Summary: Jesus’ forgiveness and compassion creates controversy.
SERMON IN A SENTENCE: We cannot be in a right relationship with God if we are in a wrong relationship with others.
Two weeks ago we encountered Paul’s challenge to “Be like Christ,” and we looked at Mark’s account of Jesus healing a leper for clues of how we could actually be like Christ. We learned three things that will help us in our desire to be like Christ: 1) we have to be people of compassion–that is, we have to be willing to enter into the condition of suffering in which others live; 2) we have to do the right thing even during those times when we would rather not; and 3) we have to reach out to those who are “cut off” from society and life and touch them in a significant way. Last week we took a break from looking at the Gospel to learn how to be like Christ. Instead, we examined Mark’s story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man to learn some basic elements of biblical faith. Our examination concluded with four features of biblical faith: 1) faith is a trusting in, or a reliance on, God’s character and ability; 2) it requires action; 3) it is not hindered by obstacles; and 4) it is the source of stability. This week we’re going to return to the challenge to be like Christ. We are going to pick up the story of Jesus where we left off last week because the really important part of the paralyzed man’s encounter with Jesus was not faith, but forgiveness. And with that forgiveness came controversy.
If I were to extend a challenge to sum up Jesus’ existence in a single word, most people would volunteer words like, “compassion,” or, “love,” or, “forgiveness”–all of which would be perfectly acceptable and appropriate. Nevertheless, if I were to sum up Jesus’ existence in a single word, I would choose, “controversy.” Jesus’ compassion, Jesus’ love, and Jesus’ forgiveness all generated controversy. In fact everything about Jesus fostered controversy. There was controversy concerning his birth. There was controversy concerning his death. There is still controversy about what happened to his body. There’s even controversy about a piece of cloth that some people believe was Jesus’ burial shroud. Controversy, thy name is Jesus.
A lot of people walk around with an image of Jesus as if he were simply some nice guy. But “nice guy” Jesus doesn’t explain how he ended up on a cross. Nice guys may finish last, but they don’t finish up crucified. We are told that the Jewish religious leaders actively sought out ways to kill Jesus. This is troubling for us if we hold to the “nice guy” Jesus model. So we are forced to interpret the whole story in a way that makes out everyone who opposed Jesus to be evil and corrupt men who were threatened by Jesus, particularly his “niceness.” But those opponents of Jesus were religious people. They were no worse than any of us. They were no less interested in doing and believing the right thing than we are. After all, they were men who placed their faith in God at the center of their lives and who tried to live in a manner that reflected that faith. So if they weren’t evil and corrupt, why then did they have a problem with Jesus? The answer is because Jesus may have been a difficult guy to get along with. Jesus possessed an intense, “in your face” humanity that contradicted what the sensible religious leaders of the time thought was appropriate behavior for a fellow religious teacher. They opposed Jesus because they took him seriously and thought that his behavior undermined his message, and ultimately threatened their own respectability as well. If the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time can be criticized, it’s not because they were evil or corrupt, but because they had become focused more on looking good than doing good.
The section of Mark’s Gospel that we moved into last week is one that is filled with controversy about what Jesus was saying and doing. That controversy created conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of Capernaum that ended with the Jewish leaders plotting to kill Jesus. The coming of the Kingdom as personified by Jesus will bring healing, forgiveness, and inclusion to others, but for Jesus, it will also bring opposition and death.
The contention between Jesus and the religious leaders began when Jesus was back in Capernaum. A paralyzed man was brought to him. The paralyzed man and his friends couldn’t get to Jesus because there were too many people, so they found a way to carry the man up to the roof and dug a hole through the roof so that they could lower the paralyzed man down to where Jesus was. Jesus, upon seeing their faith, said, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” For most of us, this isn’t a big deal. We are used to the idea that Jesus forgives sins. But to be fair, we’ve had two thousand years to get used to the notion. The scribes who were there were hearing of it for the first time, and they weren’t so comfortable with the concept as we are.