In all of the news coverage of the anti-Muslim video and the world-wide reaction to it, I've been thinking quite a bit about offense -- both giving it and taking it. I've wondered where exactly the lines of blame should be drawn. Do we have a right to offend each other?
With a lot of contemporary moral dilemmas, it is hard to find direct guidance from Scripture. We often just look for the closest parallels or for broader general principles. But in the case of being offensive, we have plenty of direct examples in the Gospels. Jesus offended all kinds of people. You don't get nailed to a cross unless you tick somebody off. And the charge against him was blasphemy -- essentially offensive speech.
One of the times Jesus most blatantly offends the religious authorities is recorded in Mark 3:1-6. Jesus is at the synagogue. A man with a withered hand is at the synagogue. The religious authorities are at the synagogue. I can imagine Jesus eying the church leaders, the church leaders glaring back at Jesus, and the poor guy with the shriveled hand sitting there oblivious to it all.
It was unlawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus knows this. The religious leaders know this. And the religious leaders know that Jesus knows this and that he's likely to do it anyway. So they are watching and waiting.
Sure enough, Jesus says to the shriveled hand guy, "Get up here. Stand in front of everybody." He could have just looked at him or tapped him on the shoulder or something. Jesus didn't have to make a big production of this. But he does. Jesus is intentionally being offensive when he calls attention to what he is about to do.
Then Jesus proceeds to ask an offensive question: "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" Well, when he puts it that way, there is no good answer. The question itself condemns the sacred law that the religious leaders had sought to abide by and uphold for generations. The preachers are left biting their tongues. And Jesus, of course, tops it off by performing the healing right there in front of them all. Offensive.
There are lots of things we could talk about here. Lots of nuances to the story. Right now, I just want to pull out four "Principles for Being an Offensive Christian."
And then of course there are the questions about how we should respond when people offend us ... but that's a discussion for another post.
Follow Rev. Joanna Harader on Twitter: www.twitter.com/spaciousfaith