As part of my Lenten discipline, I have accepted Bishop Gray's invitation (the reading schedule is available here). We started today with the first chapter of Mark. I am using the Orthodox Study Bible (which includes the New King James Version, as well as notes, commentary from the Church Fathers, and beautiful icons).
Reading through Mark 1 this morning, I was struck by some of the Orthodox Study Bible notes. For instance, here is Mark 1:35-38:
Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You." But He said to them, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth."
Here's the study Bible's notes on these verses:
Mark is the only Gospel which gives us a full 24-hour day in Jesus' life, a day built around prayer and ministry. Jesus is the model for both, and He does not separate them. Jesus' priority is prayer to His Father: prayer before service. He goes to a solitary place (v. 35) to be free from distraction, despite the multitudes' need of Him. His ministry come out of His relationship with His Father, not foremost out of people's need. Here He moves along to the next towns (v. 38). He knows His task, and performs it although the crowds clamor around Him.
Holding up the vital importance of "prayer before service" and grounding ministry in relationship with God rather than in people's needs are two things I do well to consciously address during this season of Lent.
I'm also struck by the Orthodox Study Bible's notes on verses 40-45 (the cleansing of a leper). There we read:
As the dialogue between the leper and Jesus demonstrates, Jesus heals from compassion - not from duty or a need to prove Himself, or in order to gather a following. Jesus' authority is comprehensive: (1) in teaching, (2) over demons (vv. 21-28), and (3) over sickness - powerful testimony to His divinity.
This expands and deepens the focus on grounding ministry in prayer and relationship with God by rooting it firmly in selfless compassion rather than (conscious or unconscious) attempts to meet self-centered needs. And this model for ministry is itself grounded in the example and authority of One who is not merely human, but also fully divine.
None of this, of course, is totally new to me. But it's precisely because it is so basic and, in the busyness of everyday life and ministry, so easy to neglect, that it needs to be highlighted again and again. I'm grateful that, taking on the bishop's invitation by using the Orthodox Study Bible, that reminder has come to my attention on the very first day of Lent.