A progressive Christian reflection on Mark
I rather like the human Jesus depicted in the Gospels. He didn’t have a lot of patience with rules and regulations. He wasn’t much on following protocol or conforming to society.
And he didn’t much care whether or not someone was a card-carrying member of the gang.
“Whoever is not against us is for us.”
That was how the author of Mark had Jesus respond when his disciples told him about someone who was “casting out demons in your name” but who wasn’t one of their crowd. According to Mark’s author, Jesus didn’t care. He put more emphasis on what people did than on which club they belonged to.
He said it was okay for people to be “Christian” even if they had no affiliation with them at all. John Shearman asks the question in his analysis for this passage:
How wide should we open this door? Some Christians would prefer that it be kept firmly guarded against all who do not confess Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour and Lord, or express a firm conviction by repetition of the creedal formula of the Holy Trinity. Others would regard all people of good will open to the inspiration of the Spirit and able to participate actively in the mission and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth to the contemporary world. Ambiguity remains.
I am solidly in the latter camp. There is, for me, no ambiguity. Those who try to lock God and the Message of the Christ into some sort of dogmatic black box are, as far as I’m concerned, exactly the modern day equivalent of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus saved his most virulent epithets for.
Being Christian isn’t a matter of what magic incantations we recite. It’s not a matter of what membership cards we carry, or what social protocols we adhere to. There is nothing wrong with any of those things if they bring us comfort and help us to reaffirm our living faith. But they’re not the prerequisites.
Being “Christian” – that is, a “follower of the Way” – is a matter of whether or not we act in harmony with the agapé relationship that the Message of the Christ says interconnects us all.
There are few so-called “mainline” or “progressive” Christians who would intentionally, as Mark writes Jesus as saying, “put a stumbling block” in the way of anyone who acts within that agapé relationship. If we do, Mark has Jesus offer some stern advice –
“it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”
When my sons were teenagers we lived on the Trent River in Ontario. Our place was the gathering place for all of their friends and I loved having everyone around. I ran a pretty lax ship as the saying goes. But there were a couple of occasions when their conduct caused me to threaten to “tie a rock around their necks and throw them in the river.” Of course they knew I wasn’t serious. They also knew that for me to say it meant that they needed to take whatever issue I was raising seriously.
In the same way, our inseverable relationship with God means that we will never be “thrown into the sea.” Nevertheless, we need to be aware of the ways, both consciously and unintentionally, that we might cause others to hesitate in their faith journey.
Just as important is how we react when others put up obstacles to our own spiritual growth. Do we allow ourselves to be deterred by pious declarations that our faith is invalid unless we subscribe to doctrine or dogma?
My father was one of the most Christian people I’ve ever known, yet he couldn’t quote more than a few scraps of Scripture. He didn’t need to. But he was sometimes intimidated by others who had a lot of “book learnin’.” Do we allow those who can quote “chapter and verse”, as the scribes and Pharisees could do, dampen our enthusiasm? We should not.
We are all on a spiritual journey, no matter what we choose to call it. None of us has “reached the destination” because there is no destination.
But there is relationship. Unending relationship; with each other; with the world; with God.
We should seek out those relationships wherever we are; whoever we’re with. And we need to continue our journey with confidence. We shouldn’t let anyone cause us to hesitate. We shouldn’t hesitate to invite others to join us.
And we shouldn’t be afraid to be who we are called to be –
One with God.