In this week’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ critique of the religious leaders of his community. He is speaking within a context different than ours to a people who were facing challenges that we are not. His words to the religious leaders, while sounding harsh to our ears, are not that different than the sorts of sustained critiques that they leveled against one another.
In the narrative of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has just fed the multitude in the wilderness, signifying the long awaited return of the miracle of the manna and the return of the promised prophet like Moses. He next demonstrates that he is more than just a great prophet by walking across the storm tossed chaotic waters of the sea. In this week’s reading he is presenting a new moral insight to people he came to save.
This short section of conflict seems to present an outsider disputing with the learned experts. But without the context you miss the larger point. Instead, I’ve heard these sorts of conflict stories used to support the argument that the knowledge of the experts can not standup to the wisdom of the commoner. (That’s a common trope in American culture, and it’s a trope at the heart of much of the political division in our country these days.)
But that’s not what this story is about. And to misuse it to support of general skepticism of expertise takes us to a place today where people are rejecting three or four decades of research into mRNA vaccine technology and trying to cure COVID by taking medicine meant to de-worm horses and cattle. The biblical stories are powerful and transformative. But they are not easy to understand or self-evident. They need to be studied, discussed in community, and lived into over time if they are going to have the power to save us from sin and death.
• Thank you for the contrasting stories about the Fisher Space Pen – useful!
• I get your point about how Jesus’ response was not a common sense/ common man response, but rather a response from an expert.
• I assert that ancient Judaism was a struggle toward learning how to honor the dignity of each human being (contrast this with the Roman Empire, for example). I assert that Jesus called his opponents hypocrites, not so he could conform to some common culture of debate, but rather, because he was deeply disgusted with the ongoing elevation of the uncompassionate Pharisees who chose to be oblivious to how utterly impossible it would be for the poor to run a “Kosher” household and keep to all these precepts without starving to death. When the leaders of the faith honored those precepts above the life and health of their neighbors, they were truly hypocrites in the worst sense of the word.
•. Finally, I honor your difficult position as Bishop of Rhode Island, having to stay true to using your best judgment about how to handle the pandemic’s challenges. You MUST be clear and assertive.
AND, I pray that we will not dismiss as ignorant, misled, obstinate and otherwise not-quite-at-our-level, anyone who holds a contrary view. Yes, the best judgement of our leaders must be honored and enforced for the safety of our flock, but all this must be done without a hint of disdain for different ways of approaching the problem. How do we structure our environment for safety (and courage) at EVERY level, biological and social, so that we remain inclusive, deeply honoring the dignity of each of us, no matter one’s point of view. It’s not just words, but body language and expressions, that communicate disdain, which alienates members of our flock with whom we must continue in communion. Paul’s problems may dwarf ours at the moment, but his struggle is instructive. Jesus final instruction before Palm Sunday was to “love one another as I have loved you, so that they will know that you are my disciples. Love one another.”
[Please forgive me if I have overstepped my bounds in this message.]