Forgiving Sins is Offensive and Praiseworthy

Scripture Focus: Mark 2.5-12
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Reflection: Forgiving Sins is Offensive and Praiseworthy
By John Tillman

Whether listening to a political or a religious leader, I often find myself saying what the Pharisees said, “Why did he say that?” People will regularly disappoint us or shock us with poorly worded, or simply wrong statements. 

Unintentional blunders are one thing, but there are some who take outrage to the bank. They dress up half-truths to be as offensive as possible. Then they act as if they are persecuted when people get angry. Their double-edged statements are specifically sharpened for two target audiences.

One audience is the people they hope to offend. They don’t care about this audience. They don’t want to convince them or win them over, although they often pretend to. They just want to say something hurtful enough that they will react in anger. The other target is the people they hope will leap to their defense, attacking the injured audience when they speak out against the offensive statement. The outrage-mongers don’t care about this audience either, although they often pretend to. This group is just the mob they hope to sic on their enemies. 

Others, as if there isn’t enough outrage in the world, seek it out. Modern people spend much time and energy finding offense in people’s words. They read others uncharitably and intentionally misinterpret them just to stir up controversy.

Jesus inspires offense and praise. When Jesus said things that “offended,” he wasn’t making unintentional blunders. But he also wasn’t intentionally stirring up conflict. We see in Jesus a different model of communication. He speaks to the religious leaders and the religious outcasts with the same motive: to call them to repentance. The truths Christ tells may prick but are not intended to wound. They may goad (Acts 9.4-5 KJV) but are not intended to bruise. (Matthew 12.15-21)

Mark is laying out for us in these chapters a series of escalating conflicts with the religious leaders. We will see the tension continue to grow. Threats, conspiracy, and violence will be the outcome.

Jesus warned that because he was hated, his followers would be hated. But that is not license to be hateful. If we speak in the name of Jesus, we must remember that there is no audience Jesus does not care for. He wants to win them all over and he weeps when any refuse to come to him to be healed. It is his will that all would come to salvation.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. — Psalm 71.8

Today’s Readings
Genesis 24 (Listen 9:42
Mark 2 (Listen 3:55)

Read more about Take Up Your Mat
The paralyzed man’s faith is questionable—perhaps so weak that only Jesus could see it.

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Theology is Like a Watch

Scripture: Mark 2.7, 16, 18, 24
“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
“How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Reflection: Theology is Like a Watch
By John Tillman

Jesus wasn’t sinless because he never broke laws. He constantly broke them.

In this one short chapter of Mark, Christ breaks (or supports those who are breaking) five separate laws (some of which were punishable by stoning): he blasphemes, he eats with ceremonially unclean people, he eschews required religious fasting, he defends working on the sabbath, he defends David’s eating of the holy bread.

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) described the interdependence of laws and truth when advising new disciples learning about theology and the scriptures for the first time:

“Truths have a dependence on each other; the lesser branches spring out of the greater, and those out of the stock and root. Some laws are but means to other laws, or subservient to them…Therefore it is one of the commonest difficulties among cases of conscience, to know which law is the greater.”

Christ recognized the priority of the greatest laws. We see this in Christ’s teaching. Jesus referred to “lesser” laws with language that exposed their second-tier authority. He often said, “your traditions,” or “Moses permitted,” or “you have heard it said…” Baxter continues:

“Upon this ground, Christ healed on the Sabbath day, and pleaded for his disciples harvesting the heads of grain, and for David’s eating the shewbread, and told them, that ‘the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath,’ and that ‘God will have mercy, and not sacrifice.’”

Baxter refers to theology as an intricate watch—meaningless unless all the parts are in proper order:

“Theology is a curious, well-composed frame. Just as it is not enough that you have all the parts of your watch or clock, but you must see that every part is in its proper place, or else it will not go, or answer its end; so it is not enough that you know the various parts of theology or law, unless you know them in their true order and priority.”

When Jesus is asked what the two greatest commandments are, his answer tells us how to set our watch by the two guideposts on which hang the entire law—Love God and love others.

*Richard Baxter selections condensed and language updated from A Christian Directory.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Again, you have heard how it was said to our ancestors, You must not break your oath…But I say this to you, do not swear at all…All you need say is, ‘Yes’ if you mean yes, ‘No’ if you mean no…” — Matthew 5.33-37

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 31 (Listen – 7:47) 
Mark 2 (Listen – 3:55)

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Read more from The Heart of the Reformation
Luther’s intention wasn’t division, but renewal. The heart of the Reformation is the recovery of the gospel, inside the Church, for the good of the world.

Read more about Created Anew
The rabbis speak of “right intentions”: yetzer ha-tov (the good inclination) vs yetzer ha-ra (the evil inclination). It is possible to serve the Lord out of joy and it is possible to serve him out of duty. On the outside, acts of service appear the same: “but the Lord looks at the heart.”