Friday, 12 June 2015

Mark: Provoking A Reaction

Click to see the original by Gun Legler
In chapter 1 of Mark we saw Jesus starting his ministry: moving quickly, urgently to tell people good news about God and about his kingdom, and illustrating that in his actions. He called disciples and they followed, he healed people and set them free, and multitudes came out to see him. But as the story unfolds we see other reactions.

Soon the grumbling starts.

Jesus doesn't just heal a paralysed man, he tells him his sins are forgiven: he has been set free of more than just his physical need. The religious leaders see that as blasphemy.

Jesus calls a tax collector - not just a collaborator but also unclean, a sinner under Jewish Law - who follows him, and invites his friends to meet Jesus. The religious people complain.

Jesus' disciples collect grains of wheat as they walk through a field and eat them. It was a Sabbath so the religious leaders object.

Then Jesus heals a man with a withered hand ... on the Sabbath ... in a synagogue! He challenges his critics' toxic views on religious duty, then shows what is right by healing the man in need. Jesus is angry and upset at their callousness; the religious leaders are incandescent and start to conspire with those in power to destroy Jesus.

Jesus and his message provoked reaction, but not always a good reaction. Jesus seems to have set out to bring people's deeper selves to the surface, whether that is a deep need of healing and acceptance, or a deep antagonism to anything which disrupts or challenges a set worldview.

One of the big challenges for any who wish to follow Jesus is how to balance humility with conviction, how to listen respectfully to others whilst challenging what is wrong and sharing hope with those in need, especially with the excluded and the disregarded. Part of doing that, it seems to me, is being aware of who Jesus helped and affirmed and who he challenged.

Jesus consistently reaches out to the excluded and the powerless, those who are despised. He equally consistently attacks those who would exclude, those who would delay healing, and those would highlight their own importance by putting others down.

In today's UK, especially after recent elections, popular attitudes to immigrants and to Muslims spring to mind. In much of the church, although less so perhaps in the UK as a whole, exclusion based on gender and sexuality remains an issue.

By the end of chapter 3, even Jesus’ own family have turned against him, as they say that he's out of his mind, and they come to take him away. Jesus responds by saying that those who follow him are his true family: “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” The rule of God overrides even ties of family.

At the time Mark was writing terrible persecution of Christians in Rome had divided families, both by setting them against one another, and by people having family members murdered. Mark is quoting Jesus's words as comfort to those who are bereaved or estranged: one of the roles of the church, Jesus' body, is to be family to those who have lost their families, to be brother, sister, mother to the lost and the alone. It is not just physical healing that Jesus brought then, and wants to bring now through his followers.

You can find the chapters of Mark I have been talking about on the Bible Gateway: Mark 2 and Mark 3 (in the occasionally idiosyncratic NRSV translation).

What is your reaction to these stories? What impression do they give you of Jesus? How would you feel if you heard and saw these things?

Note: A quick mention of the "unforgivable sin" referred to in Mark 3:28-29, as people sometimes get worried. Imagine you are lost at sea in stormy weather, about to drown, when the air-sea rescue helicopter comes out to rescue you. If you are so convinced that all helicopters are instruments of the devil, out to do you terrible harm, that you desperately and successfully fight off your rescuer, you will drown. So it can be with those whom the Spirit would save.

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