Preached at Newberg Emerging Friends Church
March 17, 2019
When I first began thinking about the part of Jesus’s story that is in Mark 3, I did what I’ve done with the Bible for most or all of my life. I compared myself to Jesus, and I found myself failing again.
I don’t measure up. The main way I can identify with Jesus is that he was angry with those who were so stubborn and wrong. But no one has plotted to kill me because my commitment to healing and setting people free is so disruptive. I’ve barely been maligned at all; to my knowledge no one has said I was inhabited by the devil. No one has thought I was crazy, in need of protection against myself, because I give my whole life entirely to healing and setting people free.
So since I don’t measure up to being Jesus, I will instead ask what this part of the story reveals about God through Jesus, who is visible God. And to do that, I may need to see how I identify with others in this section of Jesus’s story as told by Mark.
Jesus saw a man with a paralyzed hand in synagogue one Sabbath. Jesus asked the people: “What does our Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To help or to harm? To save a life or to destroy it?” No one answered him.
When We Are Paralyzed
Have I ever been paralyzed by grief or guilt or trauma or fear? Well, yes. I recall a time when I was up to my neck in recovery from childhood sexual abuse and I could not bear to sit in church. I felt moved (I hoped by God’s Spirit) to drive to Champoeg Park. I found that the road I was on was all torn up with “no through traffic” signs. As I idled there, wondering what was next, a big dark green American sedan drove through in the opposite direction, and the driver leaned out and said, “Don’t worry, you can make it through.” I heard the voice of Jesus in that, and I turned around and went back to church.
It’s obvious that Jesus could have said that to me during open worship in church, but it wouldn’t have had the long-lasting impact of the acted parable of my drive to Champoeg. Jesus often says to those of us who need healing, “Stretch out your hand.”
Jesus was angry as he looked around at the congregation, who didn’t affirm the healing, saving nature of God (and of God’s Law), but at the same time he felt sorry for them, because they were so stubborn and so wrong. So he healed the man.…The Pharisees went out, met with their political enemies, and together they made plans to kill Jesus.
When We Are Righteous
One of the sporting events in the Christian world is badmouthing the Pharisees and identifying whoever opposes our ideas with them. But have I ever been angry at other believers because they are so wrong and so stubborn? Well, yes. (In fact, this sounds a bit like marriage …) So I need to make the effort to identify with the Pharisees.
Sabbath was hugely important to the Jewish people. And among them, the Pharisees were carefully observant because they believed that if Sabbath were properly kept just once, Messiah—king, healer, and liberator—would come. Three major prophets—Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah—singled out Sabbath-breaking as the reason for the Jewish nation’s collapse and exile, and called Jews back to keeping Sabbath.
So it is no wonder the Pharisees are so angry when Jesus breaks Sabbath as he does in this chapter. They believe he has just made it impossible for Messiah to show up on that particular day. Ironically, and perhaps this is why Jesus is compassionate towards them, their King, Healer, and Liberator is right there among them. They can’t see him because of their anxiety and fear.
I wonder what I carry around that is like the Law about Sabbath. What moral obligations occupy me and prevent me from seeing what God is doing by unexpected people and means? What moral obligation fills me with fear and anxiety so that I do not help, heal, save life? What am I so stubborn and so wrong about? Is there anyone that I object to God pouring out grace and healing on?
It is clear that healing and setting people free disrupts the systems of religious and political power, and that these principalities take it ill. But it is also important to know that Jesus does what he does because he is God, not because he’s a rebel just for kicks. In point of fact, what Jesus does is exactly what Sabbath is about—healing and freedom. He fulfills the Law and the Chosen One of God has come.
A large crowd followed Jesus—descendants of Jacob from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, descendants of Esau from Idumea, Gentiles from Tyre and Sidon. They were drawn by the stories of what Jesus was doing—healings and exorcisms—and the crowd was so great it nearly crushed him. It is clear from what happened to Jesus that healing and setting people free was hugely attractive to masses of people, so attractive that it drew ancient enemies into a single crowd pressing ever closer to Jesus—so many that it was a danger to Jesus and those close to him.
Jesus ordered the evil spirits to be quiet about who he was. As evil spirits, their shouting was meant to derail God’s messenger and his message of healing and freedom, perhaps to bury him in notoriety, to disrupt his ability to teach who God is and how God loves.
So, rather than embracing the enthusiasm of crowds, Jesus went up a hill, called the Twelve to him, and commissioned them to be with him, to preach, and to drive out evil. Then Jesus went home. The crowd there was so pushy neither Jesus nor the Twelve had time to eat. And teachers of the Law from Jerusalem were saying, “He has the spirit of evil in him, and that’s why he can command demons.”
So Jesus told them a parable, the punch line of which is this: “No one can break into a strong man’s house and take away his belongings unless he first ties up the strong man.” Meaning, I have obviously tied up the strong man. You have seen that I am stronger than the devil, than evil, in any fight, which is why I can set free the people evil is trying to destroy.
Then Jesus warned them: When you see God’s Spirit at work healing people and setting people free from oppression by evil, and you say that work is done by the devil, you have just stepped outside the possibility that God’s Spirit can work in you. And you will never be able to recognize or understand how God loves and forgives.
Do I look at the healing work done by others and suspect them of being motivated by selfishness or evil? Do I look at others working for freedom for others from oppression and question their priorities?
His family heard that Jesus had gone mad, so they went to take charge of him. It is clear that devoting one’s life to healing and setting people free worries the family—it looks crazy.
Someone in the crowd said to him: “Your family is here and they want you.” Jesus said, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? … Whoever does what God wants is my brother, my sister, my mother.”
Since I can’t be Jesus, I want to be Jesus’ sister. So it is important to see what it is that God wants me to do. Jesus insists everywhere that God wants me to help, not to harm; to save life, not to destroy it; to set free, not to leave imprisoned. And Jesus illustrates by example that standing by and doing nothing when I can do something helpful is in fact doing harm.
And God wants me never ever to use the Law—the Bible or some other code of moral behavior—as an excuse to ignore those being harmed, destroyed, held prisoner by evil.
And who does God want me to be? Someone humble enough to bring my paralysis into public view, someone obedient enough to stretch my hand out when Jesus tells me to, someone open enough to God’s Spirit to see God at work in all healing, liberating actions, someone aware enough to recognize that God has compassion on my opponents and is eager to forgive.
Jesus insists everywhere that God wants us to help, not to harm; to save life, not to destroy it. Our globe is full of problems that seem so complex that we are paralyzed, but our daily lives have in them ways we can be on God’s side, doing what we can to help, to heal, to save lives, disrupting those who do harm, who inflict pain, who treat other lives with cavalier carelessness. We can live into our absolute dependence on listening to God’s Spirit each day and doing what God’s Spirit tells us to each day. Remember that Jesus has tied up the strong man and now we are free to liberate those he oppressed and imprisoned. God’s Spirit helps us recognize where God is at work healing and setting people free so that we can join in.
Queries for Open Worship
How have I experienced the healing, freeing Spirit of God?
How have we as a congregation experienced the healing, freeing Spirit of God”
What opportunity is in front of me to join in with God’s healing, freeing mission in the world?