Thursday, April 26, 2012

Opposition to us today 3

... continued from Saturday
... Who were these teachers of the law?  Mark doesn't identify them as Pharisees and this is just as well, since the Pharisees were primarily located in Jerusalem. [1] Jesus also is not in a big city, just in the seaside village of Capernaum. Most likely, then, these are very local individuals who play some official teaching role in the synagogue.

We can't know if there was an actual synagogue building in Capernaum. The building there now that pilgrims visit comes from over a hundred years later. In general, synagogues at this time were gatherings that usually did not have devoted buildings. [2] We have few archaeological examples of actual synagogue buildings at this point in history. Some did exist, but not in the prevalent way we now assume. Perhaps these gatherings were in homes, as the gathering in this story.

We should not be too quick to condemn these teachers. We know so much about Jesus in hindsight. To them, Jesus was a miracle worker that they definitely needed to check out. But he probably didn't fit their preconceptions of the kind of man God would choose. Wasn't he born under suspicious circumstances? Isn't he an artisan who works in wood and such--on the lower end of society to be sure? [3]

Some opposition is sincere and some comes for dubious reasons. Perhaps these teachers were completely sincere in their opposition to Jesus. Admittedly, it doesn't feel that way as we continue to read the gospel texts. It feels like they were intimidated by someone whose authority called their knowledge and authority into question. And rather than step back and submit to someone greater than them, they used their energies to oppose him.

Opposition usually involves more than just disagreement over the issues. There are usually personal dimensions involved. Sometimes we are jealous of others and what we perceive as their advantages or good fortune. Sometimes we feel embarrassed by them because their strengths seem to expose our weaknesses. Sometimes they make us feel insecure in our position or habits of living. Sometimes such insecurity is real and sometimes it is imagined.

Of course others are wired to enjoy opposing others. Some people have a lust for power and opposing others is their way of gaining more. No one must stand in the way of their ambition. It's not clear to me that the teachers of the law in Mark were of this sort.

Finally, there are a few people who genuinely oppose others because they believe the ideas or actions of another person are dangerous. They of course can be right or they can have a zeal not based on knowledge (Rom. 10:2). At least some of Jesus' opposition probably was sincere, but a great deal more probably was not.

Much of the time, the opposition doesn't seem to bother Jesus.  By and large, Jesus doesn't go looking for opposition, it comes to him. He simply conducts his mission and moves on. He doesn't feel threatened by the opposition. He is confident in what he does. In the case of the paralytic, he substantiates his claim to forgive sins by healing the man.  

We may very well also face opposition and conflict today as we try to do God's will in this world. Unlike Jesus, we may sometimes be in the wrong. There is a time for us to examine ourselves and see if we are on the right path. Are my motives pure or am I on a self-serving mission? Do I genuinely understand God's will or is my own zeal not based on knowledge? I may not be able to see myself clearly. I may need to seek out someone else who I trust to be honest with me.

But we should not always second guess ourselves either. When we have done our best to know God's will, we should move forward with it as best we can. We should not do so with an attitude. Looking down on those who disagree with us is itself a sign that our motives are not pure. Rather, we should have a peace that is not distracted by opposition.

If those who oppose us are praying for us, we should welcome that. How can prayer ever be a bad thing if we are aligned with God's will?  If opposition is self-serving or ambitious, we should beware and be wise as serpents. We usually cannot make others do what is right.  We can only make sure that our own motives are pure and that we are walking circumspectly.  We may need to seek out allies or counsel.

There was a time when Jesus counselled his disciples to "shake the dust off your feet" and move on (Matt. 10:14). You cannot change someone else's heart.  God usually allows them to resist. It is not about winning but about being faithful. We cannot always get everyone on the same page. There is a time to move forward with those who are with us and a time when enough are against us that we should move on and shake the dust off our feet...

[1] So much so, in fact, that E. P. Sanders questions whether Jesus ever even had direct contact with Pharisees proper outside of Jerusalem.

[2] See Lee Levine, The Ancient Synagogue.

[3] Although most of his work is highly questionable, J. D. Crossan has looked at some of these social dynamics. ***


Angie Van De Merwe said...

There are so many variables, when it comes to "conflict". Personalities can clash, just as well as "visions".

Life is much more than "love", in an idealistic sense, it is also about living in peace as much as is possible. But, recognizing that peace is sometimes not possible with some, as well as understanding that "peace" will not lead to agreement necessarily. "Love", then, will allow them their right to choose.

"Peace" is an "ideal" that some think can be found in this world. I do not think so. "Peace" doesn't happen under co-ercion. So you are right about being convinced within oneself and "moving on".

I do not think that ambition is wrong, it is only wrong if it presumes upon others, determining for another what they might desire without their conscious consent/choice. Our country protects these boundaries because each has an equal right to ambition, and choice about their life.

The Catholic Church felt it necessary to control the definitions of "sin" and define what "penance" was necessary to gain "virtue". Luther resisted such attempts at control over his conscience.

Today, we have individuals on church boards, as well as those in other places of authority (government officials) that are about "controlling another's conscience". Power lends itself to abuse, because power is about domination, when it should be empowerment. And even when we agree that government/power should empower, we will disagree as to how that should be done. We see this clearly in our culture wars concerning different aspects of "choice". Should government promote "public choice" or protect private choice?

Private and public choice should coalesce in how laws protect the right of individuals to free speech, which is about "free action" and choices of value. But, "public choice" is about government's right to decide or determine for us what is best, this is the "common good" or "common welfare". These are regulatory and buraucratic policy decisions that are based on the "public intellectuals's commitments".

Our society is complex enough for any individual, no matter their choices of value or ambitions, who can 'find their place". So there should be no one with ambitions that cannot find "a home" where these can be promoted.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

A fascinating lecture, I listened to his he doesn't believe in co-ercion of "government"/power no matter "whose good" is the "end". He, being a psychiatrist criticizes his own profession!

Angie Van De Merwe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angie Van De Merwe said...

When the "Public" domain eats away the Private, we cease to be a free nation, but one driven by a paternalistic political class, which is not limited in power, but controls through intimidation/law. And then when government either co-erces by "interference" or legislation, then it will not be long before the encroaching arm of government leaves no room for the private domain. It is not unlike theologically driven societies, one rules under the authority of text/tradition, while the other rules under the authority of particular scientific policies.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And environmentalism is "killng our economy" with all the "new businesses" that have gone bankrupt! and for what reason? Why are we not drilling for oil? the Pipeline was not a "pipe dream" like some of these other research start up! (not saying that there should not be companies looking toward the future, surely not, but when should they be underwritten at taxpayer expense and what qualifies them to do such research?