Why Are You Here?
A meditation on Mark 2: 23 – 3:6
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church June 3, 2018
Mercurochrome. I think you have to be at least 50 years old to know what it is. Mercurochrome came in little glass bottles and your mom or dad would put it on those scrapes you got from falling off your bicycle on to the aggregate, or bumping down out of a tree and taking some of the bark with you, or when playing “circus” on the swing set didn’t go so well. Mercurochrome stung, (Pain always means it is working, right?) and so I dreaded it.
My mom had a magical way of easing the dread. She would always take the little wand that came in the little dark bottle and paint a kitty on my knee or elbow, or shin. I didn’t feel the sting nearly so much while waiting for that reddish-brown cat to appear. Wondering how long she would make the cat’s tail, and if she would get the pointy ears just right.
Mercurochrome for scrapes and crushed ice for stomach bugs. Those were two ways my mom showed she loved me. She would crush the ice – by hand – none of these fancy refrigerators with crushed ice on the door in the ‘60’s! Additional healing properties came from getting to rest in her big bed. I’m sure she did it because it was closer to the kitchen and den, but it was so comforting just to get to rest in my parents’ bed. To be near to the source of my healing. I believed that my mother could heal anything. Then you grow up and your eyes are opened. I was fortunate to have that faith redirected toward God, who speaks to us words of healing, whose healing presence is offered to us in a myriad of forms.
This God of healing is introduced to us rather rapidly in Mark’s gospel. We don’t get to hear about Jesus being bedded down in the cow’s feed box or singing angels or expensive gifts. John the baptizer says, “Look!” And we better pay attention, because by the end of the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus has healed more people than we can count. And by the second chapter, he has already made people mad. It didn’t take long, did it?
Having your world rocked by a nobody from nowhere isn’t an easy adjustment, especially if you are a somebody from somewhere. There is a new kid on the playground. He plays the same games but he plays by different rules, which means the power is being challenged. That rarely plays out easily or well.
People swarm to Jesus. In the last paragraph of chapter 1, Jesus heals a man of a skin disease and asks him not to tell anyone. “Instead, he runs out and starts telling everyone, causing a problem for Jesus, who tries to find a way to move about more stealthily. Even though he remains “outside in deserted places, but people [come] to him from everywhere.” (Mark 1: 45, CEB)
They bring their friends, their family members, themselves, anyone in need of healing, to Jesus, and he offers them God’s restoration. Others are beginning to emerge as well, but they are not seeking healing. (Or if they are, they won’t admit it.) They come to observe and, ultimately, to judge Jesus and his practices. They are concerned with laws and right practices, especially concerning the Sabbath.
What did we read in Deuteronomy about the establishment of the Sabbath? The Sabbath applies to all creation…to the animals, to the slaves, to the immigrants.. To support the people in their observances, the religious leaders created practices to guide them, such as instructing them in their pre-Sabbath preparations, so that all could truly rest. “Sabbath was a communal experience. Everyone rested at the same time, so that the community itself had a time of renewal, to regain energy for the coming week and to recover perspective and see difficult issues afresh… The purpose of the Sabbath is to help people. (Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, p . 271)
Lord of the Sabbath is a perfect name for Jesus, then, isn’t it? For he is the Lord of feeding, of healing, of restoring. He is the Lord of community, the one who desires for us to live in harmony with one another and the world. And so he walks through a wheat field and allows his hungry disciples to pick and eat the wheat on the Sabbath. When questioned, he reminds the religious leaders that David did something more drastic than that! David ate the holy bread offering from the Tabernacle. He ate God’s bread! I wonder how God felt about sharing her bread?? (Pretty happy, don’t you think?) The priest allowed it, and David, who was fleeing for his life, was sustained by God’s bread.
The religious leaders do not have a problem with Jesus’ story of David. They most likely agreed with Jesus’ interpretation and with David’s use of the bread. Jesus wasn’t the first person to lift up this story as a question of sacred practices. Their problem would have been this: Jesus is not simply equating himself with David, he is placing himself above David. He refers to himself as Lord of the Sabbath. Strike 1 against Jesus…(at least within this passage of scripture!)
Moving on, Jesus enters the synagogue. The last time he was there he stirred up trouble by healing someone. He just can’t stay away from trouble! The religious leaders are on “high alert,” watching to see what he will do this time. (You know, kind of like those of you who were here last week are afraid I might ask you to raise your hand again. Relax. I won’t.) He sees the religious leaders and he sees a man with a withered hand. He says to the man with the withered hand, “Step up where people can see you.” He makes him come forward! Then he asks: “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” No one answers. Deafening silence.
What grieved and angered Jesus more? That they wouldn’t speak at all? That they wouldn’t engage the question? That they wouldn’t answer honestly? They know it is legal to do good on the Sabbath. It is the purpose of Sabbath.
Jesus, Mark tells us, experiences this feeling we have known: a combination of grief and anger. Grief that they are so afraid to listen to their hearts. Anger that not one of them will speak up, speak out for what they know to be true. We have probably each experienced it when we hoped someone would come to our defense, when we hoped someone would stand with us when we took a brave stance. We have felt this when we have been disappointed.
Jesus is deeply disappointed in them. He says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
Jesus doesn’t touch him, he doesn’t lay hands upon him. He speaks a word of healing. There is no Sabbath law against that. He has done no work but God’s. “Even a few hours to the end of Sabbath is too long to wait to restore a person to wholeness.” (Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, p. 272) The man was not just physically challenged. A withered hand would have been an economic disability, and possibly an outsider in general society. He would have been seen as “other.” In restoring his hand, Jesus has fulfilled the promise of Sabbath rest for this person. But this is also strike 2 with the religious leaders.
What Jesus longs for these leaders to understand, what Jesus longs for us to understand is that the law is “a means to an end, a tool, a mechanism in service to a greater purpose… The opposition Jesus faces in these scenes is the opposition he always faces: the contempt and fear of those who realize Jesus is calling them out, calling them away from the safety of justifying themselves and into the vulnerable and even risking world of just loving each other. (David Lose, In the Meantime)
Why are you here? Why did you come to this sanctuary today? Did you come to bring your gift of worship? As you bring your gift to God, trust that God’s healing is here for you, waiting for you. What part of you is withered? Is your heart broken over a human relationship or your relationship with God? Is your body weary, carrying pain? Is your mind overwhelmed? Stand up in the midst of the assembly and allow God’s words to bring healing to you. Allow God to do the work of restoring you and renewing you though God’s presence in this sanctuary and far beyond its walls. God is at work all around you, through many different people and situations. Have you come here for worship and renewal (and the world’s renewal) or have you come here to judge, to catch God up in a misstep? Whatever you have come here to find, I guarantee you, you will find!
You can’t get Mercurochrome anymore. Well, you can, but it isn’t easy. That’s because it contains mercury, and mercury isn’t really good for you. I remember when my mom moved on to Bactine. Do you remember Bactine? I can still smell it. You can’t paint a cat with Bactine, but it didn’t sting; it kind of tingled. Sometimes we need to reconsider our approach, don’t we? Sometimes things we thought were life giving might actually be at risk of causing harm. Sometimes we need to let our world be rocked, inverted, reimagined through the eyes of the Lord of the Sabbath.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
David Lose, In the Meantime, http://www.davidlose.net/2018/06/pentecost-2-b-the-heart-of-the-law/