Saturday, April 21, 2012

Conflict over Spiritual Authority 2

... continued from yesterday.
Jesus' ministry in Galilee starts in Mark 1 with a barrage of miracles. After he is baptized and tempted, he calls followers and begins to heal and cast out demons. He heals Peter's mother-in-law and a man with leprosy. He casts out an unclean spirit on the Sabbath and goes off alone to pray.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Mark 2 then records a number of conflicts that come to Jesus. We want to be careful how we analyze and apply the way these conflicts arise, but there are certainly important lessons to learn from them. As Jesus exercises his spiritual power and authority, it is only to be expected that it would cause some problems with those who were in formal positions of spiritual authority.

The first conflict in Mark comes when Jesus declares that the sins of a paralyzed man are forgiven (Mark 2:1-11).  Certain teachers of the Law who have come to hear him don't think this is appropriate. Only God alone can pronounce sins forgiven. The wording is quite interesting because it probably alludes to the cornerstone of Jewish faith, the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deut. 6:4).

Some aspects of this conflict seem puzzling to me.  Didn't the priests at the temple regularly pronounce sins as forgiven after people offered their sacrifices? Wasn't John's baptism for the forgiveness of sins, with the expectation that those who were baptized would be forgiven? Even today, when people truly pray for God's forgiveness, wouldn't most pastors have confidence to say that their sins are now forgiven?

At the very least, Mark was implying that Jesus had the authority of God. And of course Jesus backs it up by healing the paralytic. He shows that he is not only saying the man is forgiven. He is showing he has the spiritual power to substantiate his authority. [1]

The Jews had a place in their view of the world for a prophet, individuals with authority from God even though they are not in official positions of power. Prophets brought words from God that spoke to current situations. The teachers of the law were already in the house listening to Jesus. We don't know if they were there as skeptics or if they were genuinely curious about whether Jesus was truly a prophet.

What we know is that Jesus did something that did not fit with their understanding. They thought he was blaspheming. He was associating himself too closely with the functions of God himself. Perhaps they genuinely didn't think humans could do such things. Or maybe they thought Jesus was the wrong human to be pronouncing such things.

They were faced with the choice either to alter their understanding or to find some way to continue believing what they already believed. The clear impression we get is that most teachers of this sort were not ultimately interested in accepting Jesus' authority. That left them needing to explain how Jesus could do the miracles he did. The answer was to attribute his spiritual power to Satan himself.

"By the prince of demons he is driving out demons" (3:22). The teachers of the law cannot deny his power, so they deny the source of his power. Jesus indicates that this is a very serious accusation indeed, for they are saying that the power of God is actually the power of Beelzebul. Jesus describes such a thing as an unpardonable sin. It's not a sin against Jesus but a sin against the Holy Spirit (3:28-29).

Jesus tells them that it doesn't work that way. Satan can't cast out Satan without diminishing his own paper.  "If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand" (3:25). The problem is not with Jesus. It is with them...

[1] It's hard to know if there is an implicit connection in this story between the need for healing and the sin of the paralytic. Sometimes sickness was understood to be a consequence of sin, so that healing would be the natural companion of forgiveness. Again, this passage doesn't explicitly make such a connection.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

You changed your title from "Conflict with Leaders" to "Conflict over Spiritual Authority"...why?

Spiritual authority could be understood as Church authorities, but it could also be understood as "God". But, what if one doesn't believe in "God"? Where is the "spiritual", the human spirit?

And just what is "the human spirit", except for a sense of liberty of conscience and ownership of one's life? The crushing of the human spirit is authoritarian governance...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

and such governance, doesnt have to be in the spiritual/religious realm, but also the secular one....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Since the title to this blog is "Quadralateral Thoughts", could we assume that different people rely on different authorities, as to spiritual realities?

Tradition and text as assumed as spiritual as they define religious traditions, but what about reason and experience? Don't we all use reason to rationalize our understandings of human experience? whether we use text and tradition to do so, is questionable, but we all are attempting to understand "life" and all that is!!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I guess I forgot THE evangelical view of authority; the Bible!!!

When one views the Bible as authority, they do not understand that they have some "system" in place that takes precedence over the objective reading and understanding of "the Bible". There is really no such thing as a "biblical Christian", unless one wants to affirm the "Christian family" sort of thinking. Such thinking understands the Bible to have revealed THE authority for ALL of life and time!! The problem is the developing tradition changes over time...