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.