Mark 3:13-19

September 18, 2019

He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.

So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Mark 3:13-19

Let’s notice the obvious stuff going on here…

Jesus goes up on a mountain (like Moses did.)

Jesus “called to him those whom he wanted” (like God called Moses, assuring him that Aaron would be along to help him.)

Jesus appointed twelve (like the twelve tribes of Israel.)

He names them “apostles” which means “sent out ones.”

He says these twelve would both be with him (a close community) and be sent out (to touch the wider community.)

They would use words (proclaim the message) and they would perform actions which would bring those words to life (cast out demons.)

And then we get the names. Some we recognize and some we think “I don’t think I ever heard of Thaddaeus before….” And always we are surprised to see that Judas Iscariot made the cut given his ultimate role in betraying Jesus. Quite the cast of characters.

When you were baptized, your name was linked to God’s name. You were marked. You were called. You were set aside and you were sent out. YOU are the apostles sent into the world today. Sure, Peter is a big Christian name….but you will touch the lives of dozens of people today in and through your daily work that Peter can’t. Because Peter is dead but you remain alive in Christ!

YOU are the one given the responsibility today to use your words in assuring people they are worthy of God’s love and capable of affecting the world toward justice and wholeness.

YOU are not an accident or a mistake. God needed you in the world to be you in the world and today I invite you to see yourself the latest in the long list of disciples that Mark began and is still being added to in our age.

YOU are the one and NOW is the time. Claim it. Own it. Act like it. Be it.

Let us pray: Sometimes Lord we can’t help but think that you are either a little crazy or maybe a little sloppy. Surely you could have done better than us. Peter, we get, but Judas? But me? But people I always disagree with? They are on the team too? Yes, Lord, we know you have called us into your mystical body. May we be ambassadors of your love sent into your world today.

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Mark 3:7-12

September 18, 2019

Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.

Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” But he sternly ordered them not to make him known. Mark 3:7-12

Maybe you learn a lot about a leader by looking more closely at who follows them…

The Pharisees left a worship service and looked for some co-conspirators to plot the death of Jesus.

Jesus left with his friends and a huge crowd of people from all over the place. Including the sick and the outcast.

It is interesting that the Pharisees and the unclean spirits both saw Jesus as a threat. One because they thought Jesus was a charlatan and the other because they saw that he wasn’t.

And those huge crowds? Who did they think they were following? What were they looking for?

We imagine those huge crowds following Jesus and we see in our minds’ eye the crowds of screaming fans at rock concerts, sporting events, movie premieres. What is that about? Why do we continue to see actors and athletes and musicians as larger than life heroes worthy of worship and admiration? Are we that eager to escape the reality of our lives that we dive ever deeper into the unreality of entertainment?

They all exist to sell stuff. Not that there’s anything wrong about that but let’s be clear: Take away advertising and commercials and ticket sales and monthly subscriptions and it would all come crashing down. Just follow the money.

It is interesting also that we so quickly associate money with “value” as easily as we do with “cost”. If we connect value and money, what does it say about us that the head coach of a state college football team likely makes much more money than the school’s teachers or the school’s president or the state’s governor?

The crowds followed Jesus because he gave them hope. Hope that he could help them. Hope that he could make life better for them. They followed Jesus because of what they could get from him. Even if what they could get would just be the feeling of hope, the exhilaration of being swept up with the rest of the crowd.

Because that is also the power of our cult of celebrity. People gather around celebrities and, in their gathering, they experience a powerful sense of community, for good or ill. They feel connected. It really is a liminal, almost spiritual, experience to sit in the crowd when the performer on the stage is really “working it.” But it is also empty. Illusory. And then you go home. You hit the bathroom, then the bed, and you get up the next morning for school or work. Real life.

Jesus tells the unclean spirits not to tell anyone what they know. There will come a time for that but that time is yet to come. Maybe Jesus doesn’t want to be associated with a “celebrity cult.” Maybe Jesus doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea – he doesn’t want fans who show up to get what they want from him, he wants followers who will do what he does through them. That’s not the same thing. It might not draw a crowd but it could change the world for the better.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, selfishness dogs us. Self-centeredness betrays us. We are prone to gravitate toward whatever promises to give us what we want, when we want it. We are far more likely to remember you as Savior than to obey your call to us to be servants. Deliver us from the cult of celebrity and drive us toward real community. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 3:7-12

September 18, 2019

Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.

Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” But he sternly ordered them not to make him known. Mark 3:7-12

Maybe you learn a lot about a leader by looking more closely at who follows them…

The Pharisees left a worship service and looked for some co-conspirators to plot the death of Jesus.

Jesus left with his friends and a huge crowd of people from all over the place. Including the sick and the outcast.

It is interesting that the Pharisees and the unclean spirits both saw Jesus as a threat. One because they thought Jesus was a charlatan and the other because they saw that he wasn’t.

And those huge crowds? Who did they think they were following? What were they looking for?

We imagine those huge crowds following Jesus and we see in our minds’ eye the crowds of screaming fans at rock concerts, sporting events, movie premieres. What is that about? Why do we continue to see actors and athletes and musicians as larger than life heroes worthy of worship and admiration? Are we that eager to escape the reality of our lives that we dive ever deeper into the unreality of entertainment?

They all exist to sell stuff. Not that there’s anything wrong about that but let’s be clear: Take away advertising and commercials and ticket sales and monthly subscriptions and it would all come crashing down. Just follow the money.

It is interesting also that we so quickly associate money with “value” as easily as we do with “cost”. If we connect value and money, what does it say about us that the head coach of a state college football team likely makes much more money than the school’s teachers or the school’s president or the state’s governor?

The crowds followed Jesus because he gave them hope. Hope that he could help them. Hope that he could make life better for them. They followed Jesus because of what they could get from him. Even if what they could get would just be the feeling of hope, the exhilaration of being swept up with the rest of the crowd.

Because that is also the power of our cult of celebrity. People gather around celebrities and, in their gathering, they experience a powerful sense of community, for good or ill. They feel connected. It really is a liminal, almost spiritual, experience to sit in the crowd when the performer on the stage is really “working it.” But it is also empty. Illusory. And then you go home. You hit the bathroom, then the bed, and you get up the next morning for school or work. Real life.

Jesus tells the unclean spirits not to tell anyone what they know. There will come a time for that but that time is yet to come. Maybe Jesus doesn’t want to be associated with a “celebrity cult.” Maybe Jesus doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea – he doesn’t want fans who show up to get what they want from him, he wants followers who will do what he does through them. That’s not the same thing. It might not draw a crowd but it could change the world for the better.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, selfishness dogs us. Self-centeredness betrays us. We are prone to gravitate toward whatever promises to give us what we want, when we want it. We are far more likely to remember you as Savior than to obey your call to us to be servants. Deliver us from the cult of celebrity and drive us toward real community. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 3:1-6

September 17, 2019

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.”

Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Mark 3:1-6

Suppose you are a Pharisee. You are part of the Jewish fundamentalist movement. You are a real back to the Bible kind of person. Unlike those Sadducee priests you truly despise, who have sold their souls to the Romans so they can enrich themselves from the temple treasury, you see yourselves as a purifying movement for the good of the people.

You are a reformer.  You value all of the ancient writings, not just the Torah. You “know your Bible” through and through. You believe you are quite loving in your interpretation of God’s words.

You are well aware that there is a man with a deformed hand among you in your Sabbath worship. You know what it says in Leviticus 21 about those who aren’t welcome in the tabernacle: For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.” You might even feel good about yourself for letting one of “those people” join you.

Then Jesus shows up. There he is again. You’ve heard about him. He and his stinky fisherman friends don’t know enough to stay away from obvious “people in sin.” He doesn’t respect God’s word. But he is developing a following amongst the people and that is threatening to you so you watch him closely. You just know he is going to do something wrong. And he does.

He heals the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath!!!!!

And you think that is such a bad thing that you leave the group and start plotting how you can kill him and get him out of the way.

Is it possible? Can it be true? Can it really happen that people with a deep and abiding faith in God, who know their Bible through and through, can end up utterly blind to the healing, liberating action of God in the lives of those they deem deformed and unclean?

What the Pharisees missed was that Jesus didn’t show up just to heal a guy’s hand, he showed up to heal a community’s broken faith, including the broken faith of the Pharisees who had locked God into a little box they controlled.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, may we always put people first and may we always be open to your healing power. The power than can open hearts and minds and move us from certainty to trust. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 2:23-28

September 16, 2019

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.

The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” Mark 2:23-28

Yeah, but that was different.” We’ve all heard that one. We’ve all said it. Back us into the corner and we’re bound to get defensive. “Yeah, but that was different.” You can almost hear the Pharisees saying that to Jesus. If not saying it, you know that is what they are thinking.

Jesus is right. David did get the holy bread reserved in the tabernacle for his troops. Why? They were hungry. You can read the story yourself in 1 Samuel 21. And the Pharisees would have been right in saying “Yeah, but that was different” – it was different. What David did was far worse than the disciples plucking a little roadside snack as they walked.

Technically, the Pharisees were also right. Harvesting grain was forbidden on the sabbath. (Not to mention theft from whomever owned the field.) Still Jesus challenged them. As Jesus saw it, the problem wasn’t that the disciples broke the rules, the problem lay in how the Pharisees had come to applying the rules. They had turned the rules into something they were never supposed to be.

The Sabbath echoed the creation story where God rested on the 7th day – and therefore commanded – for their own good! – that people also set aside one day of rest per week. Here is where I appreciate a common sense understanding of the first three commandments.

1 – You shall have no other gods before me. “You’re going to have a god, everyone does. Don’t waste your time on the wrong one.”

2 – You shall not take God’s name in vain. “Giving you my name is like giving you my phone number so that you can get in touch with me. Use my name, don’t abuse it.”

3 – Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. “Set aside a day for rest, you need it, and while you’re resting, I’d like to have a word with you. Spend some of that rest time hanging out with me and a few other people.”

Jesus challenges the Pharisees to reconsider how they understand the sabbath – not as a constrictive code but as a gift for busy people. AND he lets the Pharisees know that they aren’t the ones making the rules, God is.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, as we begin another week of busyness at home, at school, and at work, we pray for opportunities to give it our best, to use our gifts to the fullest. And when the work is over, we thank you for inviting us to a day of rest. You create us, may we be mindful of the ways that you recreate us, including gathering us for worship. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 2:21-22

September 13, 2019

‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’ Mark 2:21-22

The first weird thing about this text is the number of people who don’t know the first thing about sewing patches on to anything. When I was growing up, patches on pants were as normal as holes in tennis shoes. I always had stuff that needed to be patched and my mom always kept a bag of pieces of old denim to be repurposed for new respectability. It seems that ended with my generation.

As for wineskins…isn’t that what snow skiers use up on the mountain?

My point – things change. What is normal and understandable in one age becomes strange and esoteric in another. Things change.

When Jesus spoke of patches and wineskins he was reaching into a world of common sense that his hearers immediately understood. He was talking about change. He was talking about something new entering into the world that could not be contained by the world remaining the same. Jesus is birthing something new that will not fit in the old world and the old ways of understanding God.

I’m reminded here again of a talk that I heard given by a specialist in addictive illnesses. He was talking about the family dynamics involved in helping an addict stay sober. He said that a family is like a jig saw puzzle. Everyone is a piece and they all fit together nicely. But when one person seeks fundamental change in their lives – like getting sober – their “piece” changes.

His warning was that, if the other family members didn’t also work on changes in their own behaviors, their own understandings, then their own pieces would not change. And that when their loved one re-entered the family system, and no longer fit like they used to, the rest of the family would unconsciously conspire to sabotage their recovery. They would slide back into the old, familiar, ways of being. Deathly though it is.

God’s love for all people; God’s plan for people living in peace, with justice; the simple concept of “enough for all.” These are revolutionary ideas in the world. They are new wine and new patches. When they show up, they give rise to what Paul called “the whole creation groaning in travail” as the new world is birthed among us.

How long is the list of the changes that bring tension into our lives these days? Racial justice and reparations. Embracing the diversity of human experiences of gender and sexuality. Discovering ways for people of diverse cultures to live in cooperation and mutual respect. Religious pluralism. Gun violence. Suicide. Addictions. Sweeping changes in technology. An increasing global economy.

Things change. But human nature doesn’t change very much. Some will welcome and embrace the new wine that Jesus brings. Others will reject it. Some will say “we’ve never done it this way before” even when we all know full well that history is far more cyclical than linear and there is nothing new under the sun.

Except for God. The One who makes all things new.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we expect the earth beneath us to be stable. We want normalcy. We want peace and quiet far more than peace and justice. But you are our Healer and sometimes the emotional, physical, intellectual surgery you need to perform on us to heal us seems too much for us. Help us die to the old that we might be reborn with you into the new. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 2:18-20

September 12, 2019

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’

Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. Mark 2:18-20

What is this text about? Is it about Jesus reaching into the symbolism of messianic expectations, or is it the first foreshadowing of the end of the story, or is it about fasting, intentionally going without food for a specific period of time? The answer is probably yes.

The idea of the messianic banquet reaches back to passages like Isaiah 25, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”

Remember that the central question that Mark is responding to is “What do we do with a Messiah who dies?” Perhaps these verses foreshadow the death of Jesus, the bridegroom who will be taken away.

I’ve never really considered the actual practice of “fasting” to be an important part of this passage. To me it has always been the differences between the disciples of Jesus and those of John and the Pharisees. The disciples of Jesus had no need for spiritual practices to draw closer to God because they understood that, in Jesus, God was right there in their midst. When you are driving a car you don’t use a cell phone to talk to the person in the passenger seat.

Then again, maybe there is something to be learned from the practice of fasting. After all, we live on this side of the resurrection. Maybe there is something to fasting that we don’t know.

Last month, and all of the months of my life before that, fasting was a strange mystery. The only times that I ever “fasted” were in preparation for some medical thing when I was told not to eat after midnight. Which always left me ravenously hungry after I left the doctor’s office until I could go get something to eat.

As a Lutheran, the closest I ever got to fasting was giving something up for Lent. Which I have never been great at. Not eating chocolate is one thing, not eating for an extended period of time seemed just a little crazy. (This from a guy who has struggled with his weight since I was in my mid-forties.)

Then, on back on September 1st, I watched a YouTube video featuring Dr. Jason Fung that a member of our congregation sent to me. It was the first time that I thought of the health benefits of fasting. So I have been trying it. And, I found out for myself, it is amazingly easy. Last night I broke my first three day fast. (Feel free to email me at revkerry@gmail.com if you want to learn more.)

Maybe, had they actually tried it, the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees might have discovered something marvelous in following, rather than opposing, Jesus. The same goes for us.

Let us pray: Jesus, may we celebrate today, and every day, the good news of the love of God in which we live. Today, and every day, may we be always open to the new ideas that the Spirit guides us toward. For truly, in you, we find a life that is truly alive. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

September 11, 2019

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him.

When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’

When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ Mark 2:15-17

“See! I told you so!” You can almost see the sneers among the scribes when they saw that Jesus was sitting at dinner with Levi and his friends. “There goes the neighborhood!”

They were Levi’s friends. He was a tax collector. His friends were tax collectors. And because they weren’t exactly at the center of social adulation, they naturally attracted other nefarious types in their circle of friends.

This story reminds me of conversations I had with my Lutheran grandmother. I met her when I was in high school. She was a wonderful woman. A farm wife. Mother of four. School teacher every winter. Hard, hard worker. And faithfully in church, singing in the choir, every weekend. She lived a couple of miles outside of a little North Dakota town with a population of less than 500 people.

I remember listening to her stories and it was clear that she divided the world around her into distinct groups. First, there was the Lutherans and the Catholics. Then there were the people grouped either by profession or geographical proximity. “So and so, he works at the bank…” or “So and so, you know, they live over by the Johnson’s…”

She would tell me stories about people and it was clear to me who ranked at the bottom of the totem pole. “You know, he goes to the bar” she would say with a little tsk of distain. Never once did she mention that she lived less than 30 miles from the Spirit Lake Sioux reservation or ever include a story that included a Native American.

But I always noticed. I always noticed how my stomach constricted a bit when she talked about the people “who went to the bar.” Over in the other corner of my world, 190 miles away where I lived with my mom, my mom and all of her friends “went to the bar.” Other than the farmer I worked for, all the adults I knew well, “went to the bar.”

I don’t suppose it ever occurred to my grandma how surgically she drew a line between herself, her circles, and those who “went to the bar.” I doubt she would welcome or understand a real conversation about “white privilege.” She never mentioned a Native American, but if she had, I know it would have come with some painful adjectives attached. And had she ever heard about the kind of red-lining that went on in big cities to isolate non-WASP people, she wouldn’t have drawn a similar line down the highway to the reservation.

Jesus went home with Levi for dinner. He sat with the “bar people”. Can you see him there? Laughing, eating, drinking, telling jokes, enjoying himself with his new-found friends? He, the star of the show, finding his home among the outcasts. Where he was welcomed and not judged.

I wonder what my grandma would say about that?

Let us pray: Jesus, you sat with sinners. You ate with the despised. Was it because you felt at home there, knowing that you also were despised by those who judged your new friends? Lord help us, when we feel something uncomfortable rising within us at the thought or mention of those whose lives look different than our own, to recognize that the sickness lies within us rather than the diversity of your creation. Heal us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Mark 2:13-14

September 10, 2019

Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. Mark 2:13-14

Someone once said that “Character is what you do when no one is watching you.” I can’t argue with that…I just want to add that character is also what you do when everyone is watching you. Like Jesus will later teach us, what and who we are on the inside will inevitably spill out to what everyone else sees on the outside.

Today’s verses teach us something important about both Jesus and Levi.

About Jesus. He continues to draw crowds. Casting out demons and healing paralyzed people will do that sort of thing. So will car accidents. That is just how people are. But people remain attracted to Jesus even when all he is doing is teaching them. Why?

Ask any teacher today and they’ll tell you that one of the hardest parts of their jobs is motivating students to want to learn. These crowds are motivated, maybe because they are desperate. And Jesus has them in the palm of his hand.

So how does he use that power? He calls out to Levi – who everyone knows is a tax collector – and invites him to “Follow me.”

You should know that tax collectors made their money by over-taxing everyone they could. You owe $100? The tax collector demands you pay him $225 and he keeps the difference. And if you don’t pay? The tax collector calls on the local Roman troops and you suddenly wish you would have paid. Tax collectors were despised in the way that poor people despise slumlords, Pay Day lenders, and everyone else who shamelessly rips them off as they fill their own wallets while complaining that poor people don’t work hard enough.

THIS was the guy that Jesus called! Think about what he was risking! He could lose his whole audience. Crowds are fickle (as we’ll see at the end of the story), but Jesus cared more about his purpose, his principles, and his passionate love for people who are hurting than he did about his crowd size or celebrity.

About Levi. Why did Levi leave everything to follow Jesus? He didn’t need to go. He had it made. Tax collectors were wealthy. They were wealthy because they kissed up to the hated Romans – the only way they could become tax collectors in the first place – which only added to the hatred other people felt toward them.

So I’m thinking he was troubled because he knew that what he was doing wasn’t right. Yes, he might have had far more material pleasures than most people, but he lacked peace, purpose, joy, love, contentment, friendship, community, real connection.

Mark doesn’t tell us what motivated Levi to follow Jesus. Maybe that is so we can kind of “fill in the blank” with all of the areas of our own lives that could be better. That falls short of the lives that God would have for us. Jesus promised something better.

In the end, maybe Levi wasn’t any different than the crowds – maybe he finally got desperate enough to become teachable.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you invited a hated tax collector into your inner circle, risking everything to give him a life that was truly life. You’ve done the same with us. You accept us as we are. You don’t check our credentials or credit rating before loving us with everything you have. May we, like Levi, get up and follow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 2:5-12

September 9, 2019

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’

And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ Mark 2:5-12

Far too often we think of “faith” as something we “think” about. We reduce faith to the ideas that float around in our brains. Ideas that we freely accept or reject. Ideas that we think others should or should not also think. We turn faith into a head game.

When those four guys showed up with the guy on the stretcher, Jesus couldn’t see inside any of their minds. All he could see, through the dust and debris dropping on his head, were four guys huffing and puffing as they dropped a man lying on a stretcher onto his lap. He couldn’t see what they “believed,” he could only see what they were doing. Their effort to help their friend was the faith that Jesus saw.

Many people reduce the vast changes wrought in the Reformation as a fight between “salvation by grace” versus “salvation by works.” As if it was only about theology and specifically about the fine distinctions between “what we do” and “what God does for us.” Whether or not it was the intention of my teachers, or whether I was just a muddle headed student, I came away from the seminary largely believing that, if we could just help people think differently about the faith, to believe correctly, everything would be better for them. More head games.

That is pretty much where we find the scribes in these verses. They are playing head games about the proper understanding of how forgiveness works. Jesus is breaking the rules!

So Jesus “gets them out of their heads.” He asks them a question. At the point that they begin talking publicly, they are involving their whole selves in the moment. They aren’t hiding in their heads. Jesus both involves and exposes them in the moment. And then Jesus acts.

With a word, Jesus tells the man to get up and walk and he does. Everyone, obviously, is amazed.

Jesus isn’t about head games. Jesus is about restoring wholeness. Wholeness, of course, includes our heads but it also reaches to the tips of our toes and beyond our toes to the entire world. Jesus cares about what we know but also, and maybe even more, about what we do.

Including bringing our brokenness, and that of our neighbors, to his feet, even if it feels like we are “barging in” while the snippity ones complain.

Let us pray: Thank you for this mental picture of a man climbing off his mat while his friends cheer from the roof! We all have our own mats. We all have our own needs. We too pray for wholeness and the willingness to act in loving, healing, ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.