Mark together.
hen we have a relationship in place, and there’s interest in the Bible, God, faith, religion, etc. we like to start in Mark. Mark keeps it short, filled with action, and structures the story around the question, “Who is Jesus?” Those of you who have been following Team Arequipa for a while know that starting with Mark isn’t an innovation (When is your book coming out, Greg?). I do prefer reading with a family or small group, as opposed to studying together one-on-one, because it’s important to experience Jesus collectively. Incidentally, a small group committed to learning together to follow Jesus looks an awful lot like a seedling house church :).
There are three things that have surprised me so far as we’ve read through Mark with these Peruvians.
- The Law. When Jesus talks about the law, most of us know that he’s talking about the Jewish Torah. We may not know the Torah backwards and forwards as Jesus did, but we know what he’s talking about, what he’s fulfilling. So when I asked “What law is Jesus talking about?” and got some blank stares, a shrug, and “The Roman law?” as a guess, I smiled and thought—that’s a pretty good guess. And it made room for conversation about why the Jewish law was so important to Jesus and why the Pharisee’s had their collective panties in a wad.
- Jesus’s Siblings. To those of us of the Restoration Movement tradition (think, churches of Christ, etc.) thinking of Jesus having brothers and sisters isn’t a big deal. You might even know some of their names as good Bible trivia. In a Catholic context, however, this is very surprising news. And that Jesus’s mother and brothers didn’t start off with much faith in Jesus is all the more shocking. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and some branches within the Protestant tradition believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity. It’s a pretty interesting teaching, if you take the time to think about it.
- Lobster. We know all about John the Baptist, proclaiming a message in the wilderness, looking extra prophet-like, what with his camel’s hair clothes, leather belt, and diet of wild honey and…lobster? This was a funny one. When I realized the misunderstanding, I had to look up the Spanish word “langosta” to realize that it can be translated both as lobster and as locust. But since locusts aren’t very common, and definitely not part of the Arequipa typical cuisine, it was way easier to understand John was eating delicious lobster (Arequipeños love crayfish and shrimp, so they appreciated John’s good taste). And so I laughed at the image of John, finishing up a sermon, and sitting down at the Lobster Shack with his nutcrackers, dish of butter, and replicating a Maine accent to the best of his abilities.
These are just three examples of questions raised when hearing the Jesus story with fresh ears. I believe with all that I am that when people come closer to Jesus, things change. Commit to reading Mark with someone, and you’ll realize that we all experience Jesus slightly differently, even if that someone is very similar to ourselves. We’ll also be amazed by Jesus’s capacity to surprise, clash, and delight, all through his call to follow him.
Please pray for these two families. We’re a little over halfway through Mark with one family, and just getting started with the other. Pray that Jesus’s call to follow him and participate in this new reality he inaugurated will be heard—even two thousand years later and thousands of miles away.