Reading Mark 1 we saw that Jesus said that a change of mind, a change of thinking was needed. To repent (Greek Metanioa) isn’t just about sin, it is about looking at life in a different way. In Mark 2 Jesus shows just how much our thinking needs to change.
Mark 2:1-12 is about sin and healing. A sick man is lowered in front of Jesus in a dramatic way and Jesus’ response isn’t to heal him, but to forgive him. The result was consternation amongst the religious leaders who were present: Who does he think he is to be forgiving sins, only God can do that!!! Jesus challenges their thinking, yes only God can do that. Which is easier, sins to be forgiven or sickness to be healed? Perhaps our thinking needs to change on this – I wonder if we see forgiveness as easier for God than healing?
Mark 2:13-17 is about Jesus challenging the common assumptions as to who is in and who is out, and who was most in need of his time and focus. The good religious people were definitely in and tax collectors, because they collaborated with the occupying Romans and grew rich at the expense of others, were definitely out. The term ‘sinners’ was commonly used of tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, robbers and the like, and they were most definitely out, they were excluded from the synagogue and all expression of Jewish faith. Jesus didn’t just associate with those who were outside the faith, he associated with those who were way beyond and excluded from the faith. Jesus seems more concerned with the outsiders than the insiders. Perhaps today Jesus would be more concerned with those who don’t attend church services than those who do! Perhaps we need to change our thinking to become a bit more like his?
This theme continues in Mark 2: 18-23 with his discussion of fasting, cloth and wine skins. Apparently if you take a new piece of cloth and attach it to an old garment and then wash them the new cloth will shrink and then damage the old garment rather then mend it. And if you pour new wine into old wine skins the danger is that the old will burst and you will loose both the new wine and the old wine skin. What is Jesus saying? Maybe something quite profound that challenges our thinking. In his time he was saying that the Kingdom of God which was now near wouldn’t fit in the structures and organisations of the old expression of the Jewish faith. And if you try to put the two together you would end up damaging both. I wonder today if we are trying to do exactly what Jesus warned us would cause problems. We have an old, established and institutionally ingrained expression of the Christian faith within the established church. We also have new expressions of the Christian faith that are reaching many who are alienated from the traditional church, yet many of those new expressions are expected to fit into the old structures and organisations and at best they don’t fit, at worst both the old and the new are damaged. Perhaps we need a new way of thinking?
Mark 2: 23-28 is about the Sabbath. I remember when I was young that our family had certain rules for how we observed Sunday. Each Sunday morning we all went to a church service, always in our ‘Sunday best.’ We always had a roast lunch together (a tradition I still enjoy!). We were allowed to play in our large back garden, but not allowed any ball games, so despite growing up in a garden which included a tennis court we were never allowed to play tennis on a Sunday. We had rules and regulations as to how we observed Sunday, just as the Jews had rules and regulations as to how they observed the Sabbath. One of those was they you weren’t allowed to do ANY work on the Sabbath, and picking ears of corn was considered as work. Jesus response is to challenge their way of thinking. Sabbath observance was to benefit people not restrict them with rules and regulations. One of the great things today is to see that people in our church communities are free to be themselves on Sunday. If you want to wear your Sunday best, then feel free, but of you want to come in jeans then feel free as well, we don’t judge others because of what they wear.
There is a church in the North that has taken this a step further. Once a month they don’t have a Sunday morning service at all. Instead they tell their church community to express their community life in any other way that they want to. Some meet together in their homes, invite ther friends and neighbours, chat, have lunch and hang out together. Others go for a walk together in the surrounding countryside. Others serve their local community by cleaning up the streets or doing the gardens of the elderly. Then in the evening they gather together to tell stories. I guess their worship and their learning is probably deeper, broader and more meaningful and more people are touched by God’s love. All because they understand that “The sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath.” Maybe one day we should follow their lead?