image001-4You do not have to carry a sword or pledge allegiance to an evil empire to be an enemy of Christ.

You don’t have to worship Satan and sacrifice babies to be an enemy of Christ.

You can be a very religious person, you can consider yourself godly and righteous, you can believe yourself to be on God’s side and still be an enemy of this Jesus, this Messiah, this Christ.

And I use the word “enemy” quite deliberately. Those who are not “for” Jesus are “against” him. Those who will not submit to him must oppose him. You’re either a Jesus fan or a Jesus hater.

Here, in Mark, we see a natural progression that occurs when religious sensibilities are rankled. First, people take offense at something Jesus says: “Forgive sins?” Then they are offended by something Jesus does: “Why does he associate with sinners?” And then they are offended by something he doesn’t do: “Why doesn’t he fast?” Finally, they are forced to choose between beloved traditions or commitment to a Jesus driven by a mission for which he will make any sacrifice, forgo any comfort, endure any censure.

When people are offended by Jesus’ words and offended by his actions and offended by his omissions; when they prefer religious habits to his kingdom mission, the only possibility left is to hate Jesus, oppose him, protest and descry and insult him. The only possibility left is to commit yourself to do everything in your power to thwart him.

Jesus the Offender

It is the Sabbath once again. Jesus and his disciples are at Synagogue—as is their custom. Seated in the Synagogue is a man with a withered hand. He does not say a word. He does not call out for healing. Jesus could safely have ignored this broken man with his broken hand and no one would have been the wiser.

But it is the Sabbath. And Jesus and this broken man are present—together—in God’s house. They cannot look past one another. At least, Jesus will not overlook this wounded man and his withered hand.

Gathered there also is a group of religious leaders who have come specifically to catch Jesus in a word or action they can use against him. Matters have gone that far.

There is tension in the air. You can almost smell wood and nails and blood.

Jesus, seeing them, cannot ignore them and their presence … the place where they gather … the day they observe. He decides to push matters. “Sir, if you don’t mind,” he gestures to the man with the withered hand, “come stand here beside me … up where everyone can see you. And don’t be ashamed of that hand. Pull back your robe. Let everyone see.”

The tension ratchets higher.

“Tell me,” Jesus turns his attention away from his new-found friend and focuses on the assembled crowd … on the knot of religious authorities huddled on the back row. “Is it God’s will—on this day and in this place—for people to find empathy or apathy? Does it please God to bring healing to people he loves on the day he ordained … or ignore pain and handicaps and limited lives because the day is ‘holy’? Should we do good as we are able or avoid the risk of transgressing our traditions?”

Then he gestures to the man and—looking at them rather than him– commands, “Stretch out your hand.” The man does and is healed.

They see the miracle. They witness the wonder of God falling in that place. And they march out the door together and begin to plot how they can kill Jesus.

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