beggarsBegging is something that happens quite often in the world of the gospels. We come across beggars at the side of the road, asking for alms and the mercy of strangers. They panhandle for pennies. They heckle for handouts. They seek charity to ease hunger or cold.

But some of the people who beg in the gospels are more than hungry. Begging, for them, isn’t about a meal or a warm cloak. It isn’t something done casually, palm outstretched to receive some pittance. The beggars we meet in Mark, for instance, are in deadly earnest. There are lives at stake. The begging is personal and intense. They are not simply panhandling and then shrugging at a stranger’s cold indifference or meager generosity. They are pleading, imploring, beseeching.

We meet beggars on eight different occasions in Mark’s story: a leper who needs cleansing … demons who do not want to be banished to the void … a man who yearns to become a disciple … people who bring sick friends for healing … and a woman who begs on behalf of her daughter.

At this particular point of Mark’s story (Mark 7), two beggars show up back-to-back: a mother and a group of friends. “She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter” (7:26). They “begged Jesus to place his hand on” their buddy and heal him (7:32). These people approach Jesus very deliberately, believing he has the power and the penchant to bless them. They come seeking favors not for themselves but for others they care about. Facing difficulties they cannot heal or handle themselves, they are desperate enough to beg Jesus for a miracle.

What a contrast to the Pharisees. The story that opens Mark 7 speaks of religious leaders who what nothing from Jesus but an abject apology. They are angry with him, offended by him. He is not following their rules.

The stories that end this chapter are about beggars, people who in desperate need. They are angry with life or with Satan, but not with Jesus. Life has not followed the rules with them—it has treated them and those they love unfairly—and they are not particularly concerned that Jesus doesn’t always color within the lines. In fact, they are quite hopeful that (with those they love) Jesus can stretch outside of normal boundaries and accomplish something beyond the ordinary.

The tension between the way this chapter opens and the way it ends is the fundamental tension of our spiritual lives. Are we satisfied or desperate? Are we content or starving? The way we answer that question makes all the difference.

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