This post is more in the vein of “What does Jesus do and how” as we are looking at Mark these days.
And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” Mark 7:9-13
The Pharisees had a stance. They saw the world in a certain way. They had a point of view that had been refined over a few hundred years. They had an intellectual and emotional attitude. Their stances were so important to them that quite a few conspired to get Jesus killed when he threatened their validity and power.
Jesus had some stances, too. Most of them were pretty basic, when it came to behavior. To the law-abiding Pharisees who wouldn’t even follow one of the ten commandments he said, “You nullify the word of God by your tradition.” When he was talking to people who sin he said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.” (Mark 9:43) But what did Jesus do as a result of his stances? Did he try to get someone killed? Not at all, he did not treat us according to his stances, he died for us. He treats according to his love.
Postmodern democracy is a constant collision of stances. Supposedly, the world is ordered by a people expressing their individual consciences within the safety of laws that protect their identities. Mostly it is ordered by people who can buy enough influence to guarantee their stance seems very important. Regular people get lined up behind a particular stance and are defined by massive definitions of “identity” and argue all day like congress. Since the institutions are God-free there is no center to bring any substance to the dialogue, so the process is a constant competition to see who will define the center today.
The other day Gwen and I were in court because she was subpoenaed to appear in the district attorney’s case against the young man who Gwen met on our stairs holding the letter opener from my office on floor below. She talked him down the stairs and was fine (thank God!). But now she must go through the court torture while the young man languishes in jail for a month waiting to get arraigned. What the lawyers do epitomizes what we all do these days. It is even worse, maybe, than what the Pharisees were doing with their law, but similar. The lawyers compete, case after case. They try to get witnesses confused (“You said the knife was six inches long, and now you say eight. What was it?”). They try to find a way out of following the law. They accuse the other side of procedural mistakes. There is no real interest in the truth. They often make sure their clients don’t tell their story at all, lest they don’t play the game well. It seems to me that we all are being trained to defend our self-interested stances with the same kind of dialogue.
When “what is your stance on?…” is the big question in the church, which it sometimes is, it is trouble. For one thing, the church is a kingdom, not a democracy, essentially. That doesn’t make democracy a bad way to run governments; it just means governments are different from the church. But the main reason it is trouble is that if we argue our stances all day we’ll end up with a competition to dominate a godless center, just like the world does. I don’t think that means we don’t have any stances. Jesus has some very radical stances. But while he doesn’t mind talking about them, he has an even more radical way of acting on them. It is how we act in relation to our stances that makes the church like Jesus.
The big example, like I began, is Jesus’ stance on sin. He has a strong “point of view” (from the center of creation), “It is killing you. Don’t mess around with pretending you aren’t doing it.” His stance does divide up the world between people who are for him and against him. But he does not treat people according to his stance. He wrestles the sin for them and then with them. He acts for everyone, with him or not, by acting out of his dying love.
Our church and all the churches are in danger every day of getting divided up into competing stances. People look toward the validation of their rights/opinions/political identities/power as crucial these days. They judge the church according to whether they agree with its stances. We even get judged for not having stances! I think our only hope in such a day is to discern whatever we could call Jesus’ stances and then act on them the same way he did. He is the center and we listen for truth from the center, but then we treat people in love, not according to their stances or ours. The love may not be based on how great they are, or on their right to be loved. At its best, it will be a dying love that comes from Jesus himself.