18 Pentecost B—9/27/15
Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29; Ps. 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
Pr. Scott Kramer
(a story, based on Mark 9:38-50)
So, a rabbi walks into a bar…
It had been a long day of preaching and teaching. The rabbi looks around, and sees that it’s a mixed crowd. Some in the crowd are movers and shakers in the local community. They’re well-heeled, accustomed to getting what they want, successful, respected, and they are religious.
Most in the crowd, though, are not these things. In fact, they are generally viewed by the first group not so much as human beings as problems to be solved. Some of these are people who live with diseases and mental or physical disabilities. Others are judged because they are not successful, and they are judged again when out of desperation they turn to work that society has deemed illegal or immoral. Quite a few of these have done jail time, including some who are in the country illegally.
As the rabbi surveys the crowd further he sees people who might be punished or even killed if their communities knew who they were. They are men who love men, women who love women. They are people whose identity can’t be easily assigned to the neat categories of “respectable” society. But one thing that all these “socially unacceptable” people have in common is that there in the bar they seek each other’s company, knowing that society has judged them to be unworthy of love.
Scanning this mixed crowd, the rabbi sees an opportunity. He puts down his drink, stands up and says, “Can I have your attention, everyone? I’d like to talk about SIN.” And that does get their attention, because they know this rabbi and they know what’s coming next. The scene unfolds something like this. The rabbi says:
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea! (Crowd: “Oooh!”)
And, because he’s the carpenter’s son, this rabbi always seems to have access to carpenter’s tools—pulls them out of nowhere! This time it’s a saw. And the rabbi says:
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; (Crowd: AGH!) …And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off…(Crowd: laughter) And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out (Crowd: more laughter) It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell! (Crowd: loud laughter).
Most of the crowd loved this routine because here was a rabbi who understood them. He was talking about sin, and they knew what it was like to be called a sinner. They were “experts” on sin because—sometimes because of unfortunate choices, sometimes just because of the hand life had dealt them, and sometimes just because of the way God created them–some had been called “sinner” their whole lives! These folks understood the rabbi’s joke, because they knew…that hands don’t cause people to sin. Eyes don’t cause people to sin. Feet don’t cause people to sin. It’s hearts and minds that cause people to sin. They got the joke!
But there in the bar, not everyone was laughing and having a good time. The respectable people, the religious people were not happy with this rabbi and his jokes. To them, he seemed not to be serious about sin! They were more interested in control that compassion, rules more than relationships, religious laws more than love.
No, they were not happy with this rabbi. Some frowned, some even left the bar–especially after what happened next! Because, finally, the rabbi was getting to his point, and the whole room went quiet. Although he was speaking to everyone in the room, he looked directly at the religious folks, slowly raised the saw above his head (sawing head), and said, “If your mind causes you to sin, cut it out (lowers saw). Just, cut it out!” “If your heart causes you to sin (sawing heart), cut it out (lowers saw). Just, cut it out!”
By now, the respectable people, the religious folks were steamed. How dare this rabbi suggest that they were sinners! How dare he suggest that their lives were in need of transformation!
Eventually, everyone left the bar. Some left, resentful, angry, complaining…and unchanged. Others left, having sensed nothing less than the power and presence of God. They had come into the bar feeling rejected, judged, lonely and discouraged. But then…a rabbi walked into the bar and awhile later they left feeling more free, more hopeful, more grateful…more loved.