Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bring on the Controversy!

Our scripture texts this week are 2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, and Mark 1:40-2:12. You may read these here.

It is a shame, in some senses, that Lent comes on the earlier side this year (we move into this 40-day season of repentance and preparation in advance of Jesus' death and resurrection on February 22). This means that our journey through Jesus' early ministry in Mark will conclude early in chapter 2 here, and when we pick it up after Pentecost again in the lectionary we will have leaped all the way ahead to the end of chapter 3. That may not sound like much, but in the intervening two chapters we miss something crucial to Jesus' ministry in Mark: CONTROVERSY.

Jesus returns for a time to Capernaum, his new adopted hometown, in the second half of our Gospel reading for today, and in Capernaum Jesus is faced with some powerful folks who are not so happy with the kingdom Jesus is announcing through his teaching and healing. The scribes--those who have devoted their lives to the study of God's word and religious practice--have started hanging around Jesus to see what he'll do, and controversy begins to erupt.

What's all the controversy about? In this week's reading, it's the fact that Jesus says the sins of the paralyzed man lowered through the roof have been forgiven. This sparks an uproar--who does this guy think he is? Only God can forgive sins--and nothing in our scriptures speak about a Messiah with power to usurp this particular privilege of God!

More controversy follows this initial one: there is a great stir among the scribes when he associates with tax collectors and sinners (2:16), and their dismay increases when they discover that Jesus' disciples do not fast (2:18). Later, Jesus is doing all sorts of things that go against their Sabbath practice, eating and walking and healing (2:24, 3:2). Who does this guy think he is? Why is he threatening everything? The controversy is becoming so heated that by early in Mark 3, the Pharisees are already plotting to destroy Jesus--his fate is being sealed by his controversial choices even at this incredibly early point in his ministry.

All this got me to think about the role of controversy in proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Bringing the message of who God is and what God's reign looks like, Jesus' early ministry seems to indicate, will inevitably lead to conflict and controversy. Christians today still find themselves controversial figures in many situations...but what usually sparks the controversies we are part of? How do the things we choose to be controversial about compare with the things that made Jesus dig his heels in? And what do you think Jesus wishes that we, as his body now on earth, were doing to spark controversy with the powers that be around us?

Food for thought on this cold Saturday...join us tomorrow as we look at Jesus' controversial decisions to heal the excluded and offer forgiveness, even at great expense to himself.

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