This teaching series through Mark has helped me understand the revolutionary difficulty of Jesus’ teachings. I’m struck, over and over, by the people who leave Jesus sad or angry in Mark’s Gospel. Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians try to trick Jesus with political and religious questions and leave angry time and time again. The chief priests and the elders try to trap Jesus and they leave angry. The rich young ruler comes and asks how he can inherit eternal life; he leaves sad, because he won’t sell all of his possessions. James and John come and ask who will be at Jesus’ right hand and they leave sad, because Jesus flips it all on its head. He says the servants among them will be first in Heaven.
I’m also struck by those who leave Jesus full of joy and hope. Sinners, tax collectors, social outcasts, children, and the sick all leave with healing and encouragement.
When I ask myself who I’d be in these stories, I can’t help identifying with the frustrated parties over and over. I’m certainly a sinner and I’m not very rich by American standards. Yet, I don’t come to Jesus from a perspective of neediness. Even before God, I don’t come with my sin and my brokenness. So often, I come puffed up. I come to him with questions about who will be first in Heaven or whose doctrine has it all figured out correctly.
Too often, I identify with what Jesus said to the Pharisees: “And he said to them, well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mark 7:6-7) He tells them, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:18-23). Over and over Jesus reframes their tricks and convoluted theology questions back to the real issue: their hearts. Famously, he tells them the most important commandments are to love God and love your neighbor.
Those who come aware of their condition, those who say, “I believe; help my unbelief,” those without pretense, those begging to touch the hem of his cloak, they leave encounters with Christ joyful and closer to wholeness. Those that come to him with pretense, with pride, and with hardened hearts always leave sad. His teachings are hard, but they are good. There is always hope for the ones that come to him in need. May we be the people who encounter Jesus and leave with joyful and closer to wholeness.
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