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The Hypocritical Christian

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March 2017

Ahem, Please Direct Your Attention…

Read Mark 2:18-28

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the word jesus

It was a slow day today at the dealership. Eh, it happens.  When it happens there are opportunities to talk with fellow suffering sales colleagues or strike up an argument on Facebook.  Today, I did both.

A colleague of mine came out complaining of the proposal of New York City’s mayor to allocate $10 million in taxpayer’s money for aiding those newly released from New York City prisons in finding employment.  “How Stupid is that?” we were asked.  Being sometimes inclined to cause problems I responded with “why do you let them do that to you?”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well, I mean, you let the people on the news get you all ginned up over things that do not make any difference to you whatsoever.  If NYC decides to spend their tax revenues in that manner it has absolutely no impact on you in Boerne, Texas in any way, shape or form.”

“Well I just think it is stupid.”

“Sure.  It may be but it doesn’t make any difference for you. It is not your money.  It isn’t your time.  I mean if it were the Governor of Texas or the Mayor of Boerne, sure, but this will not impact you at all.”

We sometimes get upset over stuff because we think we should or because it doesn’t follow how we understand things to be best done.  The Pharisees were apparently good at getting upset at how other people were choosing to conduct themselves or live out their faith.  In this they are not alone.  The above is a story from contemporary politics but I could have just as easily referenced the recent kerfuffle at Princeton Seminary over their decision to first award the Kuyper Prize to Tim Keller and then to rescind the same award under complaints from some of their current students, professors, and alumni.

The Facebook argument I got involved in was one about interpretation of the U.S. Constitution of all things.  Like I said it was slow today.  That all started from a reaction to a tweet that Trump made about the Freedom Caucus and the relative constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and the right of the Federal Government to be involved in health care at all. Seems each of us can get bent out of shape over things that have little direct impact on us.  In the midst of that argument the person I was debating with and I got so caught up in minutiae that I think we both lost the point of the original argument.  We lost the forest for the trees as the saying goes.

I mention these two events as a strange segue to the last 10 verses of Mark.  Pharisees indeed seem throughout the gospels to be really concerned about “the how” of others’ living and in the process lose sight of the forest for the trees.  New Testament scholars sometimes get so caught up in details that they lose sight of the broader point that either a Biblical writer or Jesus is trying to make.

Case in point.  Mark gets a detail completely wrong.  The event of David and his colleagues feasting on the temple showbread did not happen during the tenure of Abiathar as the High Priest but rather occurred when Abiathar’s father was the High Priest.  Liberal Critical scholars and folks who like to undercut Biblical authority (not always the same people) will use this sort of “mistake” to suggest that the Bible is in error.  I think this is being picky. Mark may have gotten this wrong. A copyist may have messed this up (the High Priest at the time was Ahimelech). I think that the “mistake” is original to Mark because both Matthew and Luke rework the episode in their gospels to not include the name of the High Priest at all.  This implies they were cleaning it up if you hold to the theory that they had Mark’s gospel as a source document for their own work.  If you are interested in a reasonable explanation for this “mistake” by Mark, theologian Wiliam Placher provides one.  He suggests that it isn’t an error by the normally very careful Mark but an actual rendering of the words of Jesus. What? Blasphemy you say?  How could Jesus have made the error? Well, Placher suggests that Jesus is intentional in his saying the wrong name to highlight the poor scriptural knowledge of his critics.  Before you roll your eyes, think about the number of people who tell you something that the Bible says that the Bible doesn’t say.  To this day there are a lot of people who believe that “cleanliness is next to godliness” and “God helps those who help themselves” are found in the pages of scripture.  Memory tells me that they are both from Ben Franklin although the latter may very well only be the work of erstwhile nuns. I like Placher’s clever Jesus answer.  I enjoy picturing Jesus appreciating the irony of his critics nodding in agreement as he mistells the story.

No matter, none of this is the point of these 10 verses!

Notice what Jesus does in response to the question about fasting and Sabbath.  He directs the attention to himself.

In the response to fasting it is apparent that Jesus intends for us to realize that he is the bridegroom.  John the Baptist and his disciples fasted in preparation for the arrival of the messiah, but in Jesus, the Messiah is arrived.  The pharisees were fasting to perpetuate an interpretation of the law that did not include the purpose of the law but rather was following the law solely for the sake of the law.  Example: why is there a set belt law or a helmet law?  To encourage safety of motorists and motorcyclists in the event of an accident. The law exists to develop and encourage a habit that is good for the individual and the community.  The Mosaic Law serves a similar purpose, it promotes practices and ways of interaction that are healthier for the spirit of the individual and the community.  Together the practice of the Mosaic law instructs the individual in the manner of Godly living and empowers the community to be a witness to God in the world.  This is precisely what Jesus means when he says that the Sabbath was created for people rather than people being created for the Sabbath.

Fasting in the manner of the Baptizer’s disciples made no sense now that the Kingdom had arrived, but fasting in the manner of the Pharisees was senseless as well since it was not for the purpose of deeper spiritual commitment to God but following the law only to follow the law.  The former is fasting to make ready a way for the Lord (literally building a road) even after the Lord has already arrived on the way created.  The latter is forgetting why the way (road) was being built in the first place!

Jesus focuses the attention on himself and if you think back he did that throughout this whole chapter.  When it came time to heal the paralytic he called attention to his authority to forgive sins. When asked why he was in fellowship with sinners he called attention to his purpose to bring healing to the sinner.  When asked about fasting he asks why fast when he is present and when asked about the Sabbath he claims authority over the strict interpretation of the Mosaic law by saying the Son of Man, he himself, is Lord of the Sabbath.  With this Son of Man comment the chapter comes full circle with Jesus claiming the authority understood to belong only to YHWH.

Do you see what Mark has done?  He is building the case that this Jesus is the one whom the Baptist foretold.  He is establishing step by step that Jesus is whom the demon in the first chapter said he was: “The Holy One of YHWH”!

  • Do you know Jesus to be these things, to be more than a great teacher?
  • Do you ever find yourself following the rules of church all the while losing sight of the why of the rules?
  • How often do you in the midst of controversies take your eyes off of Jesus?
  • Have you ever found yourself, like the pharisees, judging the piety of your neighbor because they aren’t following the law correctly?
  • Do you forget to keep Jesus in the center and in focus?

I suspect that for most of us an honest answer to these questions will give us pause.  Take heart fellow hypocrites, the only answer that matters at the end of the day is how you answer the first question.  And if the answer to that first question is negative then I encourage you to keep reading the gospel of Mark and to pray specifically that the Holy Spirit will convict you of the truth of whom Christ is for you and indeed for all.

And if you answered yes to the first question but struggled with the subsequent questions then I commend to you the words of a well known hymn:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in his wonderful face

and the things of earth will grow strangely dim

in the light of His glory and grace.

Feel free to use this Bible study for your own groups or discussion.  It is freely given. If you do I merely ask that you acknowledge where you got it and if you find it useful that you encourage others to seek it out. It is freely given and written with fear, foreboding, and prayer by a fellow hypocrite who is simply trying to figure out the road ahead.

 

 

What the Church /Christians Get Wrong

Read Mark 2:15-22

There are a couple of ambiguities in these few verses in Mark.  One, is whose house is this meal taking place in? Two, when Mark writes “there were many of them, and they were following him” who is Mark referring to?  The house in question might be the house of Levi whom Jesus has just called to follow Him.  The house could also be the same house that “the four” tore the roof off of to lower down the paralytic; in other words, we could be at Jesus’ house again.  The many either refers to the number of tax collectors and sinner present or it refers to the number of disciples that were following Jesus.  Neither of these ambiguities has any significant bearing on the story but I think that it is appropriate to point out these things because the decision is often made for you in the Bible translation that you read. For myself, I like to think of it as Jesus’ house and I like to think that Mark is saying that there were a lot of tax collectors and sinners following Jesus. The latter is particularly important to me because I am a SINNER and I am trying to follow Jesus.

Of course all Christians are sinners; trouble is too many Christians forget that they are sinners.

Let’s be clear that in the New Testament when you see that word “sinners” scholars agree that it means people with a bad reputation in the community.  In a lot of church settings people will say ooh I am a sinner, but often times they mean things like:

  • “I’m so bad, I had chocolate cake for breakfast.”
  • “Oh no, I cut some one off in traffic today and I broke the speed limit.”
  • “Woe is me I said a naughty word today when my boss gave me extra work.”

But New Testament scholars are pretty convinced that the sinners Jesus was eating with were people who had jobs that folks didn’t agree with (like the tax collector) and people who were known to have done horrible things (like assault, theft, adultery, or murder)! You know the people that other people judge.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Jesus is eating with bad people.

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Now, let me be clear, I am a card carrying SINNER. I’m not talking about the things that we consider to be little sins.  I have done the stuff on the big-boy list, you know the stuff on THE LIST: the ten commandments.  In fact, I have blown through way more of the list than I care to remember.

Funny thing is that most everyone I know has too. Go ahead, refresh your memory here.

Jesus is eating with bad people.

People like you and me.

The ambiguities end when we look at the next portion of the text. Mark is very clear about who is also present at this meal and how those people feel about the company that Jesus keeps. “When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?”

Sitting down to eat with someone is a big deal.  Most of us do not eat with just anyone.  We eat with the people we like.  We break bread with the people we want to be around.  When was the last time you hosted a dinner party and just invited the entire town? Do you ask everyone at work to join you for drinks after work? Do you have people in your home that you really don’t like?  For most people the answer will be at best not very often.  This is another reason I like to think of this as being at Jesus house because it prevents our easy escape from the implication of Jesus having those sorts of people over.  You see if it is Levi’s house well then Jesus can’t help it that Levi’s friends are a group of ne’er-do-wells. What would you expect he is a tax collector after all? But, if it is Jesus house and Jesus is the host than these “undesireables” are his guests!

This is the first mention of Pharisees in the gospel of Mark.  Pharisees were a popular religious group in first century Judea and Galilee. They believed that the common folk could experience the joy of living the disciplined life of faith.  They expected themselves and others to follow the teachings of God, to keep the Law of Moses, and be blessed and righteous.  Because of their understanding of the faith they find Jesus’ dinner habits distressing.  Eating with these people who are in clear disregard of God’s righteousness because of their jobs and lifestyles puts Jesus at risk spiritually because he is in fellowship with them.  God apparently judges folks guilty by association.

Christians like to think of the Pharisees as a group of hypocrites.  Trouble is that they are not being hypocrites.  The Pharisee reaction is totally in keeping with their understanding of how to please God.  The Pharisees are not being hypocrites; they are being totally consistent!

When Christians and the Church act like the Pharisees we are the ones being hypocrites.

Here are just a few examples that spring to mind:

  • most of the people who get invited to worship are folks who look like the people already there
  • Youth who have hard time staying still, use vulgarities, or wear inappropriate clothes don’t stick around long because of the subtle ways that they are made to feel judged
  • Families with ill-behaved children are made to feel unwelcome
  • Little children are welcome at Vacation Bible School but their working-class parents are judged for not making it to worship on their one day off a week
  • People are judged for only coming to worship at Christmas and Easter

Oh but you know what that’s the collective equivalent of the list of sins from above.  How about this list:

  • A woman at a small group admits that she is Christian and gay and someone else at the table gets up and walks out
  • The church learns that a woman has committed adultery and a Church Elder sends a letter to her saying the elder hopes that she and her children will not be coming back to church
  • A group of men at a Bible Study discuss the lifestyle of one of the Bible Study members when he is not present and all agree that he isn’t really a very good Christian man
  • A family decides to leave a congregation and its members stop talking to them at the grocery store
  • A church member is judged because their teen is in trouble with the law or struggling at school

And neither of these lists speak to how we Christians handle the persons in our midst that we know are sober alcoholics, struggling with addiction, sexual sins, xenophobes, gossipers, tax-cheats, following political idols, or unbelievers.

 

It is Christians and the Church,  not the Pharisees, who are the hypocrites when it comes to how we treat tax collectors and sinners.

We are good at making excuses: We do not want to be seen as condoning the sin.  We do not want our children and teenagers to have bad influences around. We worry about what people will say if they knew _______?

What we are not good at is hanging around sinners

At the end of the day we are all too likely to be guilty of judging our neighbor or fearing the judgment of our neighbors more than the judgment of God.

sinners judge sinners

Jesus responds to the question that was asked of his followers: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This is a pretty famous Jesus quote and it would be a good idea for us to unpack it a little since this is his answer to the charge of being a friend of sinners.  Grammar time: note that the English translation links the two sayings with a semi-colon.  This is not two separate thoughts but two sentences that will function as clauses that will interpret the other.  This is crucial because people like to separate them a little more than that and that leads to a misunderstanding.  The correct reading would render the following logical conclusion:  healthy= righteous; sick = sinners.

When you separate them out and make each sentence stand alone you get the following conclusion.  Sick people are the ones that need a doctor; so, if you are well you have no need of a doctor.  Read this way there are people who do not need Jesus just as there are those who do not need a doctor.  If you think that that is true, go back up and click on the link to the Ten Commandments and read it for real this time!  People like to read this saying in this manner because it allows them to dodge Jesus the same way the person with 101 degree fever blowing snot on everything that moves can deny that they need to make a doctor’s appointment and get drugs.  Even better, they can make the entire comment from Jesus a statement against the self-righteous pharisees and by extension about how Jesus doesn’t like self-righteousness.  Naturally, when read this way the self-righteousness can be whatever you want that makes you feel righteous for not being like those sorts of people.

But when you read the two statements together, there is no escaping the meaning of Jesus. Recall that part of what Mark is trying to teach us about Jesus is that he has come to deal with the sin problem.  Sick people need a doctor and Jesus came to call the sinner.  If we are all sinners then Jesus has come for us all.  This is what makes Jesus inclusive.  It is not that Jesus welcomes those on the outskirts and the margins of society, although this is true; Jesus is inclusive because he welcomes ALL.  When we only emphasize Jesus reaching out to those the society cast off in our own sense of justice what we do is minimize the impact of the sin problem, minimize the scope of Jesus work, and we set ourselves up to be on a different insider vs outsider dichotomy that coincidentally allows us to judge those who are not as “Jesus-y”as we are.  Jesus is inclusive because he is come to call the sinner. Jesus wants the tax-collector to know him.  Jesus wants the sinner to know him.  Yet, the beauty of Jesus is that he wants the pharisee to know him, too.

This is what the Church /Christians gets wrong time and time again.  Jesus welcomes everyone.  Jesus eats with everyone.  Not so the Church.  No so the Christian. Every generation of Christian in every context has sins that are beyond the pale, and people that are not welcome. Denominations split and form out of these outsiders vs insiders distinctions. The Church globally and the church locally fails to be a welcoming place for everyone.  Individual Christians gossip and judge their neighbors, believers and unbelievers, but seldom seem consistent in judging themselves. Christians individually and collectively confuse loving someone through their sin struggle with condoning sinful behaviors. Grace, true grace, as exhibited by a God that will sit down and eat and drink with those who disappoint is in short supply. Grace, true grace, that is exhibited by a God that will enter fully into humanity in order to redeem all of humanity and is experienced in the forgiveness of sin is forgotten rather than shared.

In the movie Excalibur, which has nothing to do with Jesus or the Church, there is a moment when Arthur has united all the various clans and become the true and rightful King of England. Everyone is celebrating and Merlin, the magician, is asked to say something on this great occasion.  In a deep, mellifluous voice, Merlin enjoins those present to remember well the feelings they have, their camaraderie, their shared sense of purpose, the things that bind them altogether because he adds menacingly “it is the doom of man that he forgets.” And so it is.

Jesus eats with bad people.

People like you and me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark 2:15-22 (NASB)

15 And it *[a]happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and [b]sinners [c]were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him.16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and [d]sinners?” 17 And hearing this, Jesus *said to them, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Call of Levi

cvggo_calling

This is Carravagio’s painting depicting the Call of Matthew / Levi.

Caravaggio was a Baroque period painter who lived a relatively short life, even in his day, of 38 years.  He was a renowned belligerent drunkard.  He was not the first choice of the church officials to paint a three painting series of St Matthew on the walls of  Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.

In the painting, forget for a moment that Caravaggio contemporized the clothing and the setting to be more like 16th century Italy, we see a man showing Jesus where to find Levi (Matthew) amidst the rest of the tax collectors. It is not clear if the man who is seated and pointing is pointing at the fellow next to him or at himself.  This was probably by design by Caravaggio, the ambiguity suggesting that Jesus could call almost anyone at any time. But, like a lot of people, I prefer to think of the fellow pointing as being Levi, who is pointing towards himself as if to say “Wait! you mean me?”

Calling is an interesting thing. Because the Bible includes so many dramatic stories of calling we sometimes get trapped into thinking that we have to experience a burning bush or a whale story to be called.  We forget that Samuel was asleep and a boy.  We forget that Levi was hanging out at work.  Steven the Cyprian was just travelling through Jerusalem and was asked to carry a cross. The four whom we saw rip up the roof and lower their paralyzed friend down were just doing that.

Yes, all too often, we get caught up thinking that calling always entails: “When Christ calls a man he bids the man to come and die.”  That’s a quote from The Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer is not wrong, there is a systematic death to self that must take place in the following of Christ; but, Bonhoeffer, is a tad over-dramatic. Sure, Peter, whom Bonhoeffer uses as his example ultimately was called to be martyred as was Levi/Matthew and therefore were both metaphorically and literally called to die. The truth is that the vast majority of followers of Jesus are never asked to do such things.  We should never forget that many are and it is the potential cost of all our discipleship; however, we should also never forget that many more are not called in that way. Bonhoeffer was writing at a very dangerous time in a very particular context.  If we aren’t careful we misjudge our own time and the sinfulness of pride can lead us to look for the “good fight” every where and in all times. But I digress.

Verse 15 says that after Levi responded to the call  (You know, after he said “who me” and Jesus likely responded with “well, yeah” or “and why not you?”) that he and Jesus were at a meal together where lots of sinners and tax-collectors were present with Jesus disciples. The sentence is a little ambiguous.  The verses ends with this clause “for there were many of them and they were following Jesus.”  It is unclear if the many refers to the sinners and tax-collectors or if it refers to the disciples.  Either way there were many of them and they were following Jesus and the concepts of many and following are more important than the identities. This is precisely what I think Mark is intending for us to hear.  Sure we all know about famous followers like Levi or St Paul or Bonhoffer or C.S. Lewis or Mother Theresa or Beth Moore but there are always many more anonymous followers of Jesus. Hordes of them in fact.

Sure there are those of us who are called by God to follow Jesus into big jobs and life changing / life threatening work.  Most of us though are called to the other kind of discipleship: quiet, consistent witness every day exactly where we are.

  • Have you delayed your own urging to follow Jesus because you are afraid of where he will send you?
  • Perhaps you have fallen into the pride trap of wanting to be picked for something big for the Lord?
  • Maybe you have forgotten how important just being a witness in the everyday is to the work of the Kingdom of God?

Stop waiting to follow.  Be like Levi: arise and follow.  Be like the unnamed many and spend some time around the table in fellowship with Jesus. Go to worship.  Pray each morning; you always have something to give to God in prayer. Be kind.  Don’t judge. Find some ways to give back to the community.  Even the quiet disciples are welcomed with “well done good and faithful servant” when it is time to cross the Jordan.

Feel free to use this Bible study for your own groups or discussion.  It is freely given. If you do I merely ask that you acknowledge where you got it and if you find it useful that you encourage others to seek it out. It is freely given and written with fear, foreboding, and prayer by a fellow hypocrite who is simply trying to figure out the road ahead.

 

Mark 2:14-17

Sourced from Bible Gateway (www.biblegateway.com)

Mark 2:14-17

New Century Version (NCV)

14 While he was walking along, he saw a man named Levi son of Alphaeus, sitting in the tax collector’s booth. Jesus said to him, “Follow me,” and he stood up and followed Jesus.

15 Later, as Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating there with Jesus and his followers. Many people like this followed Jesus. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Jesus eating with the tax collectors and “sinners,” they asked his followers, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 Jesus heard this and said to them, “It is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to invite good people but to invite sinners.”

Faith that Heals

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Take a moment to reread Mark Chapter 2, 1-12.

In the very first post on the Hypocritical Christian, I suggested the following themes for the gospel of Mark:

  • Origin of the Good News of Jesus Christ
  • Christ is the messiah for the purpose of salvation
  • Christ has authority
  • Repentance is about believing whom Christ is
  • The specific work of Christ is dealing with the sin problem.

Now in the first 12 verse of Mark 2, we see all of this playing out.  In fact at least one commentator has suggested that the entire Gospel of Mark is found in these 12 verses.  Of course that is a little bit of hyperbole, but the point is that in this one story the broadest themes and the major point that Mark is communicating is present in action.

You may recall that the paralytic has been lowered into the presence of Jesus and even though the friends clearly want a healing miracle for their pal what Jesus actually says is pretty astonishing.  “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

So astonishing in fact that there were present some professional religious folk (scribes) who were thinking to themselves, “Wait, what?!?  You can’t do that!”   They knew their Old Testament scriptures quite well and that told them that only YHWH can forgive sins. If you are not familiar with YHWH it is the four consonants of the sacred name of God.  The name given to Moses from the burning bush.  If you have ever heard the phrase “the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Issac” then you know what we mean when we say YHWH.  So the scribes know that only God can forgive sins.  Exodus 34:6-7; Isaiah 43:25 and 44:22 are just a few of the places that make this clear.

Mark tells us that the scribes believe Jesus to be blaspheming.  Blasphemy is a technical term and in Jesus day a religious crime.  Anything that discredited THE NAME (YHWH) was punishable by death through stoning. In the scribes’ minds claiming the ability to do something that only the ONE GOD can do was a serious act of discrediting God. It is hard to think of something that we have in our culture that is the equivalent of this.  Maybe using the parking space of the CEO or drinking from the Admiral’s private liquor cabinet, but these infractions are minor compared to the way they viewed blasphemy.  The closest thing I can think of is identity theft, but identity theft of someone enormously powerful like the President or the Queen of England or OPRAH!

Here is where it gets interesting. Jesus knows what they are thinking and calls them out on it. He issues a challenge for himself to them.  He starts by asking them a question: “Which is easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say ‘Get up.  Take your pallet and walk’?”

Note what is going on here in the question.  Sins are an intangible thing while paralysis is not. If I say to a person who can not walk get up and they do then I have clearly healed them of their paralysis.  If I say to a person that your sins are forgiven there is no way that anyone can prove it just by looking.  On the one hand, it is easier to say the first because no one can disprove you with empirical evidence unlike saying stand up because in the second case the person either gets up or they do not; on the other hand, the latter is the easier of the two because it is not something that only God can claim authority over.  Everyone had seen a faith healer work this sort of miracle before. Even if we only thought in terms of modern science the latter would still be easier because it is both prove-able and there are medical procedures for healing some forms of paralysis. Try and get a prescription for your sins filled at Walgreens!

But Jesus is not stopping with the rhetorical question, he is actually cleverly setting up the scribes because he follows the question up with the following statement: “but in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins — he said to the paralyzed one ‘I say to you, Rise, take up your pallet and go home.'”

See both the challenge and the set up?  If the paralytic stands up then the Son of Man has the authority (power) to forgive sins on earth. If the paralytic stands up the scribes will have to admit that the sins were forgiven and that no blasphemy took place.

(Note: “Son of Man” is a term that Mark uses about 2 dozen times in his gospel. Another time we can discuss what this title means, but please make note from the bold type above there can be zero question that Jesus means for it to refer to himself.)

Mark makes it crystal clear what happens next.  The paralytic, to the absolute astonishment of the crowd, stands up, picks up his pallet and left this time out the door and not the hole in the roof. Jesus proved his point spectacularly and everyone gave praise to God.

So what does this mean that Jesus claims an authority that the Old Testament scriptures clearly indicate is the sole purview of YHWH? What is the implication? It is pretty inescapable, if Jesus makes the man walk in the way he structured the challenge then he also forgave the paralytic’s sins.  Don’t get caught up in the tortured discussions about how they viewed sin and illness as interconnected in those days and this is Jesus giving them some good old post-enlightenment sensibility about these matters of illness and the separation of the physical from the spiritual.  That is smoke and mirrors and clearly not the intent that Mark has here.  Mark wants to demonstrate here the key points that his Gospel is seeking to share: Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) and uniquely appointed by God to be God’s agent, the presence of the Kingdom on Earth. Jesus has authority.  Jesus is going to correct the sin problem.

Mark is sharing this story to persuade everyone who reads / hears it of the truth of who Christ is.  Remember the demon in the first chapter: “you are the Holy One of God.” Mark is asking all of us to ponder what it means that this Jesus can do something that only God can do.

Consider this.  When the the four bring the paralyzed one to Jesus we are told that when Jesus saw their faith he spoke to the paralytic.  I said in a previous post that what they did in action was demonstrate their faith that Jesus could do what they desired.  In New Testament Greek faith is the word pistis (this is the transliteration of the Greek letters) and it means assurance, conviction, etc. all those synonyms in English that you would expect.  What is interesting is that it is derived from the Greek word peitho which is strictly speaking “to win over; persuade.” With this information we can come to understand that faith is a demonstration of having been persuaded.  It is a confiding belief in the truth, veracity, reality of any person or thing.  In the case of the four, their actions demonstrated a belief in the truth of whom Jesus was and the authority that he possessed.

I think that Mark is trying to persuade us. In the last post I wrote: “faith that heals is faith that trusts.” A careful reader will note that the only difference in the title of the last post and this post is punctuation. Faith that heals is faith that trusts; faith that heals comes from having been persuaded about who Christ is.

I encourage you to spend a little time this week asking yourself what it truly meant that the paralytic got up and walked.  Is it not more than a miracle? Is it not more than the forgiveness of sins?

Mark seems to think so.

Feel free to use this Bible study for your own groups or discussion.  It is freely given. If you do I merely ask that you acknowledge where you got it and if you find it useful that you encourage others to seek it out. It is freely given and written with fear, foreboding, and prayer by a fellow hypocrite who is simply trying to figure out the road ahead.

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