Choices

– Henry Neufeld

And he went in again into the synagogue. And there was a man there who had a paralyzed hand. 2And they watched him to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the paralyzed hand, “Rise up in the middle!” 4And he said to them, “Is it lawful on Sabbath to do good or to do evil? To save life, or to kill? But they were silent. 5And he looked around with anger, grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” And he stretched it out and his hand was restored. 6And the Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him as to how they might destroy him.        Mark 3:1-6 (HN)

Many of us, in our spiritual walk and in our leadership have a problem telling when is the time to fight, and when is the time to back off.  I have known some extremely confrontational people.  For them, all times are confrontation times, and all issues are fighting issues.  They would never consider toning down their rhetoric or their actions in order to avoid offense.

There are others for whom all times are fleeing times.  Their primary mission is to avoid offending anyone.  If there is something that might annoy anyone else, no matter how good an idea they think it is, they will hold it back until nobody is going to be offended.

The Bible has support for both sides of this debate.  The easiest place for me to go is the chapter that has the two sides in consecutive verses:

4Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness, lest you become like him yourself.
5Answer a fool according to his foolishness, lest he be wise in his own eyes.     Proverbs 26:4-5 (HN)

I use this text to illustrate the “toolkit” concept in using the scriptures.  We could look at these verses as a contradiction.  One tells us to do something, but the other commands the exact opposite.  Which one are we to obey?  The answer requires wisdom—no surprise, considering this is the book of Proverbs!  Which one applies to your situation?

In our text, Jesus is confronted by evil and by evil’s helpers.  Why do I call the scribes “evil’s helpers?”  Because they are the critics.  They’re looking for reasons to attack Jesus.  They want to be offended.

Some people think they aren’t critics, but rather just people who want to see to it that things are done right.  If someone is doing something wrong, shouldn’t you let them know?  You can usually tell by the fruit.  Are you happy when you find someone doing something wrong?  Does it give you a thrill of power?  You can tell further by how you act.  Do you provide helpful answers about what to do, or do you go off and conspire with other people?

If you’re one of the critics, then you are evil’s helpers.  Those are the folks Jesus confronted.  He found a situation when their activities had to be challenged.  He had to “answer the fools according to their foolishness.”  You see, what Jesus was about to do didn’t actually violate Jewish law, at least according to most interpretations.  These guys were taking a hard line so they could catch him.

There was a major issue at stake as well:  Are people more important or are rituals?  So Jesus got up, jumped right into the critics’ face, and confronted them.

Many of us would choose instead to take the man aside and heal him quietly.  If people are going to be offended, why not avoid the conflict?  Because in this case, the conflict is the important thing.  The religious spirit that says, “Our worship service is more important than this man’s pain,” is the spirit that has destroyed communities of faith ever since there were any to destroy.

Can your life be interrupted by human pain?  If your pastor interrupted the service to deal with a homeless person, or to offer prayer for someone in the congregation for healing, or to let the congregation listen to someone’s testimony, would it offend you?  If it would, you’re headed toward the critics’ side, and you don’t want to be there.

Don’t be offended if Jesus interrupts your routine today.

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