Glencairn Methodist Church
September and October 2015
"Don't you know there is a war on?"
In his commentary on Mark, Tom Wright tells the story of a canon of Westminster Abbey. During the blitz, he watched as his house and everything in it was burnt down. The next morning he went to buy new clothes, as he only had the ones he stood up in, and he gave the sales assistant a long list of necessities. She was surprised by this seemingly profligate request, and asked him, "Don't you know there is a war on?". Of course he did and that is the point of the story.
Jesus certainly knew there was a war on between him and his proclamation that the kingdom of God was near, and the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders, We read in Mark chapter 7 that Jesus said some startling things . The Pharisees had criticised Jesus' disciples for not washing their hands before a meal. Now washing one's hands before eating is a good thing, but Jesus' response showed clearly that "there is a war on!" He said "You Hippocrites". He knew that the Pharisees were not so much concerned with the cleanliness of the disciples hands but with the fact that they were ignoring, the Jewish traditions which they had carefully crafted over the years as "must be obeyed guidelines" to keeping the whole letter of the Law. This was the essence of the war between Jesus and the Jewish authorities. The Kingdom of God was not so much about obeying the purity laws, but about being pure in your heart. "It is not what goes into your body that defiles you but what comes out, from your heart, the seat of your emotions and desires". (Food, Kosher or not, just goes through and out the other end, and does not harm you.)
In Mark Chapter 9 verses 35-50, we get further insight into this "don't you know there's a war on" theme. This time it is his disciples who have not yet got the message. This passage consists of several, seemingly disconnected sayings, but it is all to do with getting the disciples on-side. First of all John complains to Jesus about somebody else, not in their group, casting out demons in Jesus' name. He wants Jesus to stop him, He wants to keep Jesus all to himself and the band of disciples. He is being exclusive rather than inclusive, which is contrary to Jesus' teaching about the kingdom. And Jesus chides him saying that if this outsider is doing the work of the Kingdom, then he must be "on our side". John sees Jesus' work as a private and privileged operation and not as an event that is moving swiftly towards a showdown with the authorities.
Isn't this is a disease that afflicts the church today? Isn't it all too easy for members of a church, especially the professional clergy and theologians, to assume that the church belongs to "us" and that "our" traditional way of worship in the "proper" way. We turn people away, those "little ones" that Jesus dearly wants to be in what is, after all, HIS church. Variety is good (except that it causes friction between Christians from time to time). Feet, hands and the other bodily bits mentioned in Ch 9 are good and it is generally accepted that we are not meant literally to cut them off. But we need to beware that we must not let anything at all deflect us from the "main thing" which is the advancement of the Kingdom. There is a war on after all, and the enemy is crafty and devious and will employ any method to thwart the work of Jesus and the church.
21 September 2015
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm
In case you do not have a Bible handy, here are the verses from Mark 7 and Mark 9 using the New Living Translation
1 One day some Pharisees and teachers of
religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. 2 They noticed that
some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing
before eating. 3 (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until
they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their
ancient traditions. 4 Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market
until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many
traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups,
pitchers, and kettles.)