“It is hard for thee to kicke against the prickes…” Acts 26:14 (KJV 1611)
I’ve made it through chapter two of Mark’s Gospel in my daily memorizing and meditating. Five stories (and a prologue) in chapter one; four stories in chapter two. The first five stories show Jesus getting under way – calling friends who will become disciples and “fishers of men,” announcing his presence to synagogue crowds and demons, healing the sick, touching a leper.
Then in chapter two, he becomes a prick.
Okay, before you react and post nasties about me (at least in your own head), before you close the window of this post in a huff, hear me out. (Then you can do all of the above.)
I am struck by how relentlessly Jesus pricks the religious mentalities and sensibilities of his contemporaries.
Witness the paralyzed man lowered through the roof. I don’t know what the homeowner was thinking or saying at that moment, but I think Jesus was highly amused. As I come to the line, “Son, your sins are forgiven!” I simply can’t say it without at least a bit of an initial chuckle at the outrageous determination and creativity of the man’s four friends. I’m also struck by the unique brand of paralysis suffered by the scribes who observed the scene and heard the comment. They weren’t chuckling. They withdrew into a inner world of religious grumbling and complaint: “Why does this fellow talk like this!? This is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone!?” And I imagine they didn’t even break a sweat on their stoic religious faces as they inwardly began to boil.
“Jesus immediately knew in his spirit what they were thinking in their hearts.” And here’s the kicker. He didn’t say to himself, “Hmmm. They clearly have an issue with that pronouncement of forgiveness. Note to self – be more careful about such pronouncements, and let’s see if we can arrange to have a spot of tea together (because Jesus was English, you know) and try to smooth over this wee religious bump.” No, actually, Jesus chose to expose their inner complaint right there before the whole group. “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier – to say to the paralytic ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say to him, ‘Get up, pick up your mat and go home’?”
I’m just trying to imagine the faces of these theologian types. Notice there are no recorded words for them. Perhaps it’s because they wished there was a mat they could hide under — or better, that they jump on for an elevator ride up out of the room. But Jesus just keeps pricking away…
“But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” – he turns and says to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take up your mat, and go home.” And he got up, took up his mat and he didn’t just go home, he “walked out in full view of them all.”
What a major prick.
Jesus seemed to realize that religious facades can’t be loved away by being caressed or coddled. They have to be pricked. If knowledge puffs up like the proverbial balloon, that balloon has to be popped, and frequently. The only alternative is to leave it alone and let it float on its merry way to deflate or explode on its own.
Jesus’ comment to Saul on the Damascus road tells me that his essential tack with religious types hasn’t changed. Who knows what all creative and provocative ways Jesus employed to prick Saul’s bloated religious exterior (or posterior). But repeated prickings where in fact made. And Saul just kept blowing himself up again. Literally. Until the final encounter on that Damascus road – which wasn’t so much a pricking as a skewering.
So the next time someone inadvertently or even advertently pricks your religious exterior – perhaps the one you’re very proud of not having…like I had mine subtly pricked last night when I was asked to meet with a fellow for a pastoral consult in a drinking establishment (just a bit of a prick – me stepping into the place, not the fellow) – yeah, next time you find your religious exterior pricked, thank the prick that did it.
And don’t be afraid to prick others as needed. They’ll thank you for it. The key is to prick that exterior without being a major prick yourself – to pop the religious exterior rather than puncturing their heart.