The Minister's Message:
Rev. Patty Lawrence
Tel. (02) 4341 1024
19 January 2020
Bible reference: Mark 2
This chapter of Mark's gospel is busy: forgiving, healing, eating with a tax collector. But also going against some of the tradition of religion. What stood out to me when I read this passage was the back and forth between Jesus and the teachers of the Law of Moses, Pharisees and some people.
Episode 1: a man who cannot walk, is carried upstairs to the roof of the house where Jesus is teaching, by his friends, they lower him through the roof to get to Jesus, and Jesus tells him his sins are forgiven.
Challenge number 1 - only God can forgive sins; basically who do you think you are??!!
And then the man can walk
And people are astonished
I guess we could say Jesus 1; religious leaders nil
Episode 2: Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector,
later Jesus and the disciples eat at Levi's house. The Pharisees are shocked that Jesus is eating with a tax collector, someone who is working for the Roman occupiers - this makes him an outcast
And Jesus replies that healthy people don't need a doctor.
He came to call sinners
Episode 3: question about fasting
Episode 4: question about eating on the Sabbath
As in other parts of the gospels it seems the religious leaders were out to trap Jesus, to show him up as a charlatan, an imposter.
Because for the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, Jesus was an imposter.
The religious leaders were tasked with the job of keeping the faith, of making sure people stayed true to the faith handed down over the centuries and not getting caught up in fads or led astray some a charismatic teacher.
As you see from the interactions recorded by the gospel writers, at least some took their job very seriously.
Jesus challenged the establishment religion.
He challenged the purity code in chapter 1 when he touched the leper
He challenged the debt code when he forgave the sins of the paralysed man.
He challenged the holiness code when he ate with a tax collector
And he challenged the understanding of Sabbath by engaging in civil disobedience. [i]
Jesus challenged the way religion was lived.
I wonder if the end of chapter 2 gives us a way to understand these confrontations, and the way Jesus appears to speak against the law.
"People were not made for the good of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the good of people."
What if instead of saying you are not allowed to work on the sabbath, it was you are allowed to rest, you don't have to work. Your body and brain and spirit need time to be, not only time to work.
What if the law to rest on the Sabbath is not an embargo on helping someone, but encouragement to see yourself and others as more than an economic unit?
To see yourself and others as people.
I wonder what this might look like in general.
What if religion is to help us relate to God, to be aware of God
To know the stories so we see points of connections with our own lives
What if religion is here to help us, not punish us.
Some people write about this chapter as breaking boundaries, and Jesus does break some boundaries, boundaries relating to purity and holiness and who can forgive and the place of the Sabbath, and as he travels and teaches, he breaks some more boundaries and taboos.
What might this all mean for us?
we no longer keep Sabbath in the way the first century Pharisees directed. We cook and wash up and shop and eat out and drive and .....
In all the back and forth challenging of Jesus and his responses, Jesus never tells the religious leaders that they are wrong in the detail of the law they are wrong in prioritising the law over people.
And in the midst of all these challenges Jesus says to Levi, come follow me, and he does.
In chapter 1 Mark described the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and john; he said come follow me, and they left their nets and followed.
Levi is in place ready to collect taxes and Jesus says: come follow me, and Levi leaves and follows Jesus.
The calling, or rather the response, of the disciples always surprises me.
Are they so bored with their lives that anything is an excuse for a break?
Are they expecting great wealth or status?
There is nothing to suggest that Jesus was offering wealth, status or better living conditions than what they had.
Jesus calls us to follow, to live as disciples
Not bound by the law, but freed by the law
Will you follow into the unknown?
[i] Binding the Strong Man, Ched Myers, pp 152-161