Chaotic Good

Scripture: Mark 2:23-3:6

Mark Rober is a former NASA engineer who began making fun videos to help young people “think like an engineer.”   Six years ago a couple of porch pirates stole a package from his doorstep, and he decided to approach this problem like an engineer.  Porch piracy, stealing amazon and other delivery packages, from in front of people’s houses has become a big problem.   While Rober could not stop, he could make the thieves regret their actions and think about what they did.  This led him to create a glitter bomb that used centrifugal force to cover the thieves’ entire room or car with glitter when the stolen package was open.  He also created these packages with cameras and tracking devices so that the reactions were captured and the traps sometimes recovered.  Because he is an engineer, he could not leave well enough alone, and for six years revisiting the glitter bomb became a tradition for him.  Because his channel was originally created with teens in mind, in addition to glitter he added a fart spray to the bomb. In addition to porch pirates he partnered with investigative journalists and also created a similar device one year to focus on smash and grab car break-ins.

One year, he decided to really use his powers for good and focused the glitter bombs on scam call centers that target elderly people.   Not only did these call centers get doused in glitter, but he worked with law enforcement so that five scam centers were shut down and 53 scammers arrested.   Over the years in addition to those arrest, 167 porch pirates and 29 car thieves experienced the karmic retribution of having their stolen package fight back.  I do not know if any of these people actually learned a lesson from this and rethought their life choices, but it immensely satisfying seeing the thieves suffer consequences for their actions.

While Mark Rober’s glitter bombs were not illegal, they are certainly mischievous.  They were not exactly the proper way to go about dealing with these things, because the glitter bomb was essentially a minor form of vigilante justice.   Because porch piracy and smash and grab thefts are nearly impossible to arrest and prosecute for most of these thieves being doused in glitter is the only way justice is being done.   While this morning’s scripture does not contain any glitter or fart spray, I think we do find a similar attitude at work here.  This morning’s scripture shows that Jesus cared more about people than he cared about the rules.  Jesus cared more about doing good than doing it the proper way.   As we consider this scripture, there is a lesson for us that we also should do good even when it is chaotic and messy.

This morning’s scripture is Mark’s take on a common occurrence in the gospels.   Jesus often found himself at odds with the Pharisees, and one of the flashpoints that the Pharisees tried to nail Jesus on more several different occasions was doing work on the Sabbath.   The Pharisees or teachers of the law were the moral gatekeepers of their society.   It should be pointed out that this was not entirely self-appointed.   They had very much worked to earn this title.  Being a Pharisee was a true commitment, and they really did know the Old Testament law.   It really also should be stated that the Pharisees viewed themselves as the good guys.  By and large so did their culture.  They were mostly respected by other Jewish people, because they had earned that respect because of their piety and deep knowledge of the law.

It was these qualities of the Pharisees that brought them into conflict with Jesus in this morning’s scripture.  The gospel of Mark intentionally puts two instances that are thematically similar together to illustrate the rising tension between Jesus and the Pharisees.

First, the Pharisees try to say that Jesus disciples are being unlawful for picking and eating heads of grains.  Now from our modern viewpoint, the unlawful action would be eating the grain because it did not belong to the disciples. This is not unlawful for a couple of reasons.  First, Exodus 34:21 explicitly allows for this.  Part of being in right relationship with one another is being a good neighbor, and the Exodus passage specifies that is that grain could be taken from the field to provide as long as it was by hand and not by sickle. Being able to pick it by hand ensured a person could only take the minimum to meet their needs.   So the disciples were not stealing, but the law the Pharisees were accusing them of breaking was keeping the Sabbath.   Their implied argument is that picking grain to eat was work, and work was prohibited on the Sabbath.

Jesus though pushes back against this, because eating to survive was not against the law even on the Sabbath.   It broke the manmade traditions that surrounded the law.   The Pharisees valued the law so much that they built a hedge around the law, this hedge were extra rules that were followed to ensure that the actual law was not violated.   Not being able to pick grain when someone had no other food available, was against the additional rules they created.    Jesus points this out when he states, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”   The rules of God have a point and a purpose, the Sabbath is a day of rest.   Having to ensure that multiple rules are followed to keep the day of rest free seems more stressful than restful.

This comes to ahead in the next story, which the author of Mark intentionally put after the story of picking grain.  A man with a shriveled hand comes to see Jesus on the Sabbath.   The Pharisees were wanting to accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath by healing the man.  After all, he was a traveling rabbi and a traveling healer.  For a healer, healing would have to constitute work.  Once again Jesus point out, that the intent of the law is more important than following meticulous rules when he ask “Which is lawful on the Sabbath to do good or do evil, to save life or to kill?”   Jesus points out the intention of the law is to be life giving, it is to give the framework that provides living in peace and full of compassion for others and being in right relationship with God.  For Jesus to have the power to restore the man to wellness and not do it, would have been evil.  Doing good was for more important than following the exact rules society expected.

As we consider this morning’s scripture, I think there are two elements for us to consider and reflect on.   First, doing good can sometimes cause conflict.  We have to remember the Pharisees were the moral authorities of their day.  The traditional viewpoint of this era would have sided with the Pharisees.  Yet, Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, because it was the right thing to do.   The right thing is not always the popular thing and sometimes it is not even the legal thing.  There is a growing homelessness problem in this country, and one of the ways that cities have responded to this is to pass ordinances that basically make it illegal to be homeless, so that the homeless population has to go somewhere else.  Several of these ordinances target those who help the homeless and seek to make it illegal to provide food or water to those without.  In 2022 a 78 year old woman was arrested in Arizona for violating one of these ordinances.  In Houston, Texas last year the city cracked down on a group called Food Not Bombs that was providing food and water outside the public library.  The city issued more than 44 citations to the group, but they kept providing for those in need.  Because the group’s motivation for giving food and water was religious in nature, dealing with those citations is now tied up in the legal system.  Judges will ultimately determine if providing for those in need is protected by the first amendment.

While it is an important legal question, and it will hopefully set a precedent that strikes down unjust city ordinances, what the court decides will not change what is right and good.  Jesus said whenever we feed the hungry or give water to the thirsty, then we are doing it for him.  Giving food and water to those who need it, will always be a good and right thing to do.  The fact that there have been ongoing friction over this issues in our modern day and age, show that doing the right thing and putting our faith into loving actions might generate some heat and conflict just like it did for Jesus.  It might get us into trouble from time to time, but as civil rights leader John Lewis once stated, it is “good trouble.”

The second element to really consider is what we find in verse 3:5.  This verse should really get our attention because it states Jesus “looked around at them in anger, and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.”    Outside of the time when Jesus overturned the money changers tables we do not really see Jesus get angry.  It is worth noting then just what makes Jesus angry.  It is stubborn hearts that care more about rules than about people.   This is potentially still true today.   When we elevate the rules and proper behavior over doing the decent thing and helping someone, that is what makes Jesus angry.  When we prioritize the comfort of the many over the wellbeing and safety of the few, that is what makes Jesus angry.   When we consider someone incompatible with Christian teaching because of how they live instead of seeking to love them because God loves them, that is what makes Jesus angry.  Whenever our heart are hard to loving other people for any reason, whenever we self-righteously hide behind false-piety, to justify not doing what we know is right, whenever we use our religion to justify doing harm, and whenever we refrain from doing good because our own ugly biases that is what makes Jesus angry.

Friends, I cannot speak for you, but I do not want to make Jesus angry.  The question that Jesus asked the Pharisees, the one they refused to answer, can still be a guide for us: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”   What should guide our thoughts and actions in living out our faith is to do what is good and what preserves life.  Our Methodist background can help guide us in this.  The original Methodist societies had three general rules to follow in living out their Christian faith.  The first general rule was do no harm and the second was do good.   Much like the question Jesus asked the Pharisees, this can be the standard we look at.  We should refrain from actions and words that do harm to another person and we should engage in actions that do good.   This is not always easy.  Like the Pharisees in this morning’s scripture we can find some our held beliefs challenged, but when that happens we should err on the side of grace.  Seeking to do no harm and love others will often be messy, it will regularly be chaotic, but it will always be good and worth doing.

This morning’s scripture gives us two instances of when Jesus butted heads with the Pharisees, the moral authorities of his day.  Jesus gave an example that did not follow the letter of the law but followed the heart of the law.  Jesus gave an example that emphasized doing good and valuing life over valuing taking stances on issues.  So friends, may we not let our preconceived notions of how one should act, think, or believe get in the way of us loving people and doing good.  May we not have hardened hearts, but may our hearts be so filled with the love of God to the point that loves spills out of us for all people.  May all of our thoughts, words, and actions be guided by a strong Christian conviction to do no harm and to do good.  Like it did for Jesus, living this out may cause us some trouble, but it is good trouble.   So do it anyway.   Like it was for Jesus loving the least of these can be messy and chaotic, but it is good.  So may we be chaotic good for the glory of God.


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