The power of hatred and anger is shocking. Reading and reflecting yesterday morning on Mark 2:23-3:6 I found myself confronting a hatred for Jesus which I found difficult to imagine or comprehend. My morning meditation was more resonant when our Thursday Study Group gathered to read a letter of Ignatius of Antioch, an early church martyr. For what crime was Ignatius to meet his end? Why for the horrible evil of claiming Jesus was the Son of God and Savior.
Think about it. Someone believes that Jesus is the Good and source of all good. In imitation of Jesus the man led a life of humble service and attentiveness to the needs of the poor. He led people in prayer and made every effort to shepherd a community of like-minded believers to lead upright lives of prayer and ethical living. Certainly one can see why Rome would deem such a character a threat to the Empire and embrace capital punishment as the most appropriate response??!!!?
Yet the demise of Ignatius is consistent with the One Whom he followed. The stories yesterday illustrate the point.
The first story finds Jesus and His disciples wandering the countryside. In keeping with the accepted practice of that time and place, the hungry young men gathered a handful of grain to eat. [the Jewish "law" was that one could take a handful of grain; striking a balance between communal responsibility and taking advantage.]Clearly, the people observing Jesus were looking for an excuse to be mad. Chapter 2 began with Jesus declaring a paralyzed man's sins forgiven and then healing him. Rather than respond with joy and faith, the religious leaders harbored anger. "Who," they asked "can forgive sins but God? This man blasphemes." Now that the apostles are eating the grain the leaders pounce on it. "See! these men break the Sabbath!"
To be fair, there is another side to this story. During the time of the Maccabees Jews who were faithful to their religion were tortured and killed (including women and children, even babies) for their pious practices. (In 1 and 2 Maccabees you can read of the rebellion). When the enemy attacked on the Sabbath and wiped out a band of resistance fighters, the controversial decision was made to fight even on that day. The difficulties of being faithful were literally life and death decisions. The breaking of Sabbath laws (rules or expectations) was no small thing and their reaction was understandable.What is at issue, however, is the deeper meaning of Jesus' response. "The sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath." It is a teaching moment. Jesus invites His critics to see the world (and God) more deeply. He is not offensive or judgmental in His words. But they are unhinged, unable, because of their hatred, to hear Him. However, we can be sure they understood these words: "so the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath." This self reference (Son of Man is a title found in Daniel and refers to a divine figure) is a declaration by Jesus of His authority. The adversaries must decide, will we listen and believe or not? Jesus uses the story of David feeding his men with the holy bread. Jesus is identifying Himself with David (and He is the Davidic descendent/Messiah). [Ironically, the cycle of readings today from Samuel was that very narrative! ]
In the next episode, again on a Sabbath, Jesus heals a man. Jesus tries to engage them, "Is it lawful to do good or do harm on a Sabbath? to save life or kill?" His question is useless. They are not open. They do not have ears to hear or hearts to ponder his question. Instead, because Jesus heals a man they go out to plot how to destroy Him.
What was true in Jesus' time and seventy years later in Ignatius' time is still true. Jesus produces unhinged anger in those who reject Him. For whatever reason, call it fallen human nature, demons, or the social interactions of competing groups, what seems to be an act of kindness (feeding, healing) is interpreted as punishable by death. Jesus just has the capacity to make people crazy. As Jesus said in another place, "If they hate Me they will hate you." Those who follow Him should keep that in mind.