Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An Inconvenient Jesus

Sorry that I’ve been remiss in blogging of late. I seem to have a bunch of material; I just need to find the time to jot my thoughts down.

Recently I’ve been thinking about how inconvenient being a true follower of Jesus can be. In the book entitled John (the fourth book of the New Testament), Jesus informs us that the way they treated him, our teacher, is an indication of how people will treat Christ followers.

The converse is also true (or should be true) of Christ followers. The way that Christ treated people while he was here on earth should give us clues on how we are to treat people. For those who were hurting Jesus was a healer and we must be healers. For those who were disenfranchised he re-enfranchised people who had been marginalized and displaced. We are called to connect with people who are not connected with Christ and his Church and engage them in a conversation that leads them to a God encounter.

Jesus saves his sharpest criticism for religious people who thought they were spiritually healthy but in actuality were spiritually sick and many were spiritually dead. The third chapter of Mark (the second gospel of the New Testament) is a case in point. Jesus is in Capernaum. This village was the itinerant rabbi’s home base. It is Sabbath and Jesus is in the synagogue (this is a Jewish house of worship). This seems like another ordinary worship day, except that there was a group of people whose only reason for attending the service was not to worship God but rather to see if Jesus did something to offend them. (Sound sneakily suspicious like many Sunday services in churches around the country.)

This group was known as Pharisees. Now the Pharisees where the equivalent today of many of the modern religious right. These folks started off years ago as a wonderful group. They called people back to God and wanted people to be obedient to God’s laws and way of doing things. Like most good things as the years went by this great idea degenerated to more and more lists of rules to make sure that believers stayed on the straight and narrow. The problem was that they added layers upon layers of rules and in the process they codified tradition, raising these traditions to a level with the actual Word and Way of God.

Were these people evil? Or simply misguided? The answer is it depends. Many were well meaning and truly loved God more then life itself (think about a guy named Saul who had a radical transformation on a road to Damascus and eventually was called Paul). Others had misplaced their love for God to love for tradition (think of the Judaizers that Paul dealt with in the Galatian churches).

This account starts off with people already in a fowl mood looking for trouble and Jesus apparently tired of their snarkiness. A man with a withered hand is minding his own business, attending his synogogue but he soon becomes the center of the controversy. Jesus sees the Pharisees watching his every move. Notice this poor guy never asked to be healed but Jesus addresses him and tells him to “stand up in front of everyone.”

From the text it appears that Jesus is busy looking at his opposition and seems to challenge them and their traditions. He asks is it right to do good on the Sabbath or is it better to do evil? I can just imagine Jesus glaring at his critics and daring them to answer. Jesus shames them into facing their willingness to ignore broken people condemned to a live in isolation and defeat. When they hold their peace he heals the man’s hand.

The result is that Jesus detractors join with other enemies (the Herodians – monarchists, an ultra rightwing tradition bound political group) of Jesus and begin to plan his death.

What are some of the lessons we can learn from this narrative?

  • While Pharisees can be sincere they can be sincerely wrong.
  • Traditionalists become rigid in their thinking instead of flexible in dealing with people
  • Traditionalists will die on a mole hill but surrender the mountain
  • Wrong headed Biblical thinking can lead to joining with others who are just wrong.
  • Jesus addresses issues of tradition versus issues that matter to God.
  • Sabbath was made for man to rest and commune with God and people. It was not made for man to conform to the Sabbath.
  • God gets perturbed when we fail to understand his love and share his love for people who are hurting
  • God expects unquestioned obedience
  • God sometimes heals without our asking
  • God’s plan is often different then ours but always better

It’s often inconvenient following Jesus way but it’s always worth it!

O God, help us to be concerned about the people you are concerned with and deal honestly and lovingly with those who oppose you and your will.

Dr Val

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