Matthew, Luke, and John all make the twelve disciples of Jesus the good guys in the Biblical story. Next to Jesus, they are the most positive characters – and we can understand why. What people knew about Jesus came from what the apostles had remembered and told. So it was natural to make them the heroes of the story. Mark, then, is a little surprising. In Mark’s gospel – the twelve almost never do anything right. They constantly misunderstand Jesus; they never come to grips with who he is or what he intends to do. They have no faith; they are afraid; when he is arrested, they leave him all alone to face his trial and death by himself.
No, in Mark, the twelve are hardly heroes. But there are others, mostly anonymous people, little people, who appear for only one short episode – just long enough for them to do something wonderful – so Jesus can praise them for what they have done. Quickly – there is a woman in chapter five…she had been continually sick for 12 years, seeking help from physicians – spending her savings trying to get better – but getting no help at all. Didn’t have a family? Was she old or young? Was she wealthy or poor? We don’t know – her face is covered with shadows – all we can see is her need. The crisis comes when she touches Jesus in the crowd. No big deal to us, but it would have been then. The woman’s disease made her unclean, and if she touched anyone else, she would make them unclean also – she was committing a religious offense. But wonder of wonders – she touches him – she is healed. She knew it instantly by the way she felt on the inside. Jesus stopped and demanded for the person who touched him to step forward. What would he do to her? Would he condemn her for making him unclean? She does a brave thing…with others watching she steps forward and states: “I did it.” Everyone surely gasped in disbelief that someone in her condition would touch Jesus…but Jesus smiled and said, “Daughter, it was your faith that healed you…Go in peace.” Here is a hero of faith: faith as courage. Sometimes we must step forward and tell the truth in front of a hostile crowd.
Quickly, another. We don’t know her name, either, but we do know she was a widow who probably lived alone. Lived in Jerusalem, the holy city, and once when Jesus was there he noticed her. Jesus and the boys were sitting in a shady place in the Temple courts, talking, as people came up to pay their tithes to the Temple. There were funnel sort of contraptions into which people threw their money. Wealthy people chunked in lots of coins, making a satisfying rattle; then this poor widow threw in two coins, two of the smallest coins…Here comes the surprising part – Jesus said she had given more than anyone else – since she had given all she had. Here’s a poor woman with no means of support, no check coming in, no family – and she gave everything she had to God. That’s faith, faith expressed as generosity.
Just one more: another anonymous woman – found in chapter 14. Jesus – just a few days from his death – and he had told the disciples over and over what was going to happen – the disciples still did not get it. He looked at Peter – stating it – “Peter said, Lord, it will never happen.” He told James and John, they answered – “Well, Lord when you get into your kingdom – can we sit on either side of your throne?” Just before the boys were sitting down to a nice dinner – they were all stretched out on cushions – leaning on their elbows – eating – and a woman burst into the room – went straight to Jesus, broke a flask of very expensive perfume on Jesus’ head. It was like she had thrown tear gas in the room – the aroma made everyone’s eyes water. When the coughing and sneezing died down – Jesus says that finally somebody understood that he was going to die – and tried to do something nice about it. This nameless woman in Mark believes him and did what she could to prepare him for his death. That’s faith in action.
Heroes of faith. We will gather this Sunday around the Table and remember the Heroes of Faith who have died since last All Saints Day. As you come to the Table this Sunday, you have the privilege to also generously offer your commitment to God for 2018. (You will bring your morning offering, your Pledge Card forward with you.)
I look forward to seeing each of you for this glorious day of remembering and committing our lives more fully in gift giving and service to God.