If you’re new to this series, you can read the introduction here.
Seeing the inquisitive, somewhat skeptical expression on Yiftach’s face, Miryam spoke up. “Do you remember the story of Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum? When the unclean spirit confronted him?” “Yes,” responded Yiftach. “Well, we just heard that those in the boat with Jesus asked, ‘Who is this?’ But the unclean spirit said, ‘I know who you are – the Holy One of G_d!’ And Jesus rebuked the spirit just as he rebuked the wind and the sea, saying the same thing to both, ‘Be still.’ Both the spirit and the sea listened to Jesus, and those looking on – seeing this – responded with amazement and fear.” She paused. “Jesus was always inviting us to listen, especially when he told parables. The spirit and the sea listened – and acknowledged his authority.” Miryam lifted her gaze to take in the whole gathering. “The question for us is always whether we will do likewise.”
Yiftach looked thoughtful as he addressed Mark. “You said that when Peter told this story he talked about how slow he was to understand. Then you said the church still struggles with this. But it seems like you all,” he gestured around the courtyard, “have acknowledged Jesus’ authority, and believe he is the Holy One of G_d.” Mark nodded. “Indeed. But that is not what Peter was referring to. Your friend picked up on that, before he left.” Yiftach looked confused. Mark continued.
“Your friend asked why Jesus would want to travel to the gentile side of Galilee. That was not the only time he sent the disciples on the trip from the Jewish shore to the gentile shore. And on both occasions, storms blew up quickly, threatening to swamp their boat. That was the lesson Peter said he failed to understand. That was what he came to understand was central to Jesus’ teaching. That the story of G_d’s people was expanding beyond Israel to encompass the gentiles – those who are ‘not us’. And those harrowing sea journeys were supposed to prepare the disciples – and the future kingdom community – for the challenges of overcoming the rigid social divisions that exist between us.”
“From the very beginning, people questioned whether the gentiles could truly be part of G_d’s people. And we encountered all manner of social hostility as we attempted the integration Jesus called us to – hostility that at times felt overwhelming, like those waves must have felt to the disciples in that small fishing boat. But just as Jesus spoke and silenced the waves, he continues to speak to silence the winds of opposition. Especially when that opposition does not come from outside the kingdom community, but from within.”
Yiftach looked around the ecclesia. “So, groups like this elsewhere are mixed? Jews and gentiles breaking bread together?” “Yes,” said Mark. “Although in some cities, our own people rejected the Gospel, and so the churches there are entirely gentile.” Yiftach turned to look in the direction of the Roman encampment outside the city. “And those gentiles out there. Would you break bread with them?” At these words, some members of the ecclesia shifted uncomfortably. Others leaned in, eager to hear how Mark would respond.
“With those whose bodies your friend would gladly sheathe his sword in? And who some gathered here might do the same to?” At this, a few peoples’ gaze dropped to the ground. “What do you think?” Yiftach’s features hardened. “Break bread with the soldiers of Rome? With the legions that occupy our homeland, who even now are just waiting for the word to besiege the holy City of David? What do I think? I think it’s one thing to ask a man to abandon the way of violence. It’s another thing entirely to ask him to sit at table with his enemies.”
“It is indeed, my young friend, it is indeed. But that is the way of Jesus. Perhaps one way we can begin to abandon the way of violence is to sit at table with our enemy. To break bread with those not like us. To refuse to hate.” Yiftach shook his head. “I do not believe those troops out there would accept your invitation. And I can’t imagine Jesus ever had any dealings with the legion.”
“Well,” said Mark, “there was this one time…”