Bible Study “The End, The Beginning” Week 6

Week 6: READ: Mark 2:1-12

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The story of the healing of a man who was paralyzed in the village of Capernaum marks the first of five stories that involve controversy in this collection of conflict stories in Mark: 2:1-12, 15-17, 18-22, 23-28 and 3:1-6.  While much of Mark lacks attention to detail and structure, this conflict section has a very detailed “concentric structure”: The first (2:1-12) and the last (3:1-6) units are the only two that involve healing. The first two units (2:1-12 and 2:13-17) share the theme of sin and sinners. The last two (2:23-28 and 3:1-6) share the theme of what is permitted on the Sabbath. The second, third, and fourth (2:13-17; 2:18-22; and 2:23-28) share the theme of eating (or not eating, that is, fasting). The first two and the last two all have a three-part structure, whereas the middle unit (2:18-22) have a two-part structure, (Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007, p. 182).  .  This is a pre-Markan collection of conflict stories that may have been edited and inserted by Mark into his Gospel.

Werner H. Kelber in The Kingdom in Mark, writes: …it seems Mark chose to deal with forgiveness of sins (2:1-12), association with outcasts ((2:15-17), the practice of fasting (2:18-20), and Sabbath observance (2:23-3:6) because these were issues of vital concern to him and his people. The controversy stories…provide us with a structural outline of the Markan communal conditions as well as that of an opposing group. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974, p. 18).  What Kelber identifies in these conflict stories is profound and impactful.  It implies that the audience to whom Mark wrote his Gospel, whether in the Galilean region or elsewhere in the Roman Empire, was challenged to be liberated from religious legalism by the message of Jesus.

The apostle Paul wrote about this liberating new life found through faith in Jesus Christ, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  The message of the Gospel is a life-changing power.  We can be lulled into spiritual apathy by doing church as tradition or ritual and miss out on its gift and power in our daily life.  What are the signs of spiritual apathy?  The first sign is developing a critical and judgmental attitude toward the church and people in the church.  When we get caught up in looking for mistakes, hymns we don’t like, the sermon that did not hold my attention, the toilet that does not flush, and the pastor who did not talk to me, our critical mood steals our spiritual joy.

It was the religious people in the house that day that missed out on what Jesus taught and did because they were too busy looking for ways to complain.  I can get caught in a spiritual slump and be as grumpy and complain about church members and church business as much as anybody!  Sometimes we all need a spiritual adjustment, aka a kick in the pants by Jesus.  What we bring into worship is what we get out of worship.  If we come looking for faults, we will find them.  They are there.  If we come with an open heart and mind seeking the peace, joy and direction of the Lord, we will find that as well.

How do we work our way out of a spiritual funk?  It begins with our desire.  If you want to seek and find the passion of the Lord, you are heading in the right direction. Take time to acknowledge your dissatisfaction with your spiritual apathy or disconnection.  This soul searching activity is called repentance.  Bring your desire to the Lord in prayer.  If you are caught in a group of people who are currently critical of the church, you may find it helpful to distance yourself from them for a bit.  Above all, pray for the church.  We need it!

Returning to the story in Mark 2, Kelber adds: Interjected into a miracle story (2:1-5, 11-12) is a conflict report (2:6-10) which now has a muffling effect on the miracle theology. The emphasis is not on Jesus the miracle worker, but on Jesus who performs a miracle through the problematic power of the forgiveness of sins…The Son of Man…defending what in the eyes of the adversaries is outright blasphemy, i.e., the right to forgive sins on earth (ibid. pp. 18-19). A vital part of restoring spiritual passion is receiving the forgiveness of God.  You are a loved and important child of God.  Grab a hold of that and remind yourself daily of that affirmation.  It is true and it blesses our soul.

John Ortberg wrote in: Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, about this story of the healing of the paralytic: It is a very vulnerable thing to have someone carry your mat. When someone carries your mat, they see you in your weakness. They might hurt you if they drop you…Here is the truth about us: Everybody has a mat. Let the mat stand as a picture of human brokenness and imperfection…It is the little “as-is” tag that I most desire to hide. But that healing becomes possible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003, p. 47).  Relationships are based on the honest give and take of what it means to be human.  When I can be my truest self and you accept me for who I am, you give me a gift.  My gift to you is letting you see me for who I really am.

God created us for relationships both with God and others.  Relationships are often imperfect and can be messy.  Our friendships and acquaintances add color, texture and brilliance to our lives.  Why do we allow ourselves to become so busy and enmeshed in our work, school or life that we shut out the people who matter most to us?  I have never been with a person who is dying who asked for more time to work.  They may want more time with family or other relationships – most definitely.

Back to the story, Eduard Schweitzer writes about the house in which Jesus was teaching: A Palestinian house usually consisted of a single room. The roof, which had to be replaced each fall before the rainy season, was constructed of wooden beams overlaid with branches and covered with mud. Very often an outdoor stairway led to the roof, (The Good News According to Mark, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1977, p. 63).  The point is that the opening of the roof in this story had to make quite a stir.  You cannot enter a one-room house either by the door, the window or even the roof without notice.  Imagine, clumps of falling dried mud dropping on the heads of a packed house below.  That, my friends, is a dramatic drop-in visit!

In 1987 I was part of a mission study group from our denomination that traveled to Mexico experience the outreach work of our church in rural and urban Mexico.  Our group of fourteen traveled in two vans several hours from Mexico City into a rural area where after hundreds of years of planting maize, the soil was depleted of nitrogen.  The Lutheran agriculturalists had been introducing a new idea of planting soybeans in place of maize on some of their land.  As a legume, soybeans leach nitrogen back into the soil.  This was step one of the process.

Step two included introducing a process to make soy milk out of the soybeans as well as tortillas out of soybean flower.  For farmers whose maize was so poor that they could not feed themselves or their milk cow, soybeans could provide soy milk for children.  As you can imagine, change is difficult for any culture but especially for a traditional culture like that found in remote Mexico.  The change was introduced through a couple of farm families who were so poor and they were willing to risk by breaking with the traditional maize as the staple of life.

The third step was creating a small pond to raise and harvest minnows which provided additional protein in the diet.  Within a year, the nutritional health of the children and family improved.  This was an educational process for anyone who was willing to consider such a lifestyle change.  The Lutheran mission workers provided much needed support to sustain the change.

The one-room home our study group entered was about 10 feet by 18 feet.  The cooking area was in the center of the room and consisted of a fire pit in the dirt floor.  With six family members and fourteen guests filing into the home where the mother demonstrated cooking soybean tortillas, the room felt stuffy.

While I write about the change process for a traditional Mexican family to move from maize to soybeans and  sun-dried minnows, the change was right in my face when I was handed a freshly made soybean tortilla filled with beans and sun-dried minnows that stared out at me.  Gulp!  This quickly moved from a study trip to a new experience!  When it gets personal, it shifts from theory to praxis.

Jesus was teaching in a one-room house where you did everything from cooking to eating, to hosting family and friends as well as sleeping.  The story tells us that there were many who were eager to learn from Jesus as well as a few religious leaders who I imagine standing along the walls to keep an eye on him.  Some of the local civic leaders or those more captivated by Jesus may have taken to sitting on the floor around him.  While the story does not mention that Jesus disciples were in the room, it is safe to say they probably took up precious space as well.

I have some great memories of preaching in churches in Ethiopia and Tanzania where not only was the building packed with people but outside the doorway and windows stood a large gathering of people eager to see and listen. If twenty-five to thirty people were all that fit inside the house where Jesus was teaching, it would be no surprise if an equal or larger number of people stood around the house hoping to catch a glimpse and to hear what Jesus was saying.

This is the picture that forms in my head from my global experiences of what it may have been like when the four men who carried the paralytic on a mat came down the street in Capernaum.  Jesus identifies the faith of the men who drop the man down into the room through the roof.  They were daring, determined and downright persistent.

Soul Sower

Pastor Cliff Dirksen was my pastor during my first two years of college at the University of Minnesota, Duluth branch. His appearance reminded me of Mr. Weatherbee, the high school principal from the Archie comic books.  Cliff was unassuming in many ways.  He fit the congregation well as it was housed in a simple, rather tired and nothing special kind of church building.

What captured my attention as a college student was the exceptional Lenten dramas this congregation produced each year.  Pastor Dirksen was surprisingly creative as the writer, producer, and recruiter of the actors as well as drama coach and make-up artist.  What Pastor Dirksen did for me was to rope me in together with some of my college friends to participate in the drama.  This was a new experience for me and his encouragement and coaching was key to my confidence and gave me a positive experience in speaking during worship.

Pastor Dirksen was a connector of people. He made sure I met young college students from his congregation who involved me in young person’s Bible study, working with the youth and occasional worship leadership. This church away from home became an anchor for me and my faith in the rocky time of change called college life.  It was Pastor Cliff Dirksen who planted the seed in my life to prayerfully consider being a pastor – which was far from my vision for my future.  At a very unsettled time in my freshman year, I finally prayed to God that if I was being called to be a pastor against my better judgment, then let it be so.  It was shortly after that prayer, that the storms in my life went calm.  I was unhappy about this call to ministry but at least I now had some peace in my mind.

Discussion Questions

  1. Jesus returns to his home base in Capernaum.  What Jesus was teaching the people in the house is again not included in the story because something else is important.  What do you see to be the primary point of this story?
  2. Jesus was given the authority on earth to forgive sins.  As followers of Jesus, whose sins can we forgive?
  3. Is it easier for you to forgive someone who has harmed you or to forgive yourself?  Is there anything you are still working on to forgive yourself?
  4. Forgiveness can heal broken relationships.  Because we are human, some relationships may never be resolved.  Would you rather walk or have peace in the relationships that matter most to you?