The Cost and Benefits of Being Extraordinary

Homer Simpson Scream
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Mark 3:7-12

Jesus took his disciples and retreated to the sea, and people from all over the place who had heard what he was up to followed in droves, from Judea and Jerusalem (south), from Idumea (west), from the other side of Jordan River (east), and from all around Tyre and Sidon (north) . The crowd pressed in upon him so that Jesus told his disciples to get a boat ready. He had healed many, and everyone who was ill was trying to touch him. And whenever spirits of ill saw him they fell, screaming, “You are the son of God.” But he forbid them to tell who he really was.

This was not a retreat in the sense of a vacation getaway or a spiritual renewal or an extended board-room brainstorming meeting.

Jesus was retreating because the church people back in town had started plotting to kill him. The church people. Because he insisted that doing good was more important than being religious.

Neither was it a break from the work Jesus was doing. In spite of having a warrant out for his arrest, people were coming from every direction. Because he was doing something worth going out of their way for. Something they couldn’t get from their usual “service providers.”

Two observations:

  1. You can’t be extraordinary at anything without offending people who insist that the ordinary way is the only way. And
  2. If you really are extraordinary at what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter to the people you are helping what the “experts” say about you.

[Bonus: Son of God was a title reserved for the Roman emperor. Two things are going on here:

  1. The spirits of ill are trying to name Jesus, which in the mythological framework of demonology would give them power over him. We do the same thing when we think we can treat a disease if only it can be diagnosed (given a name). But, Son of God is an incorrect name – it doesn’t render Jesus powerless and Jesus forbids them tell who he really is.
  2. We are getting a preview of what Jesus’ opponents – who are spirits of ill – will accuse him of to bring him down. Crucifixion was a sentence reserved for non-citizens convicted of treason against the Roman emperor.]

Take Time to Be Holy

denied stampMark 3:1-6

Jesus went back to church. A man with a deformed hand was there. And they watched to see if Jesus would heal on the holy day because they wanted to pigeonhole him.

He called the man with the deformed hand, “Come here.” Then he said to them, “Which does the law say, that you shall do good on the holy day, or evil? Is the holy day a day for saving life or killing?”

They didn’t answer.

Shaking his head at them in disgust and grief over their hard-shriveled hearts he said to the man, “Raise your hand.” So he raised it; and there it was, all of it.

Then the legalists stormed out and began to scheme together with Herod’s people about how they would bring him down.

The issue here is not healing. (If you’re interested in that, see these comments on Jesus’ healing.) The issue is who gets to define what is holy acceptable behavior, and who is a holy, acceptable person.

If you’ve been around churches long enough, may have experienced people who didn’t get their way storming out. Picture that scene in your own experience, and you’ll have the proper setting for Mark’s story. Or maybe at a town hall meeting where someone stormed out when the people in charge didn’t capitulate. Or maybe you’re the one who stormed out.

In any case, Jesus insistence that persons regarded as second-class citizens because of their physical condition should be restored and accepted is what triggers their blow-up.

Imagine –  you don’t have to imagine, really, because it happens all the time – a group of legalists objecting to the welcoming and caring for people with, for instance:

  • preexisting health care conditions
  • Downs syndrome
  • Tay-Sachs
  • autism
  • Aspergers
  • post-traumatic stress disorder

In Jesus’ time and ours, the disability of limiting physical conditions is compounded by social stigma that isolate and exacerbate the suffering. Social stigma that are dictated by the trendsetters and codified by the law- and policymakers. Social stigma that kill as surely as any nails. And they do it in the name of being holy.

By bringing the marginalized one to the center and affirming that the condition of his “unacceptable” hand, all of it, is to be considered just as holy as the “beautiful people,” Jesus makes it clear what being holy is really about.

Go, and do likewise.

Just Say Yes

Biohazard flagMark 1:40-45

A contaminated man came and knelt in front of him. “You can purify me if you dare.” Enraged, Jesus took him by the hand and said, “Of course I want you to come clean.” And so he was. Then Jesus told him in no uncertain terms, “Go back to the priests and pay the legal fee for the certificate of reinstatement they refused to give. There’s spit in their eye!” But instead he went out and blathered it all over town, so Jesus couldn’t go into town openly. People had to come out to the boonies to see him instead.

I owe “if you dare” to Brother Ched.

To get uncontaminated, according to the law of Moses, you had to pay a fee, get an evaluation by the priest, and then the priest would either grant or deny your request. It wasn’t a medical decision. It was a judgment about your fitness to be a part of society. Like getting into a private club. Some people were blackballed. Jesus let him in.

Sometimes the ability to make someone well is as simple as saying “yes.” Simple, but not without risk.

Someone you’ve helped might go quietly on their way. But if it gets out that you’re accepting applicants who have already been rejected, you’re not going to be welcome in town either.

But take heart! Those who really understand and support what you’re doing will go out of their way to find you.

What’s Your Next Great Thing?

virtuoso violinistMark 1:35-39

The next morning at O-dark thirty, Jesus got up and went out to be alone in prayer. But Simon and the others tracked him down and told him, “Everyone’s out looking for you.” He said, “Let’s head out to the next few towns and get the word out there. That’s my mission.” So off they went, all over Galilee, speaking in churches and expelling demons.

It’s tempting, on the heels of a great success, to think you’ve arrived. That it’s all over. Jesus could have stayed in Capernaum basking in his new fame. But if he had, we wouldn’t still be talking about him.

The difference between the one-hit wonders, and those who still engage our admiration years after we first heard of them is simple. They never stopped after their first brush with fame. After the first movie, they made another and then another, did another Broadway show, cut another album, wrote another book. They didn’t stop. Instead, they used what they achieved as a platform for the next achievement.

In the grand scheme of things, being a one-hit wonder is relatively easy. It’s being a virtuoso, who can do the work day after day, night after night that’s hard. Even when it all goes down in flames (John Travolta doesn’t make a hit movie every time) the virtuoso starts again. Even failure is a platform for the next effort. It only looks effortless because they work so hard at it. Every time.

Bonus: Same is true of churches, companies, schools, and non-profit organizations. The moment they stop doing the next thing and start relying on their past successes to maintain their fame/profit/reputation/community support is the moment they start to die.