Sunday, February 10, 2008

Brood of Vipers!!!

Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees was always interesting to say the least. Many of these exchanges recorded in the New Testament show that Jesus had quite a caustic sense of humour when it came to addressing the Pharisees. For instance Jesus variously described the Pharisees of being: “Blind guides”, “hypocrites”, “sons of hell”, “Blind fools”, “Whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones”, and a “brood of vipers.” (a description that the Pharisees had heard before – from John the Baptist)

Jesus, in some of the most caustic irony in Scripture, accused them of “Straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel”, “washing the outside of a cup but not the inside” and “finding a speck of sawdust in someone’s eye but ignoring the plank in their own.”

After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren't able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, "Son, I forgive your sins."

Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, "He can't talk that way! That's blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins." Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, "Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, 'I forgive your sins,' or say, 'Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking'? Well, just so it's clear that I'm the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . ." (he looked now at the paraplegic), "Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home." And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, "We've never seen anything like this!"

The Pharisees were on the lookout for a way to legally trap Jesus. (they had to obey Roman law as they were part of the Empire) The sin of blasphemy – claiming to be God – was punishable by death. When they heard Jesus forgiving the paraplegic’s sins they thought all their Christmas’s had com at once (or maybe all their Hanukkahs!) What they did not count on was Jesus question to them….the answer was obvious – to say your sins are forgiven was easy – to tell the paraplegic to get up and walk impossible – except by the power of God.

It is not hard to imagine Jesus smiling at the assembled Pharisees as they watched dumb-founded….Jesus didn’t wait for their reply – it was a rhetorical question. If he could heal the man, he was also qualified to forgive his sins – and the Pharisees knew this. (It is also worth having a think about the scene – the house was packed – there are four guys taking tiles of the roof – then a paraplegic is lowered by ropes into the house – all of this while Jesus is teaching. The scene is comical in itself)

The last verse of this passage says that everyone present was amazed and went away praising God. Maybe even the Pharisees who were present were convinced of Jesus’ claim of divinity. We do know that some Pharisees were moved by Jesus. (Nicodemus came by night to talk with Jesus and Joseph of Aramathea asked for Jesus’ body to bury it) Later in the church’s early history, an old Pharisee named Gamaliel gave the church some breathing space by saying “If this is from God we won’t be able to stop it”

In a final twist of irony, Jesus chose one of the most influential Pharisees in Jerusalem – a man who hunted and killed Christians – to be the one to spread the Gospel beyond Israel….The Apostle Paul. (more on Paul in later editions)

[1] Mark 2:1-12 – The Message

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