Heavenly Father, thank you for the breath in my lungs and the life in my body. My flesh is tired today, but my heart is glad. You have poured out blessing upon blessing in my life, through the people I love (and who love me!), and the gifts of a home, a fridge full of food, a job, a sweet little dog who adds joy to my life, and even this computer. These are all gifts of your grace—not things I deserve to have or enjoy. So thank you. And thank you for this Bible beside me, for full and free access to words that bring such goodness and fullness of life to my days.
This morning (afternoon/evening), I’m only reading a few verses—six, to be exact. So start by reading Mark 3:1-6, and mark whatever strikes you in these verses.
“They watched Jesus… so that they might accuse him.”
This is the thing that hit me today. Have you ever felt like someone was just waiting for you to trip up? I can think of few things that feel more oppressive. I’ve worked in many corporate environments that were fast-paced and competitive, and in one place in particular, I had a boss who had wild mood swings and a very foul mouth. I was pretty much unfazed by it, with a few notable exceptions, but one day we were in a staff meeting where I was the lowest position in the room, as his assistant. In front of everyone, he announced that it was his goal to get me to swear. He had noted that, unlike most of my colleagues (not all, though), I did not pepper my conversation with “colorful metaphors” of the four-letter variety. I said things like “shoot” and “dang it,” and, apparently, this was both cute and annoying.
The other dynamic was, my boss was a lapsed Catholic, and he knew I was a Christian. Shortly before being hired, I had been on a mission trip, and we had discussed this during my first few days on the job. So, somewhere along the way, he decided that he’d have some fun. Getting this “good girl” to trip up would be a game.
The thing is, unlike Jesus, I’m not perfect. And, in fact, I do sometimes swear. When I’m particularly cheesed off at someone, or I get cut off in traffic, or I spill something or drop something or bang into something, words that are not fit for a Bible Study blog squirt out of my mouth like ketchup from a squeeze bottle. So the really awful part was that, while I really wanted to keep control over my mouth and not give him the satisfaction of hearing me swear, I knew that I would probably trip up. (And I did. In a big way. But that’s for another post, because God used it redemptively and did something really beautiful, in that way that only God can.)
The bottom line is, Jesus went about his ministry knowing that there were people—who were supposed to be on his team (as religious leaders of the day)—who wanted him to make a mistake so that they could accuse him of sinning. Yuck.
What’s really remarkable about this is that Jesus was able to use their hardness of heart as a teachable moment. Instead of cowing to their expectations, Jesus rose above it. He healed the man with the withered hand, and in showing kindness and compassion, it was like he was holding up a mirror to them—showing them their own hypocrisy. This, of course, only added fuel to the fire; they “went out and immediately (again, with the ‘immediately!’) held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
Sometimes, doing the right thing—the good, merciful, gracious, loving thing—can make people angry. Sometimes, when people with hard hearts see you being kind, it doesn’t inspire them to change their ways; it just makes them harder, more angry. Jesus learned that first hand. And if we are willing to walk with Jesus, sometimes we’ll learn it first hand, too.
What can we learn from Jesus’s experience and example? Here are a few thoughts I have.
First, doing the right thing does not always endear us to everyone. While we might sometimes be praised for being good or kind, we might also be hated for the very same thing. But we still need to do the right thing.
Second, it’s right to be angry in this situation. I love that Mark included the fact that Jesus “looked around at them with anger.” God hates in injustice—and so should we. Injustice should make us angry.
Third, it’s also right to be grieved by others’ hardness of heart (v.5). Sometimes we are insulted, but not grieved, and while personal insult only leads to bitterness, grief over someone’s sin can actually be productive. When I am grieved by someone’s sin, I am more likely to pray for them.
And that’s exactly what we should do: pray. Pray for people who are against us. Pray for those who persecute us. Pray, even when they are taking action against us.
Take a moment to pray for anyone you know who might be against you, expecting you to trip up, and looking forward to gloating over your failure. Ask God to help you do the right thing, even when others pressure you to “join the crowd.” And if you are the one who is experiencing hardness toward someone else, pray for yourself. Confess your hardness of heart, and ask God to soften you and give you a heart of love.
I’ve been on both sides of this coin, and I can say from experience—God is merciful and good. I have seen him change others—and I have seen him change me.