Faith Meets Hostility: Mark 7:24-30

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Continuing our year in Mark’s gospel, we come to one of the most shocking events in Jesus’ life, and an event that likely stood out in the disciples’ minds for how Jesus appears to be mean in this case. While Jesus routinely has harsh words for religious leaders who should know better, this case is different. Jesus chooses to be mean to someone coming asking for His help.

Those of you who have listened for a while or who are familiar with Jesus’ life will likely know what event we are focusing in on in this passage, so let’s dive in and discover what we can learn, and what Jesus is trying to teach us in this event. Our passage and event are found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 7, and we will read from the New International Reader’s Version. Starting in verse 24, Mark tells us that:

24 Jesus went from there to a place near Tyre. He entered a house. He did not want anyone to know where he was. But he could not keep it a secret. 25 Soon a woman heard about him. An evil spirit controlled her little daughter. The woman came to Jesus and fell at his feet. 26 She was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “That was a good reply. You may go. The demon has left your daughter.”

30 So she went home and found her child lying on the bed. And the demon was gone.

In this short event and miracle, Jesus first does something that is very uncharacteristic of Him. We might even call Jesus out for being not politically correct on multiple levels. Not only does Jesus subtly call this woman a dog, but He alludes to her entire race as being lower than that of the Jews.

As I have read the gospels, this event stands out as one of the meanest things Jesus ever does. This event oddly paints Jesus as being unChristlike, if that is even possible.

However, since Jesus is Christ, why might Jesus have insulted this gentile woman like He did? Since this is Jesus, He must have a reason for this cruelty. In at least one other gospel that includes this event, I believe it alluded to this woman following Jesus asking repeatedly for help while Jesus initially ignores her. So not only do we see Jesus ignore this request, but He also insults the requester when finally acknowledging her.

But why? Why does Jesus seem to single out this request and push back in what appears to be a mean way? Could we even call this love?

In this event, I see two big questions that challenge us to look deeper than the surface. Both of these questions would not be possible to ask if Jesus had responded in a more typical fashion. Like the gospel writers share in other parts of the gospel, Jesus was aware of the hearts and minds of those around Him and I believe He sensed He could use this event to teach His followers a couple of lessons.

The first lesson we can learn from this passage is one of the most challenging lessons we face in our lives. This lesson comes from the question: Does your faith persist if it meets resistance or hostility?

While it is never pleasant to think of Jesus being mean or hostile towards someone, we discover through this woman’s persistence that she wouldn’t leave Jesus alone until He had helped her. From what the gospel writers include, I can conclude that nothing Jesus would have done or said would have stopped this woman from persisting in her belief and her request for Jesus’ help. When our faith meets resistance or hostility, will we give up and abandon our faith, or will we continue persisting. We were never promised easy, simple lives, and one reason this might be the case is that an easy life produces only weak faith. Persistence and resistance together strengthen faith, and because of this, our faith can only be strengthened in less than easy environments.

Through Jesus’ resistance to this woman and her request, we see a faith that persists regardless of the obstacles present. This woman is an amazing example for us to model!

The second lesson we see in this passage is one that focuses more on Jesus. While the first lesson teaches us through the woman’s example, the second lesson teaches us through Jesus’ example. While we might look at this event and call Jesus out for being unloving, when we do this, we are met with the question: Is true love based on what you say, or is love based on what you do?

While it is easy to say that both what you say and what you do are important in the discussion of love, if you could only pick one, which would it be? If we look at what Jesus does in this passage and ignore what He says or doesn’t say, we simply see a miracle. Except that we don’t see a miracle directly, but we see Jesus promise the miracle and the woman accepting Jesus’ word.

This leads us to conclude that if we were to define love based on this event, love at its core is more about what we do and less about what we say. While Jesus didn’t walk around looking for people He could be openly mean to, in this event Jesus draws our attention onto the stereotype of the culture that looked down on others, and Jesus challenges us to help other people, even if culture tells us that we should be hostile or mean to them instead.

Jesus came as a Messiah for all humanity, not simply for a single race, religion, or sub-group of people. Jesus came to redeem sinners, and everyone in this world is defined this way regardless of whether you belief in God or whether you believe sin even exists.

As a follower of Jesus, we are called to display Jesus’ love. While this love should also include being kind with our words, it is much more important for us to be kind in our actions. Jesus was clearly kind with what He did in this event, and this was in spite of culture pushing Him to be cruel or mean.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally and purposefully seek God first in your life and choose to show His love to the world around you. Understand that love is more than simply words. Love includes our actions, our kindness, and our stepping out to help others who are from a different social group or social circle. Jesus helped people who were different from Him even if society told Him He should be exclusive, and Jesus challenged His followers to help others like He did.

Also, like the woman, we should be persistent in our faith and not let resistance or hostility change our faith, our hope, or our belief in Jesus.

Continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to grow and strengthen your faith and your relationship with Jesus, and don’t let anyone or anything get in between you and God. God wants a personal relationship with you. For a relationship to be truly personal, it cannot have anyone standing between you and God, or specifically you and Jesus. Intentionally focus on growing your personal relationship with God!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 18: When a gentile woman comes asking for Jesus’ help, discover in Jesus’ response a very unChristlike behavior, and what we can learn from both the woman and Jesus in this very unique event.

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Flashback Episode — A Cultural Cue from a Demon: Luke 8:26-39

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In our last episode, we focused on the trip Jesus takes across the lake and how a severe storm sweeps across the water scaring all the disciples while Jesus slept peacefully. I had not realized the connection between that event and the one we will be focusing in on in this episode, because when we look at how the gospel writers structure this event, the miracle we will be focusing in on in this episode happens when Jesus and the disciples reach land. It is as though Satan did not want Jesus to reach this shore and meet the man who lived there.

But remember, one big theme in all of Jesus’ miracles and ministry is that God is stronger than Satan, and nothing would stop Jesus from making this trip to someone who needed God’s help.

While this miracle is included in three of the four gospels, let’s read it from Luke’s gospel to discover what happened. This miracle is found in Luke, chapter 8, and we will read it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 26, Luke tells us that:

26 [Jesus and His disciples] sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

Let’s pause reading here to focus in on what has just happened. When reading this event, it appears as though Jesus has made a special trip across the lake just to meet this demon possessed man, and from the description Luke gives us, there was no way this man would have gone to Jesus. The legion of demons living inside of him would not have allowed it.

However, I bet this man had friends or relatives who wished he would be made well, and in the absence of a family or friend’s prayer, this man had a Creator who loved him very much.

We discover in this passage that when this man was unable to come to Jesus, Jesus makes the special trip to visit him. When we are unable to come to God, God is more than willing to come to us. While we were actively sinning and rebelling against God, Christ came to this earth. This event displays on a small scale what God did through Jesus for all of humanity and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the miracle itself!

Another theme we’ve looked at previously in this year of miracles, is that we cannot trust what comes from a demon’s mouth. However, it is interesting that we don’t read Jesus telling this demon to be quiet. Perhaps this was because there was no crowd around and no one to misinterpret the demons’ message.

When Jesus met this demon, we discover more details regarding what all the demons might have collectively said if given the chance. This legion of demons acknowledges Jesus’ divinity, and then they make the claim that Jesus would send them into the torturous abyss when given the chance.

What is interesting in my mind is where the demons’ get the idea that Jesus would sentence them to torture if He wanted to. I don’t see any hint of Jesus sentencing any demon who He cast out of a person to a place of torture or to an abyss. This then strongly suggests that this is the devil’s lie in the words that are spoken. Satan likes to mix truth and lies, and when we look for the lie, we need look no further than here. While there is a judgment reserved for Satan and His angels, there is no hint anywhere in scriptures that this judgment happened the moment a person was freed from an evil spirit.

Judgment happened when Jesus faced the cross, and another phase of judgment happens when Jesus returns. Neither of these things had happened at the point we are looking at in this event, and that means that we now see a big piece of the devil’s lie.

Through this legion of demons, we learn of a place of eternal torment given to those who reject God. Does this sound like today’s cultural description of hell?

While Satan and his angels have every right to fear a place like this if it exists, if the only places we see scripture describe a place like this is through the mouths of demons, then the very existence of this type of hell could also be an elaborate lie Satan has used to turn God into a villain. God definitely describes a time of judgment in the Bible, but God’s description of this judgment is one that has an end. God doesn’t ever describe a continual judging or condemning of sinners throughout eternity.

(I will point out here that the Old Testament description of smoke continually rising that is oftentimes used in support of a place like these demons describe in this passage simply describes smoke. Smoke can exist after a flame has been extinguished, and a flame that has finished consuming its fuel will ultimately go out. In other words, Isaiah’s concluding remarks only give evidence that a fire has occurred, but not that there is one that is forever burning.)

However, we have hit a place in this episode where we have run out of time. While there are plenty of other things we could focus in on in this passage, instead of trying to rush it into the last little portion of this episode, let’s wait and focus on the last portion of this event in our next episode.

With that said, as we come to the end of this podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Intentionally seek God first and trust Him to keep you safe throughout eternity. When faced with ideas or theories that contradict God’s character or what we can clearly read in the Bible, choose to believe the Bible over what culture wants to push us to think and believe. Culture jumps between fads. The Bible stands as an unchanging anchor that represents God’s love, His character, and His interest in saving you and me for eternity.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and mature into the person God created you to be. Intentionally study to grow closer to God and take your questions to Him and His word. God is more than happy to meet you in the pages of your Bible.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of Miracles – Episode 18: When Jesus meets a demon-possessed man living outside of society, we discover an amazing idea tucked within a lie that the demon tries to pass off as truth. This lie has even made it all the way into our culture 2,000+ years later.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Our Food and Our Worship: Mark 7:1-23

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As we’ve moved through this year focusing in on Mark’s gospel, we’ve sped through Jesus’ life and through many of the most significant events so far in Jesus’ ministry. In our passage for this event, Jesus is challenged again because of something His disciples don’t do, and in Jesus’ response, we get the picture He was perhaps a little irritated at these religious leaders, but also that Jesus had a higher opinion of God’s law than these religious leaders.

Let’s read this event and see what we can learn. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 7, and we will read it from the Contemporary English Version. Starting in verse 1, Mark tells us:

Some Pharisees and several teachers of the Law of Moses from Jerusalem came and gathered around Jesus. They noticed that some of his disciples ate without first washing their hands.

The Pharisees and many other Jewish people obey the teachings of their ancestors. They always wash their hands in the proper way before eating. None of them will eat anything they buy in the market until it is washed. They also follow a lot of other teachings, such as washing cups, pitchers, and bowls.

The Pharisees and teachers asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples obey what our ancestors taught us to do? Why do they eat without washing their hands?”

Before continuing to discover what Jesus says in response to this, I want to draw our attention onto this question being a spiritual question more than a health question. While the laws given through Moses encompass not only spirituality, but health, legalities, and more, at this point in the Jews history, everything was being given a disproportionate level of spiritual significance.

I will be among the first to say that there is likely spiritual significance in more parts of my life and habits that I even begin to realize. However, with that said, some instructions have less to do with spiritual health directly and more to do with physical health. I don’t know if these disciples did not ever wash their hands, or if these disciples didn’t wash their hands in whatever way was spiritually significant in the minds of these legalistic Jews.

However, Jesus’ answer draws our attention not only on His heart, but also onto a pretty significant spiritual truth as well. Continuing in verse 6:

Jesus replied:

You are nothing but show-offs! The prophet Isaiah was right when he wrote that God had said,

“All of you praise me
    with your words,
but you never really
    think about me.
It is useless for you
    to worship me,
when you teach rules
    made up by humans.”

You disobey God’s commands in order to obey what humans have taught. You are good at rejecting God’s commands so that you can follow your own teachings! 10 Didn’t Moses command you to respect your father and mother? Didn’t he tell you to put to death all who curse their parents? 11 But you let people get by without helping their parents when they should. You let them say that what they own has been offered to God. 12 You won’t let those people help their parents. 13 And you ignore God’s commands in order to follow your own teaching. You do a lot of other things that are just as bad.

14 Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Pay attention and try to understand what I mean. 15-16 The food that you put into your mouth doesn’t make you unclean and unfit to worship God. The bad words that come out of your mouth are what make you unclean.”

17 After Jesus and his disciples had left the crowd and had gone into the house, they asked him what these sayings meant. 18 He answered, “Don’t you know what I am talking about by now? You surely know that the food you put into your mouth cannot make you unclean. 19 It doesn’t go into your heart, but into your stomach, and then out of your body.” By saying this, Jesus meant that all foods were fit to eat.

20 Then Jesus said:

What comes from your heart is what makes you unclean. 21 Out of your heart come evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder, 22 unfaithfulness in marriage, greed, meanness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride, and foolishness. 23 All of these come from your heart, and they are what make you unfit to worship God.

In this lengthy response to this challenge, Jesus calls out the Pharisees and other religious leaders for placing their own rules above God’s direct instructions. While I’m confident that the religious leaders believed both sets of rules were important, in any place where these rules conflicted, they minimized God’s law in place of their customs. While some of what God has said could be seen as unpopular and potentially illegal in our world today, God didn’t share His laws as optional from an eternal perspective.

However, the biggest portion of Jesus’ response comes in contrasting what makes you fit for worship from what is simply a smart thing to do for your health. However, one phrase in this passage stood out to me as we read it. This phrase is found at the end of verse 19: “By saying this, Jesus meant that all foods were fit to eat.

Reading this translation makes me think that all foods are equal, but some of the other translations we regularly pull from frame this phrase better in my mind. Both the New American Standard Bible translation and the New International Version emphasize Jesus’ declaration here that all foods are clean. I can understand why these translators may have chosen to frame this idea as being fit to eat, but it might have been better to say that Jesus simply reframes all foods as spiritually clean.

However, Mark’s gospel is attributing a meaning to Jesus message that I don’t see. Perhaps the original language has a better connection, but Jesus is focused more on spiritual cleanness and fitness for worship and how our food doesn’t change our status or our fitness in God’s eyes. I don’t see Jesus telling us that all foods are now permissible to eat, because history, logic, and any reasonable dietician will tell you that different foods have different health benefits. Some foods are simply better than others, and some types of food should be avoided.

Jesus’ message is that our food doesn’t affect God’s response to our worship. Jesus does not hint or state that all things that go into our mouths are equal from a health perspective.

Instead, Jesus emphasizes that what comes out of our mouths comes from our hearts, and what comes out of our mouths makes us unclean. The things that come out of our mouths reveal our hearts. We could also say that the things we share on social media reveal our hearts as well. In today’s era, our “voice” extends to both what we say and what we write and share. What we choose to communicate to others reveals our heart.

God doesn’t view our online lives and our offline lives as different. God sees everything we do and Jesus tells us here that what we do is an extension of our hearts.

After leaving the crowd and entering the house with the disciples, Jesus reemphasizes the truth that our hearts affect how fit we are to worship God. This also strongly suggests that our worship to God might not be accepted based on the state of our heart.

While it is true that our food affects our health, and our health will ultimately affect our life, which includes our ability to worship, our food does not affect the spiritual state of our heart or God’s love for each of us when we come to Him in worship.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, continue intentionally seeking God first in your life. Don’t let this passage be a license to ignore what you put into your mouth, but let it be a challenge to be extra aware of what comes out of your mouth, and to be extra aware of what you communicate to others, whether this communication uses your vocal cords, your pen, or even your computer, tablet, or phone. What you say and share with others reveals the state of your heart, and the state of your heart reveals how fit you are to worship God.

Also, continue to pray and study the Bible for yourself. I don’t know of any better way to help clean and restore your heart than through heartfelt prayer, and studying God’s truth in the pages of the Bible. These spiritual habits have given men and women a solid spiritual foundation for centuries, these spiritual habits can strengthen our spiritual lives, and these spiritual habits have the power clean our hearts as well. Don’t simply assume the Bible says something because you heard it from a friend or read it on the internet. Choose to study it out for yourself because if for no other reason than your eternity depends on it!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 17: When challenged by some religious leaders about His disciples’ lack of an action, discover How Jesus viewed our food in relation to our spiritual cleanliness. Discover what our food can and cannot do, and what Jesus tells us is important when we come to God to worship.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Avoiding the Prayer Trap: Matthew 8:23-27

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Part of me wonders if Jesus had fun pushing and challenging the disciples’ faith. Up to this point in the miracles we have looked at, Jesus has healed people, cast evil spirits out of people, and in our last episode, we discovered that Jesus raised a dead boy back to life. With all these miraculous events, I believe the disciples were getting more and more confident in Jesus’ God-given ability to help those who were hurting.

However, having a firm grasp of healing and health is one thing. But in our event for this episode, the disciples’ faith is tested on an entirely new level. Also, following this event, the disciples had at least one more reason to be amazed and in awe regarding Jesus.

Let’s read about what happened. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 8, and we will be reading from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 23, Matthew tells us that:

23 Jesus’ disciples went with him as he left in a boat. 24 Suddenly, a severe storm came across the sea. The waves were covering the boat. Yet, Jesus was sleeping.

Let’s pause briefly because what we just read is amazing to me. The last two statements we just read were that waves were covering the boat, and that Jesus was sleeping through it. This wasn’t just a rocky storm, this was a severe storm that could easily end a sailor’s life. While we don’t know if there was any rain with the wind and waves, reading that the waves were covering the boat makes me amazed that Jesus was able to sleep through this.

It would be illogical to think that in this entire event, Jesus didn’t get wet. In my mind’s eye, this passage describes Jesus sleeping through wave after wave as it covers the boat and drenches Him with water. I doubt I could sleep through that, but this is likely what happened. I don’t think there is evidence for boats in that day being like what we have today with a cabin below deck that is shielded from the elements. It is much more likely that Jesus and the disciples were exposed to the wind, waves, and rain if rain was also present.

The first thing in this passage that amazes me is the level of trust and faith Jesus displays in God. Through one of the worst flash storms the lake experiences, Jesus sleeps through it. This could only happen because Jesus had complete trust and faith in God. Jesus knew His live was not going to end at the bottom of the lake, so He knew God would keep Him safe. It’s also likely that Satan was behind this storm in an attempt to stop Jesus from reaching the cross.

Let’s continue reading to discover what happens next. While the wind is raging and the waves continue crashing into the boat, filling it with water, and Jesus continues sleeping, we pick back up in verse 25 where Matthew tells us:

25 So they woke him up, saying, “Lord! Save us! We’re going to die!”

26 Jesus said to them, “Why do you cowards have so little faith?” Then he got up, gave an order to the wind and the sea, and the sea became very calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

As I read this event, I wonder what Jesus is actually challenging the disciples’ faith on. Many of these disciples were experts on the water, and this storm had them scared for their lives. On one hand, Jesus could be challenging them regarding their faith in God’s protection. I’m not sure if the disciples remembered or understood that they had protection because they were with Jesus, and that the Old Testament extended protection to Jesus’ followers that none, except the one who would betray Jesus, would be lost.  

But Jesus could have challenged the disciples’ faith from a different angle. This other angle challenges the disciples’ faith regarding the idea that they could challenge the wind and waves in Jesus’ name to be still. While Jesus had not sent them out in pairs to preach and heal others yet, the disciples did have enough evidence to have at least tried to ask God to help them.

I wonder what would have happened if one of the disciples had tried to challenge the wind and waves in Jesus’ name. Would that have displayed enough faith for a miracle? Or I wonder what would have happened if the disciples had cried out to God to calm the storm for them. Would God have answered the disciples’ prayer while Jesus was sleeping?

While we can only speculate about what these alternate outcomes might have been in the disciples’ case, we can learn from these alternate paths when we face challenges and problems in our own lives. When faced with something challenging or impossible, we can lose heart and give up, or we can cry out to God for help!

However, in this event, we discover how the disciples fall into a trap that we are capable of falling into, even if their situation is a little different from ours. The disciples fall into the trap in this event believing someone else has a better connection to God than they did, and more specifically, that God is more willing to answer this other person’s request than He would be if they asked it.

While in the disciples’ case, this Someone is Jesus, and Jesus does have an excellent connection with the Father. However, I don’t believe for an instant that God the Father would only answer Jesus’ prayers while Jesus’ best friends on earth were in trouble. Jesus did have a better connection with God than the disciples did, but that does not mean that God would be less willing to answer their prayers or cries for help.

In our own lives, we might not have as great of a relationship with Jesus as we see other people having. We might even look back and wish we lived during the first century and could have walked and talked with Jesus personally. However, while there is always the temptation to think that someone else is better connected with God than we are, we should never let this fear affect our faith that God loves us and that He really does want to answer our prayers.

It is easy to be tempted that someone else’s prayers are more valuable than your own, but this temptation is a lie from Satan. God loves you and He wants to help you when you ask for help. While God answers prayers from a different perspective than we are in, God’s goal is saving us for eternity; even if that means that the answer He gives us in this instant doesn’t appear to be helpful.

We can trust that God has our best, eternal interests in mind, and that He is more than willing to help us when we pray to Him!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place your hope, faith, trust, and belief in Him. Know that God loves you and that He is more than willing to listen and answer your prayers. Never doubt God’s love or believe Satan’s lie than another person’s prayers are more valuable than yours are. God loves you and He wants a close relationship with you personally!

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow personally closer to God and to learn what He wants to teach you. While a pastor, author, speaker, or even a podcaster can give you ideas to think about, be sure to filter everything through what you read in the pages of God’s Word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of Miracles – Episode 17: While Jesus and the disciples are crossing the lake, a storm picks up. Not only to the disciples get to witness an amazing miracle, Jesus also challenges them on their lack of faith. Discover what might have been a better response from the disciples, and how they could have displayed greater faith in this situation.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.