October 20, 2017

Reconsider Jesus – The Compassionate Healer

MichaelSpencerThe following is an excerpt from Michael Spencer’s upcoming book: Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. For the next number of Fridays, we will be giving you a “sneak peek” into this devotional commentary. Your thoughts and comments are welcome. (Note: There are some edits still to come, but if you do notice something particularly egregious, feel free to send me an email about it.) If you would like to be contacted when Michael Spencer’s book is available for purchase, drop us a note at michaelspencersnewbook@gmail.com.

The Compassionate Healer

Mark 1:30-45

30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…

39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.  40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. – ESV

…When Jesus casts out demons, heals a person with leprosy, or performs one of the other miracles we see in this passage, he is doing something radical in his world. He is rejecting a whole way of thinking about people and their problems. When the society of that time was confronted with what it called demon possession it was common for them to take sticks and beat these people into submission, or to give them poison thinking that if they vomited they would vomit out the demon. It is unbelievable what a person like this might have been through.

My father was put in a mental hospital in the late 1960s in Louisville and I was never able to visit him, but the people who did said the wards were like going to hell. People are not treated well when others don’t understand what is going on. In Jesus’ time they would write off these marginalized people, saying “It proves I am a godly person if I have nothing to do with that person.” “It proves I am a godly person if I avoid the leper.”

Jesus rejected this whole way of thinking about people and their problems. When Jesus saw a demon possessed person, a leper, or even a mother-in-law with a fever, Jesus saw a hurting person. He gave them love, acceptance, kindness, and dignity. Having anything to do with a person with leprosy would have made you unclean yourself. For Jesus to reach out and touch a leper, was not just a mere action, it was reaching across all of those barriers that society had put up and instead saying that this person is lovable and valuable in God’s sight.

We need to remember this: If we are not saying, “Give me compassion for the excluded, and compassion for the hurting” then we are not yet following Jesus. As we go through our world, through the courthouses, the hospitals, the classrooms, and the community, we will see all sorts of people of whom our world says, “They are in that unacceptable group and deservedly so.” Jesus calls us to be willing to go across that barrier, not just out of some sort of feel good duty, but out of true genuine compassion. The gospel tells me that I am unacceptable. I am unclean. I am under the power of the devil. I have the leprosy of sin and Christ has loved me and included me and cleansed and forgiven me. Therefore I can go and eat dinner at a table with someone with whom I wouldn’t normally eat, talk with those with whom I wouldn’t normally talk, and befriend those who are not supposed to be in my group. That is following Jesus.

Jesus is calling us to reach across barriers and get out of our comfort zones. He is calling us to draw a larger circle of God’s love than just the people with whom we are comfortable. He wants us to include people who are different from us without excluding those who are like us. To cross the barriers, reject cliques, and to treat people as Jesus treated them is a powerful demonstration of the gospel. I want you to notice as we read through Mark what happens as Jesus does this: In verse 33, the whole town gathered at the door; In verse 45 Jesus could no longer openly enter a town. Over in chapter 3 so many people were being brought to Jesus that he had to teach from a boat because the crowds were so crushing. In chapter 6, facing yet another large crowd, and despite a lack of food and rest, Jesus had compassion “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

Did Jesus face these crowds in these passages and elsewhere because he was a miracle worker? Yes, but more so because Jesus treated, and reached out to, and loved, and touched the unacceptable and the excluded. People came running to him.  Lepers came from their hiding places. People who were ashamed of their family members brought them to Jesus.

Do you understand what Christianity means if we practice this? What would a church look like if it was Jesus’ church? Would it be only for nice white families with no problems, two cars and two kids? No. Jesus’ church would include all kinds of people, with all kinds of problems, who would be drawn together by the acceptance they find in Jesus Christ. They would not be ashamed but welcomed and there would not be one hint of anyone saying, “We’re happy we don’t have that kind of person here.”

I cannot say I am following Jesus Christ if I am not willing to pray that the authority and the power of Jesus would change the lives of those around me. I don’t believe it is up to me to diagnose people’s problems, but it is appropriate for me to say “Lord Jesus Christ, send your Spirit and work in this life. Do what only you can do.” God saves people, heals people, delivers people and changes people. A rationalistic Christianity that excludes this is wrong. It doesn’t need to be a show, and it doesn’t need to be self serving, and it can’t be a circus, but it can’t be left out. You can’t have powerless Christianity. Our Savior has authority over everything, including demons and illness, and he extends it to people that our world has written off.

That includes us. All of us know what it is like to feel unaccepted. The word “stigma” may not be in vogue anymore, but if you have been divorced you know what stigma is. If you have been unemployed you know what stigma is. If people look at you as a failure, or as somebody they don’t want to talk to or know, then you know how powerful it is to realize that Jesus Christ includes you and accepts you. There is no time that I need Jesus more than when I feel unacceptable to myself and to others. I am acceptable to him and he will always come and stand by me, and embrace me, and love me. He doesn’t exclude me, and he doesn’t blame me.

The kind of Christianity that presents a Christ who blames people and excludes people is not following the Jesus of the gospels. In the epistles when someone has to be excluded from the church for reasons of church discipline, it is a heartbreaking matter because Jesus Christ is an includer, not an excluder. Our gospel needs to start at that. You need to feel what it is to follow a Christ who looked at a demon possessed man and said, “Bring that man to me and I’ll help him.” Jesus looked at illness. He looked at stigma. He looked at all of that and said that in the Kingdom of God it is a whole different thing. Those barriers are gone. I pray that you experience that for yourself through the gospel and I encourage you to share that good news with those around you.

—————————————————————–

Editor’s note – Some questions to think about:  How has the church (in general) done in following Christ’s example here?  How is your own church doing?  How does this fit with what you believe that the church should be?

Comments

  1. This fits in perfectly with what I believe the church should be. A place where they can hear the truth about themselves…that they are not up to it. That they are REAL sinners who haven’t got a prayer without Christ Jesus and His great love for sinners. The kind we know that we all are.

  2. In an Orthodox society, you have Orthodox whores, Orthodox pimps, Orthodox hitmen, Orthodox con-men, Orthodox thieves, etc. There is never any idea in anybody’s head that these people aren’t Christian. As Pascha gets closer and closer, all these marginal types start coming to the parish. It is always good to see them.

    On Holy Tuesday, there is a particular custom that I know of in Serbia. It is the day of the commemoration of the sinful woman who washed Christ’s feet with her tears, and the beautiful hymn of Kassini is sung. Traditionally, if sex workers don’t attend any other service, they attend this one.

    One of the benefits of attending an “unregenerate church” is that everyone is pretty much on the same level.

    • dumb ox says:

      The term, “unregenerated church” is interesting. I’m sure it is a revivalistic construct. It sounds so much like Jack Chick of Tim Layhay. I beg the question whether there really are fewer “sinners” in a regenerate church. Given the reduction of the pragmatic gospel, how different really are these “regeneate” from the rest of the world? I think the revivalistic church fell into the same problem they accuse main-line churches: having a form of godliness but denying its power. They have enthusiastic worship and make converts make a public commitment to Christ, maybe even “baptized in the Holy Spirit”, but in the end it makes no difference in what they value, what motivates them, or how they treat their neighbor. Perhaps it is worse, because it is the same worldly behavior with the Christian label (ChristianTM, as HUG would say).

      In college, I thought I had high standards, but my Roman Catholic friends put me to shame. I found that my revivalistic faith at the time made room for rationalizations that Catholics could never get away with.

      It is interesting looking at the world from the perspective of Catholics and Orthodox, where the funda-gelicals are the “unregenerate”. They may be more correct than we dare to admit.

  3. And somewhat off-topic, intruding here to link to the new encyclical on Faith – first one by Pope Francis, developed from a draft by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. So that completes three on the theological virtues: Deus Caritas Est on love, Spes Salvi on Hope and now Lumen Fidei on faith.

    Had a very quick gallop through it and a lot to consider.

    • Christiane says:

      thanks, MARTHA . . . for the link . . . I just galloped through it also and now will go back and take my time

  4. The bible gives strict instructions for church discipline and we are told there is a sin unto death and sin not unto death. If the person sins unto death we are not to pray for such a one. Kenneth Hagin did a little homework at the gate called narrow where that man the Apostles raised up that had been there for years was. He looked at the map and realized Jesus had been through that gate many times. He then went into further study and said the town Peter went through where His shadow Healed people Jesus had also been there healing the afflicted. The article clip sounds good but by not taking the whole council of Gods Word a bit out of balance. There is a side of Jesus no one likes to talk about although He is always good.Remember He walked into the temple flipped tables over and whipped the people there. God stood behind Paul when He turned people over to the devil that they may learn not to blaspheme. There are multiple warnings in the bible people don’t like and refuse to talk about. This makes for very imbalanced doctorine.One of the biggest tragedies I see is at communion Paul said if we would judge ourselves we would not be judged this is the reason many are weak sick and dead. But when we are judged we are judged so we are not condmned with the World.Although many people don’t like that many more are told if you got a problem come we will speedily lay our hands on you for prayer. We can loose and bind and also remit this word in the original language may have severe implications for those who refused to judge themselves.

    • John 3:18
      He who believes in Him [who clings to, trusts in, relies on Him] is not judged [he who trusts in Him never comes up for judgment; for him there is no rejection, no condemnation—he incurs no damnation]; but he who does not believe (cleave to, rely on, trust in Him) is judged already [he has already been convicted and has already received his sentence] because he has not believed in and trusted in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [He is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ’s name.]

    • “But let a man examine himself,…. Whether he has a true sense of sin, sorrow and repentance for it; otherwise he will see no need of a Saviour, nor will he look to Christ for salvation, or be thankful to him for redemption by him; all which are necessary in a due observance of this ordinance”
      http://gill.biblecommenter.com/1_corinthians/11.htm

  5. Scott,

    You wrote: “The article clip sounds good but by not taking the whole council of Gods Word [it is] a bit out of balance.”

    This assumes of course that the issues you raise are not addressed elsewhere. In the book, this section follows a few pages behind a section on repentence in which Michael Spencer writes (and again this is just an excerpt from a longer section):

    Some churches, in seeking to avoid being heavy-handed about requiring repentance, have discarded the requirement entirely. The surgical removal of this aspect of the Gospel message is serious! I would go as far as to say that any Gospel that does not clearly proclaim repentance is a false gospel worthy of condemnation.
    So let me be very clear about this: One of the most spiritual destructive mindsets among Christians is that grace is so free and unconditional to sinners that repentance is not necessary. Christianity has been cursed and millions of Christians’ lives have been rendered empty and powerless because they have never been told in no uncertain terms, that it is time to stop and go in a different direction. We have seen this distortion of Christianity preached by person after person on the national stage. Cheap grace. Cheap forgiveness without repentance. It is shameful, and Jesus wouldn’t recognize it. Jesus wouldn’t recognize a person that said my response to my sin is simply to blow it off and go do whatever I want. God is not calling us to sackcloth and ashes, though I’ll tell you what, in many of our lives a little sackcloth and ashes wouldn’t hurt us from time to time.

    • Amen the erosion of foundational doctorines is happening right before our eyes. My uncle always said the bible is not a menu we do not take what we want and leave out what we don’t. I might add this runs a danger of making an idol.Altering God for who He is into what we like and approve Him to be.

  6. When I was reading this section of Michael Spencer’s work, I was reminded of a story that Tony Campolo tells.

    A few years ago Tony flew to Hawaii to speak at a conference. The way he tells it, he checks into his hotel and tries to get some sleep. Unfortunately, his internal clock wakes him at 3:00 a.m. The night is dark, the streets are silent, the world is asleep, but Tony is wide awake and his stomach is growling.

    He gets up and prowls the streets looking for a place to get some bacon and eggs for an early breakfast. Everything is closed except for a grungy dive in an alley. He goes in and sits down at the counter. The fat guy behind the counter comes over and asks, “What d’ya want?”

    Well, Tony isn’t so hungry anymore so eying some donuts under a plastic cover he says, “I’ll have a donut and black coffee.”

    As he sits there munching on his donut and sipping his coffee at 3:30, in walk eight or nine provocative, loud prostitutes just finished with their night’s work. They plop down at the counter and Tony finds himself uncomfortably surrounded by this group of smoking, swearing hookers. He gulps his coffee, planning to make a quick getaway. Then the woman next to him says to her friend, “You know what? Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m gonna be 39.” To which her friend nastily replies, “So what d’ya want from me? A birthday party? Huh? You want me to get a cake, and sing happy birthday to you?”

    The first woman says, “Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean? Why do you have to put me down? I’m just sayin’ it’s my birthday. I don’t want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?”

    Well, when Tony Campolo heard that, he said he made a decision. He sat and waited until the women left, and then he asked the fat guy at the counter, “Do they come in here every night?”

    “Yeah,” he answered.

    “The one right next to me,” he asked, “she comes in every night?”

    “Yeah,” he said, “that’s Agnes. Yeah, she’s here every night. She’s been comin’ here for years. Why do you want to know?”

    “Because she just said that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you think? Do you think we could maybe throw a little birthday party for her right here in the diner?”

    A cute kind of smile crept over the fat man’s chubby cheeks. “That’s great,” he says, “yeah, that’s great. I like it.” He turns to the kitchen and shouts to his wife, “Hey, come on out here. This guy’s got a great idea. Tomorrow is Agnes’ birthday and he wants to throw a party for her right here.”

    His wife comes out. “That’s terrific,” she says. “You know, Agnes is really nice. She’s always trying to help other people and nobody does anything nice for her.”

    So they make their plans. Tony says he’ll be back at 2:30 the next morning with some decorations and the man, whose name turns out to be Harry, says he’ll make a cake.

    At 2:30 the next morning, Tony is back. He has crepe paper and other decorations and a sign made of big pieces of cardboard that says, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” They decorate the place from one end to the other and get it looking great. Harry had gotten the word out on the streets about the party and by 3:15 it seemed that every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. There were hookers wall to wall.

    At 3:30 on the dot, the door swings open and in walks Agnes and her friend. Tony has everybody ready. They all shout and scream “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” Agnes is absolutely flabbergasted. She’s stunned, her mouth falls open, her knees started to buckle, and she almost falls over.

    And when the birthday cake with all the candles is carried out, that’s when she totally loses it. Now she’s sobbing and crying. Harry, who’s not used to seeing a prostitute cry, gruffly mumbles, “Blow out the candles, Agnes. Cut the cake.”

    So she pulls herself together and blows them out. Everyone cheers and yells, “Cut the cake, Agnes, cut the cake!”

    But Agnes looks down at the cake and, without taking her eyes off it, slowly and softly says, “Look, Harry, is it all right with you if…I mean, if I don’t…I mean, what I want to ask, is it OK if I keep the cake a little while? Is it all right if we don’t eat it right away?”

    Harry doesn’t know what to say so he shrugs and says, “Sure, if that’s what you want to do. Keep the cake. Take it home if you want.”

    “Oh, could I?” she asks. Looking at Tony she says, “I live just down the street a couple of doors; I want to take the cake home, is that okay? I’ll be right back, honest.”

    She gets off her stool, picks up the cake, and carries it high in front of her like it was the Holy Grail. Everybody watches in stunned silence and when the door closes behind her, nobody seems to know what to do. They look at each other. They look at Tony.

    So Tony gets up on a chair and says, “What do you say that we pray together?”

    And there they are in a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, half the prostitutes in Honolulu, at 3:30 a.m. listening to Tony Campolo as he prays for Agnes, for her life, her health, and her salvation. Tony recalls, “I prayed that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her.”

    When he’s finished, Harry leans over, and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he says, “Hey, you never told me you was a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to anyway?”

    In one of those moments when just the right words came, Tony answers him quietly, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”

    Harry thinks for a moment, and in a mocking way says, “No you don’t. There ain’t no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. Yep, I’d join a church like that.”

    • Christiane says:

      thanks MIKE,

      the Campolo account resonates with being called to come along side those who are outcasts . . .
      the response of a Christian to the pain of this world MUST be always be one of love, and never self-righteous contempt

      I think we know ‘what kind of Church’ people desperately need and would come to,
      but our human pride and self-righteousness stands guard against it so the finger-pointing judgment can continue to pose as ‘Christian’ . . .

      In ‘reconsidering Jesus’, Tony must have known of the prophecy in Jeremiah 3, this:
      “15 I will give you shepherds after My own Heart,
      who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

  7. Like many of you, I grew up in a strict, “fundagelical” (whoever made up that word, thank you!) church that loved to avoid the people Michael described. We had a special brand of Pharisaism that I am sure Nicodemus himself could have recognized.

    My father went to this church for decades, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why. When I was an older teenager I had already made up my mind about the church about the time my dad quit being a Sunday School superintendent and starting going out Sunday mornings to the jail ministry. He had an easy way with the prisoners and got to know the men by name. Sometimes he went beyond the weekly meeting and helped them with various personal issues. The prisoners really liked him. One year he got the idea to have a Christmas Eve dinner for the prisoners, and the officers who ran the prison granted permission. He asked the ladies in the church to bring GOOD food, nothing packaged or inexpensive, and they came through with quite a spread. He asked me to come, and we spent Christmas Eve in a jail singing Christmas carols and feasting with prisoners.

    How is the church doing? Probably not as good as it should, but there are people in the church who really get it. I doubt that the self-righteous have been rooted out of any denomination entirely. All I know is that about thirty years ago, when I was about ready to give up on the church, I watched a man act with genuine kindness toward the marginalized and it restored my faith in the Christian religion.

  8. dumb ox says:

    The following quote was posted on the Radical Grace Radio Facebook page this morning. I think it bears repeating. In a church where certain groups are stigmatized or excluded, perhaps there is a lack of brokenness and despair of salvation apart from grace.

    “A presumption of good works and of righteousness leaves no room for the fear of God. But where there is no fear of God, there cannot be a thirst for grace and life. Therefore God must have a mighty hammer to crush the rocks, and a fire burning in the midst of heaven to overthrow the mountains, that is, to crush that stubborn and perverse beast, presumption. When a man has been brought to nothing by this pounding, despairs of his own powers, righteousness, and works, and trembles before God, he will, in his terror, begin to thirst for mercy and the forgiveness of sins.”

    Martin Luther
    Luther’s Works, AE 26:335,
    Lectures on Galatians 1535,
    Galatians Chapter 3