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Tony's Reflection 38
Have you ever been to Salisbury?
It’s a sleepy little place. A river meanders through the town centre and, sat in one of the coffee shops watching the world go by, the atmosphere is one of idyllic English tranquillity. The splendid 13th century cathedral, with Britain’s tallest spire, pulls tourists from far and wide to enjoy its sacred stillness.
Hardly the kind of place where you expect to find international spies, secret agents, lethal poison and attempted murder. Yet all of these were under the surface of early springtime quietness and calm, back in March 2018, when double agent Sergie Skripal and his daughter Julia were almost fatally poisoned by Russian intelligence agents, posing under the cover as innocent cathedral tourists.
It’s sometimes surprising what sinister forces can be at work under a surface of peace and tranquillity.
In today’s episode from his biography (Mark 3:1-6), Mark takes us to a quiet little synagogue, on the sabbath.
Everything is shutdown in the village and all trade has stopped. The air is full of quiet and calm, as the people file into the synagogue, to pray and hear the Scriptures explained. Yet under the surface, dark forces are at work…
Jesus was in town and, along with everyone else, went to the synagogue. The Pharisees, the ultraorthodox self-appointed guardians of all that was religious and right are there, too. They have Jesus in their sights as a troublemaker.
Mark has already shown us through a series of short stories how Jesus was in conflict with the deeply religious Pharisees.
If they kept a close eye on him, surely it wouldn’t be long before this maverick would do something even more outrageous than he had already been doing. Where better a place to catch him out than in the synagogue. Right under the noses of everyone in the community who was religious and respectable.
The Pharisees are watching and waiting, ready to pounce as soon as Jesus steps out of line.
Jesus, though, takes the fight to them.
Sabbath, as far as Jesus was concerned, was a time to celebrate God’s kindness and the freedom he brings. The Pharisees had lost sight of this. For them sabbath was all about rule keeping and making sure nobody dared do any work. This would be the battleground…
Jesus looks around the congregation and sees a man with a withered hand. Jesus could have chosen to heal him quietly, after the service. He could have waited until the day after.
Jesus knows the Pharisees’ hearts are hard, though and he wants to bring that hardness to the surface.
Jesus calls the man forward and gets him to stand up, in front of the whole congregation. Looking right at the Pharisees, he fires the explosive question: “Is it okay to heal this man on the sabbath, or not?”
If the Pharisees say “yes”, then they are agreeing with Jesus and his take on the sabbath. If they say “no”, then they show publicly that they are against healing because it is sabbath.
The Pharisees are caught. They are trapped in their stubbornness. Silence is their only option. Inside, they are raging angry.
What can they do about this Jesus?. There is only one thing for it. Jesus must die.
The crowds at the synagogue had seen another amazing miracle of healing, as Jesus cured the man’s hand, just by telling him to stretch it out. They left the synagogue rejoicing.
Outwardly, all was sunny, warm, happy and tranquil. But the dark clouds were gathering and underneath the peaceful surface there was a plot afoot.
The Pharisees sought out the Herodians. The Herodians were a single issue political party, aimed at keeping Herod and his heirs on the throne, in cahoots with Rome. The Pharisees hated their worldliness. For Herodians, the Pharisees were the fundamentalist loony fringe. They had nothing in common. Except that both of them wanted Jesus dead.
Mark has already shown us why the Pharisees hated Jesus. The Herodians wanted to keep the status quo. Any rabble-rouser who claimed to be God’s special representative - and there were plenty of those around at the time - was trouble and had to go. Jesus must die…
Mark wrote his biography of Jesus for Christians who were being persecuted. He shows them that the worldly powers, whether the religiously respectable or the politically pragmatic both hated Jesus.
If the master is hated, it is only natural his followers get the same.
If you follow Jesus, it will not be plain sailing. You will have opposition, too. You will find yourself standing out against the ways and values of those around you who do not believe. Your opposition will not be as extreme as what Jesus faced, but it will be there.
Jesus was prepared to meet his opposition head on. Are you prepared to take on yours?