Our pastor--from the pulpit!--says we all ought to read the book of Mark again, as a book I guess. Not that we do everything our pastor says, but we do take advice well. So we started, put away our usual devotional fare, and went with Holy Writ this Christmas.
I wish we hadn't.
We get no more than three chapters in, and we run into trouble, a trouble-maker in fact. That's right--Jesus himself.
Another time, Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of the them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone."
I'm sorry, but that demand wasn't particularly conciliatory. We all know Jesus is about to do this unlawful Sabbath healing thing knowing those big-brother Pharisees will bleed at the teeth when he does. Here's what I think: Jesus could have healed this guy in a closet--isn't that that the way he told us to pray? When you do the pious stuff, don't flaunt it. He didn't have to be all Tim Tebow about it. But he tells the shrived-hand man deliberately--yes, deliberately!--to stand up in front of everyone. Talk about in-your-face.
Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent.
He's not even talking to the handicapped guy. What Jesus wanted was to put this sad case on stage before the fascists, the power elite who want his head. He's talking to them, for pity sake. The guy with the gimpy hand is little more than a prop. He's only there for the demonstration. What's really going on is a battle between the upstart prophet and the religious establishment.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Okay, I'll give you this--he's deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts; but just the same, it's impossible to say that this entire show is meant to heal the handicapped. What's going on here is Jesus's wanting to stick a sharp stick in the eyes of the Pharisees.
And what happens?--things get worse. The church Nazis cozy up to the state Nazis, draw them into diabolical partnership. Why? Because they hated this rude, young medicine man, sure--but also because he deliberately twisted their theological cranks. He took 'em on. He rankled their righteousness. He taunted them, yodeled at their power.
And he did so while he amassed his own following, because what happens thereafter is more little people start flocking to him, like sheep, especially those with withered whatevers. They'd seen what he'd done to their buddy. He healed them too, but then--for whatever reason--he tells them that mum's the word. Imagine that--you've had a club foot forever, Jesus heals it, and then whispers, smilingly, "Promise me you won't tell a soul." Is he crazy?
Well, yes, or so his parents thought. All this Christmasy-Mary-and-the-babe stuff? all that pondering in her heart and singing beautiful hymns in the barn? Her kid gets to be a teenager, and she's all, "the kid is, like, out of control."
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him for they said, "He is out of his mind."
Can you blame them? That's Mary, the virgin, remember--or else Joseph the selfless, right? On the night of the bright stars, that child in the manger was gorgeously divine; but lo, these few years later, the whole dysfunctional family needs Dr. Phil. He's out of his mind," Mom told a Galilean newspaper. "Seriously."
"Forget them!" Jesus tells his discplines when he reads the account. "Who is my father and mother anyway?" That's what he says. Something to the effect of "I could care less."
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
Gingrich-sized ego. You'd think his mom and dad were Pharisees. The kid deserves in a smack down.
I don't know. Sometimes when you read the Bible, you wonder what on earth is going on.
But then you get to know that you don't know.
Sometimes, I suppose, that's where faith begins.