Mark 1:1-8“Breaking News” “We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this ‘Breaking News.’”
These are the kinds of words that cause us to sit up, call our family members into the room and watch and listen, with hearts racing, as our normal routine is interrupted by some urgent message.
What is it? What is happening? And will this change our world, our day–our sense of normalcy? In our Gospel Lesson for this morning we have a record of some ‘Breaking News’ as it spread across the Jewish world over 2,000 years ago.
It is “the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” coming out of the “desert region” and going into “the whole Judean countryside” and all of Jerusalem brought forth by John the Baptist, a man who “wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.”
Locusts can mean the little bugs or a nut, the carob that poor people often ate.
The honey may have come from wild bees or it may have been a kind of sap from certain trees. Whatever it was, the point is that John ate the diet of the very poor. He was a simple prophet who pointed to someone beyond himself.
… And this was his message: Read Mark 1:1-8
When John the Baptist appears preaching repentance, the regular routine of daily life is interrupted as the curtain goes up on the drama of salvation.
As this ‘breaking news’ was first proclaimed it moved up and down the country roads of Galilee and the city streets of Jerusalem, and men and woman were made whole.
Jesus said, “Follow me,” and many people followed Him, their lives deepened with new faith and enlarged with new purpose.
It was ‘breaking news’ as it went out to the hard Roman world in the first century–down into the ghettos and slums of Greek and Roman cities, where life was bound with every conceivable chain.
The ‘breaking news’ came with a proclamation that lifted the downtrodden, the persecuted and the captives to their feet!
And it continues to be ‘breaking news’ down through the centuries, through all the nooks and corners of the globe as the oppressed, the marginalized, people of the earth—the people who don’t count—stand up because of it and find out that they do count.
The people to whom Jesus turned His attention are referred to in the gospels by a variety of terms: the poor, the blind, the lame, the crippled, the lepers, the hungry, the miserable, the prostitutes, all who labor and are overburdened, the least, the last…and it goes on and on.
This is a well-defined and unmistakable section of the population then and today. Jesus generally refers to them as the poor or the little ones.
The Pharisees refer to the same people as sinners or the rabble who know nothing of the law. Today, some of us might refer to this section of the population as the lower classes; others might call them the oppressed. To many, there lives are meaningless.
In Jesus’ day, many who were considered ‘sinners’ were the social outcasts for whom the laws and customs were so complicated that they were really incapable of understanding what was expected of them.
Education in those days was a matter of knowing the Scriptures—which was a matter of knowing the law and all its ramifications. Therefore, the illiterate and the uneducated were inevitably the lawless and immoral.
There really was no practical way out for the poor uneducated sinner….until…until…Jesus came along!
Jesus came from the middle class, and one of the remarkable things about Jesus was that, although he came from the middle class, He hung out or mixed socially with the lowest of the low and identified Himself with them.
Jesus became an outcast by choice. Why did Jesus do this? The answer comes across very clearly in the gospels: compassion.
“He was moved with compassion for the crowds and he healed their sick.”
“He was moved with compassion because they were distressed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd.”
For many of the folks who Jesus touched, moved with, mingled with, and loved,, their suffering had taken the form of frustration, guilt and anxiety. They were frustrated because they knew that they would never be accepted into the company of ‘respectable’ people.
They did not even have the consolation of feeling that they were in God’s good favor. The educated people told them that they were displeasing God and that ‘they ought to know.’
The result was a neurotic or near neurotic guilt complex that led inevitably to fear and anxiety about the many kinds of divine punishment that might come upon them. The poor and oppressed were at the mercy of the scribes and Pharisees who loaded legal burdens upon them and then never lifted a finger to help them.
They were denied civil rights. They were excluded from the synagogue. And Jesus was moved with such compassion for these folks that it is beyond our English language to even be able to begin to describe what He felt. Jesus was moved with compassion by the plight of the widow of Nain.
“Do not cry,” He says to her.
We are told explicitly that Jesus had compassion on the leper, on two blind men and on those who had nothing to eat. And throughout the gospels, even when the word compassion is not used, we can feel the movement of compassion.
Over and over again Jesus says to people, “Don’t cry,” “Don’t worry,” “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus wasn’t so much moved by the grandeur of the great Temple buildings, but he was moved by the widow who put her last cent into the Temple treasury.
And while everyone was excited about the “miracle” of Jairus’s daughter, Jesus was concerned that she should be given something to eat. What made the good Samaritan in the parable special was the compassion he felt for the man left half dead in the roadside.
What made the loving father special in the parable of the prodigal son was the excess of compassion he felt for his wayward son. And what made Jesus different from everyone of His time was the unrestrained compassion He felt for the poor and the oppressed.
Is this what makes us different in our time, in the here and now? Is this our breaking news?
One day Jesus was speaking to the crowds when He made this comment recorded in:Luke 7:33-35 and Matthew 11:18-19: John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’”
Jesus entertained sinners in his house along with the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus Himself attached great importance to these festive gatherings, and the Last Supper was indeed the last of many such suppers.
After His death Jesus’ followers kept up His memory by continuing to break bread together. This is how Jesus wished to be remembered—in the context of a festive meal. “Do this in remembrance of me.”
It would be impossible to overestimate the impact that these meals must have had on the poor and the sinners. By accepting them as friends and equals Jesus had taken away their shame, humiliation, and guilt.
By showing them that they mattered to Him as people He gave them a sense of dignity and released them from their captivity. The physical contact that He must have had with them when reclining at the table must have made them feel clean and acceptable.
Their sinfulness, ignorance and uncleanness had been overlooked by Jesus and was not being held against them. Forgiveness means the cancellation of one’s debts to God. To forgive means to release or liberate. It means to liberate persons from their past history.
Jesus’ gesture of friendship made it quite clear that He overlooked a persons past and refused to hold anything at all against them. They were forgiven. So are we. And in being forgiven, they were set free from the paralyzing burden of guilt and anxiety.
Have you and I been set free by Jesus’ friendship with us from the paralyzing burden of guilt and anxiety? Have we been made clean by the acceptance of Jesus Christ in our lives?
And having been set free, are we now being fashioned into becoming new creations, people who are forgiven and thus forgiving? Jesus comes to where we are, He has compassion on us, wherever we may be in this life, Jesus loves us, forgives us and sets us free to live new lives……radically new lives…as former captives who have been set free!
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” I believe this, how about you?
Sickness in mind, body and soul is one of the consequences of sin. Healing of mind, body and soul is one of the consequences of forgiveness, and this forgiveness comes through the life, death and resurrection of God’s One and Only Son, Jesus Christ.
This is the good news about Jesus Christ that breaks into our world and changes everything once we lay hold of it and allow it to embrace us with compassion, forgiveness and new life.