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Related Bible reading(s): Mark 3.20-35

The week in focus

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Up-to-the-minute jumping-off points for sermons, linking the reading to the latest news and global issues

Breaking cycles of accusation

Jesus is accused of healing by demonic power (Mark 3.22).

Context

A month ago, violence erupted between Israel and Hamas, accompanied by civil unrest between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Since the negotiation of a ceasefire, the region is no longer top of our headlines, but tensions have not gone away. And the conflict has had repercussions for interfaith relations in this country, with a rise in antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate incidents and crimes. Some demonstrations have turned nasty, leaving people shocked and frightened. Interfaith organisations have called for the expression of views in peaceful and respectful ways.

 

Ideas for sermons or interactive talks

  • The scribes from Jerusalem accused Jesus of healing with the help of demonic powers. And ever since, down the centuries, Christian preachers have stood in their pulpits and denounced scribes and Pharisees, the spiritual forebears of today’s Jews, for hypocrisy and legalism. And there is worse – Jews have been demonised in Christian societies, leading to pogroms and ethnic cleansing (starting in England in 1290, when Edward I expelled all Jews from the country). We need to play our part in breaking this cycle of accusations. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). At the very least, this requires listening to those with whom we disagree and trying to understand where they are coming from – be it characters in Scripture, or neighbours of other faiths. The scribes in this story were suspicious of Jesus’ healing powers. That is understandable. When a leaflet pops through my door, from an obscure group I have never heard of, promising ‘psychic healing’, I do not use the language of demons (because that is not my style), but I am certainly wary. I have never taken up the offer. We can identify with the scribes’ mistrust, even though we take a different position, affirming that Jesus healed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Whenever there is violence in the Middle East, debates in this country become heated, and tensions rise both within and between religious communities. The conflict is thus exported. People with different views find it almost impossible to talk to each other. Again, there are organisations promoting understanding, empathy and respect, enabling people to dialogue sensitively about Israel/Palestine – such as The Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine and Solutions not Sides. The Council of Christians and Jews has produced a booklet entitled Listening Learning: Dialogue between Christians and Jews on Issues Relating to Israel Palestine. It promotes the art of listening, presenting multiple perspectives on the issues. As Bishop Michael Ipgrave writes in the preface, we are called ‘to go beyond simply reacting to the incessant headlines of claim, counter-claim, and conflict, in search of a deeper vision, in which we have to make a personal investment’.

 

Questions for discussion

  • Who do you find it difficult to understand?
  • What is your experience of peace-making?
  • How do we move beyond claim and counterclaim; and learn to disagree well?

Ann Conway-Jones is Chair of the Birmingham Council of Christians and Jews.

 

Check-in

Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people

As summer approaches and strawberries come into season, many of us turn our minds to tennis. This has happened early this year, however, as Naomi Osaka – the No. 2 female player in the world – left the French Open after refusing to take part in mandatory press conferences due to concerns about her mental health.

Predictably, both mainstream and social media immediately descended into a frenzy of hot-takes and picking-sides. Some criticized Osaka for being a ‘diva’, while others called the entire notion of sports journalism into question. In the age of social media, the things we say (or don’t say) have never been more under the microscope. And it is hard to conclude that all this anger and discussion ever leads to a happier, stronger society.

In Mark 3, Jesus is surrounded by a mass of controversy and hot-takes, with his family on one side and the teachers of the law on the other. But in the middle of it all, in verse 34, there is an oasis of calm, when Jesus is: ‘looking at those who sat around him’.

When the weekly controversy happens, it is difficult not to find oneself either adding our own anger to the storm already raging, or wanting to step back, look at it from a distance, and despair. But there is a third way: to draw towards Jesus, and seek his will as those who sit around him.

How do we know when it is better to speak out or to remain silent? How can we learn to step away from ‘the discourse’ and towards Jesus?

 

David Wadsworth is a storyteller and poet, and writer-in-residence at Cambourne Church. More information and examples of his work can be found at www.wadsworthcreative.com.

 

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