Isaiah 42:5-13, Mark 2:13-22
February 10, 2019
You know what this expression means – “Ruffling Feathers.” I could also have used, “Making Waves,” “Stirring the Pot,” or even “Rubbing the wrong way.” This is the story of how Jesus began to do all of those things in his earthly ministry, and how he “ruffled the feathers” of all the wrong people!
As I read this chapter in Mark’s Gospel, I’m pretty sure that most, if not all, of these events here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, took place in and around Capernaum. Remember, Capernaum is the city Jesus took as his “adopted home town,” or at least his, “Base of Operations.” So, it was the religious leaders in Capernaum who first encountered Jesus the rabbi. It was the “feathers” of their scribes and Pharisees that Jesus first “ruffled.” Just think about what it might have felt like to be them! (And remember, they might not have had a chance yet to bring the news of all of this to Jerusalem.)
So, here’s how Jesus “ruffled those feathers.” The first way he did that had to do with who Jesus began to associate with. Here, Mark tells us that it was the tax collectors! And he starts by telling us the story of how Jesus called the tax collector Levi to be a disciple. We know Levi by his other name, Matthew. Now, it was bad enough to have a tax collector as a disciple! But then Jesus began to hang out with Levi and his “tax collector buddies.” And that was worse!
As you know, the tax collectors were hated, and not just because they collected the Roman taxes. They were also seen as traitors. Because the Romans, who were shrewd, hired Jewish people to collect their taxes – with the power of Rome backing them! So those who did that were seen as traitors to their own people! And I’m sure it was shocking for the people to see Jesus, this new rabbi, choose a tax collector to be one of his disciples, and then to associate with a whole group of them!
So, that’s the first of Jesus’ “feather ruffling.” The next has to do with the religious laws and traditions, and how he didn’t quite follow them. And actually it was his disciples who weren’t following them. Jesus was asked by the Pharisees why his “disciples” didn’t fast. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they said that word “disciples” with just a hint of sarcasm. Well, Jesus answered them in a way that put a heightened level of importance on himself. “The guests don’t fast when the bridegroom is with them!” “Don’t you see?” he was saying. “Something different is happening here. Something important! Something new has come!” Can you imagine how that landed on those Scribes and Pharisees?
The final feather ruffling” got more specific than that. It had to do with one of their biggest religious traditions. It was all about “keeping the Sabbath.” The Pharisees saw Jesus’ disciples walking through a field, picking the heads of grains. (His disciples seemed to be getting Jesus in trouble a lot here!) And as bizarre is it sounds to us, the Pharisees were interpreting that as “doing work on the Sabbath” and therefore, it was breaking the Sabbath law!
Well, Jesus’ answer to that didn’t make things any better. He started by talking about King David. And that really didn’t help at all! So, they started to think “we gotta do something about this guy!” And remember, this was their job! They were tasked with keeping the faith, and dealing with people and ideas that would corrupt the faith. They might not even have held any malice toward Jesus. They were just doing their job. On the other hand, he did “ruffle their feathers!”
So then, what do we think about all this “feather ruffling?” I think we tend to see it as a “normal” part of the story of Jesus. But how would we have reacted if we were there? How do we feel about someone “going against the grain?” Would we have “ruffled feathers” ourselves? Or would we have had a little judgment around someone who did?
I have to tell you that this stuff is tough for me. Because I’ve been schooled in the traditions and doctrine of the Church! And there is a sense that I too am a “keeper of the faith” – like they were. And I try to keep reminding myself that I could easily find myself in the roll of the Scribes and Pharisees! That sure makes me think!
At the same time, we have to know that we are living in an age where religious traditions are taking a beating. In fact, the whole of the 21stcentury, so far, has been an interesting time for the Church in that way. Many people are rejecting the traditions of the church, and so many people are saying “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.” And that is “Post-Modernism” in a nutshell! “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.” Traditions we have held for so many years are being challenged.
That’s our world. And at the same time, there is a lot of spiritual stuff happening in our world! The problem is that a lot of the “spiritual stuff” out there doesn’t fit our doctrine and traditions. And we’re not sure what to do, or even what to think, about it. I’m not sure where it’s all going, myself. But my concern is that we might find ourselves being quick to judge.
I think that’s a big challenge for the church in the Post Modern Era. How do we talk with people who may be on different “spiritual paths.” Because you know, we can’t touch people’s hearts if we can’t have a meaningful dialogue with them. And we can’t have a meaningful dialogue with them if we start by rejecting their beliefs. If we do, they shut down and cease to listen to us. And we probably would, too, if we were in their shoes. In short, we can’t expect people to respond to our beliefs if we don’t respect theirs.
That’s a hard thing for me to say. But in the end, it very well could be us that could find ourselves in the roll of those Scribes and Pharisees! It could be our feathers that are getting ruffled!
My friends, I know that traditions are comfortable things! A man once said “Religion is easy if there is no debate!” On the other hand, challenges to our traditions can make us feel uncomfortable. And it’s too easy for us to react to those challenges in a “knee-jerk” way. And that can happen when we find our views being called into question, when we find things that are near and dear to our hearts being brought up for debate.
How do we present our understanding and our views in a meaningful way. That’s the challenge. Because things are being “debated” in this world. And debate can be difficult, especially in a world that has forgotten how! Any more it’s turned into “kill or be killed” out there! “Don’t give an inch to the other side or it’s considered a failure or a loss!” “Oh, and by the way, it is ok to show disrespect (or even hate!) – if you disagree!” That’s how the world operates!
So where does that leave us? Maybe I’ve left you with more questions than answers. And that’s ok. But strip away all of that, and what we’re left with, I believe, is the love of Jesus. And the love of Jesus is a radical love. It’s a love that loves the tax collectors and challenges those who don’t. It’s a love that doesn’t just happen only if the other person is lovable. It’s love without conditions. It’s love no matter what! And that, is hard! But that’s how God first loved us. And that’s why and how he calls us to love.
We follow a Savior who ruffled the feathers of the wrong people. Because he cared for all people. And he was the hardest on those who put doctrine and tradition and religion above people. What about us?
Lord, teach us truly to love as Jesus loves. Help us to see the world with your eyes, and to love the world with your heart. Make us strong and willing disciples, eager to further your kingdom in our world and in our midst. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.