I reflected in my previous posts that the first chapter of Mark is primarily concerned with helping us to “see” the person and works of Christ- Jesus is where John points us and Jesus is the one that we are called to follow on the Way. In the second chapter of Mark we begin to see that the Way of Jesus often seems unreasonable and counterintuitive to some of societies greatest concerns- the protection of our individual rights (human rights), fairness and equality, progress (progressiveness) and growth. Here we find Mark beginning to pull this tension, between the way of the world and the way of Jesus, further to the surface as he calls us towards a new way of seeing.
I know I am not alone in finding the way of Jesus unreasonable and counterintuitive to my own nature. Mark’s audience found it equally so. That Mark calls us to give up our rights, our ideas of fairness, our ideas of what is progressive, in order to see Jesus more fully can be an affront on the senses. But the true wonder of this new way of seeing is that, as we allow it to reshape our approach to some of our most fundamental (and intuitive) values, it actually can give these values a new sense of worth and meaning.
Bringing Clarity to the pattern of Discipleship
For Mark, this new way of seeing that he calls us towards allows us to move far more intentionally into God’s vision for our lives and this world, one which shares in the knowledge of who Jesus is and what He came to do. This is the Gospel message that Mark begins in chapter 1. It is this promise for a greater vision of God, this world and ourselves that pushes us out into the movement of the Gospel, a movement that Mark expresses in the idea of discipleship, which follows Jesus out into the world.
In my last post I described “discipleship” (Mark 1:16-20) in the following pattern:
“Discipleship begins with the formation of the Synagogue (the still places), where we can be shaped by the Word, and moves outwards towards the ministry of Jesus to others.”
The second chapter of Mark looks to bring further clarity, along with a further practicality, to this pattern as it functions in a life committed to seeing the way of Jesus above our own.
- We see and then we move- the way of Jesus
In the story of the healing of the paralytic (2:1-12), Jesus moves in the same recognizable pattern of discipleship, from the desolate places (1:45) to Capernaum (2:1), where it is the action of “seeing” the faith of the four men that moves him towards the action of forgiving the Paralytic’s sin. 2:13-17 follows with the story of Levi, a story that finds Jesus moving from the desolate place (by the sea) towards the crowd in which He “sees” Levi and is moved to action.It is by contrast, then, that we are introduced to the Scribes, a group of temple elites who fail to see Jesus for who He is and what He came to do precisely because they were focused on the activity of Jesus (action) rather than seeing Jesus the person.
- The question of the Scribes and Jesus’ response
Recognizing the contrast, Jesus responds to the Scribe’s lack of vision with the following question:“Why do you question these things in your heart?” (2:8)The “thing” that they question is the Way of Jesus, this new way of seeing that calls us to give up our right to live the way we want in order to see Jesus with greater clarity. This is where the concern for Jesus claiming to be God (in 2:7) gives way to a concern for His subversion of the social order in eating with the sinners in 2:16.And here is where this passage leads us- The Way of Jesus is not fair. The Way of Jesus challenges their right to the promises of God as loyal Jewish believers by extending these same rights and privileges to the gentiles and the sinners. In the eyes of the Scribes, The Way of Jesus does not appear to uphold the Holiness and strength of faith that the law was intended to protect, but rather celebrates sinfulness and weakness of character in the eyes of God.
The New Way of Seeing
This brings us back to a key part of John’s ministry that we uncovered in chapter 1- the idea of forgiveness, the forgiven and forgiving life that marks the Way of God.
What is most problematic for the Scribes is that Jesus offers the paralytic forgiveness (2:7). And yet, this is the first action that Jesus does.
Here is why I think Jesus forgave rather than healed. If Jesus had healed the paralytic physically, the healed man still would not have belonged in the company of the Scribes or in the Synagogue. So Jesus goes straight to the heart of the matter. By forgiving his sins He raises the paralytic up and brings the Scribes down to where they all could all exist on the same level.
The Forgiven and Forgiving Way of Jesus
In my first reflective piece on the first chapter of Mark I talked about the tension that exists between the truth that we are broken and the truth that we are beloved. Jesus is moved by compassion by what he sees in the paralytic, a beloved child of God, and yet raises him up according to his brokenness. This is the Way of the forgiven and the forgiving life. This is the unreasonable Gospel that the Scribes feel moved to question.
When Jesus goes on to ask, “which is easier, forgiveness of sins or physical healing”, He presents something of a paradox. In commenting on his own action Jesus is shining a light on the Scribes. It is easy to consider that physical healing would be harder than forgiving, but it is the forgiveness of sins that weighs the Scribes down more than the healing. By forgiving the sins of the paralytic, Jesus effectively reminds the Scribes of what God did for them in their own brokenness. In doing this he calls the Scribes to see the paralytic for who he is, a man now physically healed, but more importantly fully forgiven and fully beloved, just like them. It is from here that Jesus calls them to action by modelling what it means to extend this same forgiveness of God outwards. This is where we find him reclined at the table with the sick and the sinners.
Pessimism and Hopefulness
When we fail to see Jesus, we will fail to understand what he is doing on the path that He is walking before us and why His Way often feels unreasonable and unfair. As Jesus said, He came not to call the righteous, but the sinners, not those who are well, but those who are sick. (2:17). And yet the connecting piece of this puzzle that seems to cause the most angst is the real message behind this statement- we are all in need of Jesus. All of us our sick.
I have heard some say that this is a rather pessimistic view to take of humanity. And yet, after years of living as a Christian, I don’t find it pessimistic at all. I find it necessary. I find it freeing. By keeping our eyes on who Jesus is and what He came to do, it opens our eyes with greater clarity to the needs of this world. This is always where we are heading on the Way, on this journey of faith. But it also opens our eyes to a greater vision of who we are. It keeps us from turning reason, our societies highest virtue, into a god. It humbles us from seeing our rights and our freedoms as the greatest value we can uphold, and in doing so it reminds us that it is only by giving up our rights, our freedoms, our demands for fairness, that we can truly enter into the company of others on equal ground.
In Jesus we are offered something much greater than the values of our rights and freedoms and fairness- all things that point us back to ourselves. In Jesus we find the opportunity to truly see beyond ourselves, to see one who embodies the values of servant-hood and sacrifice on our behalf.
Finding A Common Grace At The Table
The real glory, the real surprise, the real amazement of these two stories was always about the much harder thing… repentance and forgiveness. When it comes to our own lives it would be much easier to have God show up in physical form and visibly fix the problems of this world. It is much harder to see God in the mess. And yet this is where this forgiven and forgiving life calls us towards- into the brokenness of our lives and the messiness of the world, finding a place at the table with the sick and the sinners.
When we repent, when we turn our eyes away from ourselves and towards the person and work of Jesus, we begin to see what Jesus sees- the person in the crowd, the hearts of the questioners, the call of the needy. We begin to see that we have not been given a greater claim to the Gospel than the sinner that sits next to us. We recognize that, in Christ, we all stand on equal ground.
The sermon at my Church this past Sunday pointed out the way in which the meal shared with Levi points us to our communion with Christ at the table of this sacred practice. When we come to the communion table, we enter into the company of the one who walked this path before us. We share space with the work that Jesus is doing in us, and we are nourished for the journey that shares this forgiveness with others. This is where we find Jesus, reclined at the table with Levi. This is where we find freedom, in the grace that Jesus extends to us to recline with Him at this table as well.
Embracing A Messy Way of Life
So why is this idea of forgiveness so hard to believe? Perhaps because it asks us to give up our ability to control how we feel the Gospel should work. Perhaps because it feels like an affront to our ideals of personal rights and fairness on the worlds terms. This Way of forgiveness is not easy. It is never easy. And it is rarely rational or reasonable. And yet it is in this idea that when we are broken we are also beloved that we can learn to see Christ more fully, both for who He is and what came to do. And it is by seeing Christ more fully that we can learn to see and serve the needs of others in the Way of Christ as well.