So Close, But Yet
Today I continue my journey through the New Testament, arriving at Mark 2. There, Jesus has four encounters with religious authorities. In each one we see the disjuncture between how they see things and how Jesus operates.
First, he forgives a man his sins. This shocks the "teachers of the law" (2:6), who smell blasphemy. Second, he dines with "tax collectors and sinners" (2:15), which to his accusers reeks of scandal and inappropriate action. Third, he and his disciples are asked why they do not fast like John's disciples. Finally, he was confronted about his disciples breaking the Sabbath by picking some grain. Jesus cleverly responds: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (2:27).
A chapter of controversies with the leaders of his day, and in it the seeming announcement of a new way forward. That is, in part, what I see here. An incarnated God who can forgive sins is now among them. A God who is not bound by human fears and shortsighted application of traditional rules. Jesus is on a mission of good news, and that means upsetting things a bit on the road to accomplish what is needed.
Jesus' work embraces the tax collector and other undesirables--those who would be looked at with disdain or disgust by those who move in more proper and "uncomplicated" circles. It means realizing that some of our traditions are binding us rather than serving as a blessing. What Jesus is doing here is announcing a new way. A true way.
If you've ever spent any time around...anyone (ourselves included), you know that new ways are not always welcome. As a matter of fact, they are sometimes resisted fiercely. I think, for the most part, that human beings are traditional people. And this makes sense--it is exhausting to have too many new things take place. It is easy--so easy--to relax into comfortable and familiar patterns and paradigms. So when the shifts come, we can really just want to revolt.
The implication in Mark 2 for me is that Jesus is in the right (He is) and that the religious leaders are out of step with what God is doing (they are). So it is easy for us to read this chapter somewhat triumphally and simply say "Wow, Jesus really told them! I'm glad I'm nothing like them." But consider this: for those of us who have been Christians for many years, and especially those of us in religious leadership, which character in this story are we actually more likely to be?
The longer we occupy space in our particular tradition of the Christian faith--especially those of us that lead--the more we can get set in our ways and in our interpretations of who God is. These views can come to diverge from Scripture and the heart of God. They can solidify over time and become for us who God "must be." They can lock us down so much that if even Jesus Himself appeared to us, we would rather question why his ways don't conform to ours instead of just sit at his feet and learn.
For all Christians, but especially those in leadership, these are haunting thoughts. These religious figures in Mark 2--they had the Hebrew Scriptures and may have spent a lot of time in and/or around them. And yet, when the Messiah came, they missed it here because their focus was on their decisions about what God and God's world was like, and not, it seems on the heart of God. May we resist the temptation to give into the same easy rigidity and certainty in our own human conclusions about where God may be leading us.