I’ve been thinking what it would mean to positively “be” church–that welcoming or open-door expression of Jesus’ kingdom in contemporary society. I was reminded of a poetic verse I learned as a child:
“One door and only one and yet the sides are two,
Inside and outside, on which side are you?”
Mark, in his account of Jesus’ life, presents him as God’s Kingdom-bearer in fulfillment of prophecy (Isa. 35:6). Yet the big issue was whether the so-called People of God would be ready for the kind of kingdom being offer. While the kingdom is a gift to be received with childlike trust, it is also a realm or new sphere of life to be entered (Mk. 10:15). Here, God’s will and redemptive rule will prevail, people will be reconciled, and believers restored to His image. People were to set right broken relationships and respond with a gracious code of ethics against all discriminating differences. Moreover, Jesus had some difficult teachings and radical demands that were to characterize those inside of it, for often God’s ways are unlike ours (Isa. 55:8). This challenge remains for today’s Church as a servant and vehicle of the kingdom.
The healing of the paralytic (Mk. 2:1-12) sheds useful light on the radical nature of the kingdom. The proper response Jesus anticipated differentiates the “insider” from the “outsider.” Jesus, though rejected at Capernaum, revisits his ministry headquarters, knowing God still has a work to do among them. Notice that God’s life-giving words and empowering presence are experienced in a house, not necessarily in the temple or synagogues alone.
The order-of-service and facilities of the overcrowded house-group were ruined by the shocking entry of a paralytic. Since the doors were blocked, he was lowered by his four friends who were caring and desperate enough to get him in contact with Jesus. Imagine yourself at that meeting. Better, what if you were the house-owner who invited Jesus and these vandals came and ripped off your roof? Jesus understood their breakthrough. He commends them, in fact, seeing their faith, and forgives the paralytic’s sins and heals him. This miraculous act of kindness, though it upset the religious leaders, demonstrated to the critics that in Jesus, God’s salvation had come. What becomes evident is that the “insiders” are those who respond with repentant hearts and obedient faith to what God’s Spirit was doing in and through Jesus, the Savior of all people.
This story is the Gospel in a nutshell. Jesus offers forgiveness and wholeness to seekers, thereby raising the question of his true identity. The same event causes some to respond in faith and praising God, yet others accuse Jesus, rejecting his kingdom values and agenda that disturbs the comfortable.
The Church, like our individualistic, materialistic society, can place more value on privacy, property, status, membership, and comfort over one’s search for wholeness through Christ and in bringing needy people to Christ. At times, we become part of that crowd who, for various reasons, and even religious preferences, blocks out those desperate to encounter Jesus. We tend to forget that Church is the only organization where the “insiders exist solely to serve the “outsider.” Can society tell which side you’re on?