October 2015

There and Back

‘There and Back Again’ is the alternate name for ‘The Hobbit’, the fantasy novel by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide acclaim, but has become far better known in recent years after Peter Jackson directed the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and then made the slim volume of the Hobbit into 3 rather long films. I have the boxed set DVDs of both the LOTR and the Hobbit.

The Hobbit purports to tell the tale of how one Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, gets enlisted on an extraordinary adventure by a strange wizard, Gandalf the Grey, with a group of dwarves to the Misty Mountain which is inhabited by a dragon. If you like fantasy novels or films you probably think these are classics. Bilbo, much to his surprise, learns much about the world, and more importantly, about himself as he travels There and Back Again.

We have been reading through Mark’s gospel as our bible reading Sunday by Sunday all this year. One issue when we read a ‘story’ of 10 or so verses is we miss the overall flow of the whole. I recently set aside an hour or so and, with a big mug of freshly brewed coffee read all of Mark. It was good scanning through familiar events and stories and even picking up on a few that are less well known.

However the thing that caught my eye this time through was how often Jesus went ‘There and Back Again’. Specifically, until his journey to Jerusalem and the Easter week events in the last chapters, Jesus is moving from Galilee to the surrounding areas and back every 10 or 12 verses. Frequently this is from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other. Remember that in the first century AD Israel was a patchwork of nationalities and cultural areas. There were only a few areas that were predominantly Jewish, firstly around and south of Jerusalem and secondly on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The town of Capernaum where Jesus was based was part of this Jewish area. Mark records one incident in a predominantly Jewish area and then Jesus and the disciples traveling in a boat across the lake to a Gentile area. And afterwards back to the Jewish area.

Mark has Jesus ministry as a series of events - teaching, healing and/or miracle – firstly to the Jews and then by boat or sometimes on foot to the Gentiles. He ministers, heals and challenges the home crowd and 10 verses later is ‘playing away’. All the time he is showing something new about the world and something new about himself.

In the last months we have been looking how we can better engage with the community of Rayleigh; to serve and be welcoming. We have realised that we can't just play to the home crowd anymore but need to go out. I think we are beginning to follow Jesus example, of going ‘there and back again’, in a continual cycle.

I wonder if we can be the people who engage ‘out there’ and come back to learn and discover the lesson of transformation. Of people being made whole and healed and hearing anew the challenge of following Jesus, there and back again.


October 2015