Last week we found ourselves with Jesus in the wilderness in the gospel of Mark. I’m fascinated by what happens after that, so follow along in the book of Mark for a moment. After Jesus’ time in the wilderness getting grounded in the Spirit and, I believe, understanding himself and his path a bit better, he returns to begin his ministry, preaching and teaching the “Good News.” In the very next story in Mark, Jesus starts gathering disciples beginning with the brothers Simon and Andrew, and the brothers James and John.
- Person with an “unclean spirit” (1:25)
- Simon’s mother-in-law who was ill with a fever (1:31)
- Many people who were sick with diseases, and cast out many demons (1:34)
- Person with leprosy (1:41)
- Paralyzed person (2:11)
(For the full video version, click here.)
Which brings us to our reading for today in which Jesus is walking by the lake, presumably in Capernaum, sees Levi sitting in his tax office, and says to him, “follow me.” The next thing you know, Jesus is reclining to eat at Levi’s house with a crowd of tax collectors, notorious “sinners,” his disciples, and even some of the religious leaders of the Pharisee sect.
The Pharisee is a little put off by eating dinner with a bunch of lowlifes and turns to one of Jesus’ disciples and asks, “Why does the Teacher eat with these people?”
Overhearing the question, Jesus declares, “People who are healthy don’t need a doctor; sick ones do. I have come to call sinners, not the righteous.”
I have two thoughts on his response. First, I suppose it could be taken as a compliment to the Pharisee, who might then think he’s the healthy, righteous one who doesn’t need Jesus. OR, Jesus is really saying this sort of tongue-in-cheek: “I’m not here for those of you who think you are healthy and righteous, because you think you’ve got it all figured out already and won’t be able to hear a word I’m saying. You may not think much of these other folks, but they will be open to my teaching.”
Regardless, I find the progression of events in Mark interesting. Jesus performed a series of healings then compares himself to a doctor coming to help the sick. But the people sitting around the table aren’t ill, in this case it is a sickness where one has lost their way in life. Their attitudes, behaviors and treatment of others has led them down a dark road. They have lost themselves.
From my viewpoint the crux of the matter is that Jesus came to heal – emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Joan Chittester, in her book In the Heart of the Temple, tells the story of a teacher who traveled with great difficulty to a faraway monastery because there was an old monastic there who had a reputation for asking very piercing spiritual questions. “Holy One,” the teacher said. “Give me a question that will renew my soul.” “Ah, yes, then,” the old monastic said, “your question is, What do they need?”
The teacher wrestled with the question for days but then, depressed, gave up and went back to the old monastic in disgust. “Holy One,” the teacher said, “I came here because I’m tired and depressed and dry. I didn’t come here to talk about my ministry. I came here to talk about y spiritual life. Please give me another question.” “Ah, well, of course. Now I see,” the old monastic said, “in that case, the right question for you is not, What do they need? The right question for you is, What do they really need?”
If Jesus were answering that question, “What do people REALLY need?” what would be his response? What was he teaching his disciples?
Chittester comments that discipleship often requires some sort of “academic or ascetic exercise.” In other words, learn something or refrain from doing something. In addition, it seems like (for many people) discipleship also implies blind obedience. But what do people really need for their spiritual lives?
In my humble opinion, it’s not obedience. Discipleship, following Jesus is not about obedience to creeds, laws, religious texts, rituals, traditions, or other formulas designed to get one to heaven. I don’t recall Jesus ever instructing anyone memorize bible passages or the 10 commandments or the 613 Jewish laws.
So, what do people really need?
I think people need support in being like Jesus, who was a healing presence in this world.
One day the Buddha was threatened with death by a bandit on the road. “First,” the Buddha said to the bandit, “honor my last with and cut the branch off that tree.” “There,” the bandit said, handing the branch to the Buddha, “whatever good it will do you now.” “Correct,” said the Buddha. “So please put the branch back on the tree again.” “You must be insane,” the bandit said, “to think anyone could do that.” “Oh, on the contrary, my friend,” the Buddha said. “It is you who are insane if you think you are mighty simply because you can wound and destroy. The mighty are those who spend their strength to create and to heal.”
This is what discipleship is about. Not obedience, but about being a creative and healing force in the world – for ourselves, our relationships, our systems and our environment.
What does this look like? Here’s a start…
- Listening to someone who is hurting
- Seeking understanding instead of judgment
- Being inclusive, welcoming and accepting
- Sincerely apologizing when we’ve done something wrong
- Offering forgiveness when we’ve been wronged
- Holding someone when they cry
- Working for justice
- Showing kindness and gentleness
- Being generous
- Going to therapy to help heal yourself
I don’t care (and I don’t honestly think Jesus cared) what you specifically believe or what religion you follow, as long as you live your life as a healing presence, walking the path of love, compassion, kindness and justice.