How to Be Pro-Life
Explore the Bible Series
January 17, 2010
Lesson Passage: Mark 3:3-5; 5:33-42; 10:13-16
As I write these words, more news arrives about the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti late Tuesday afternoon. Transportation and communication disruption make it difficult to assess the casualties, but the Dallas Morning News reports the quake leveled Port-au-Prince, and thousands walk the streets “crying, screaming, and shouting.” Nearly two million people live in the city, and, no doubt, food and water shortages, health care, and sanitation issues will add to the misery of these poor people. Even under the best of circumstances the Haitian citizenry suffers from staggering poverty (the worst in the Western Hemisphere) and illiteracy (only about 20% are functionally literate, according to Operation World statistics). They have meager resources to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake.
These dreadful circumstances confront evangelical Christians with hard questions about the definition of “Pro-Life.” Since the early 1980s, evangelicals associate “Pro-Life” with their concerns about abortion (a concern I share), but this week’s lesson rightly reminds us that Christians need to expand their application of their life-affirming principles. This current study of the Gospel of Mark has impressed me with the compassion of Jesus for the infirmed, oppressed, and suffering people of his day, compassion his disciples, in any generation, should mirror.
Our lesson highlights three episodes in the public life of Jesus: the healing of the man with a withered hand (See lesson for December 13, 2009), the woman with a reproductive illness/the terminal disease of Jairus’ daughter (See lesson for December 27, 2009), and Jesus’ ministry to children. Each story recalls the Lord’s life-affirming ministry, and gives contemporary disciples of Jesus insight into the essence of Christian concern for the preservation and enrichment of human life.
Personal note: The unusual nature of this lesson prompts me to approach our study a bit differently than the previous outlines. Our outlines have already commented on two of the episodes addressed in the lesson; so, I will make some comments about the practical application of the stories, to avoid unnecessary repetition. On the last story (Jesus’ ministry to the children), I will provide a little exposition of the text.
Please know that I have no political agenda undergirding any of my comments; indeed, I have little confidence in the government’s ability or efficiency in dealing with human need. If the evangelical church would spend less energy and resources on herself, the needs of the society could largely be met. Many evangelicals have, it seems to me, simply “baptized” American greed and consumerism and thus abrogated much of their legitimate ministry to the poor and suffering. Please forgive my candor, but this trend to religious consumerism sickens me and has fostered a profound trail of my faith. If God’s people followed the teachings and example of Jesus, I doubt that many of the current debates about universal health care, for instance, would be necessary. This is not a conservative/liberal issue, in my judgment. It is, I think, an opportunity for American evangelicals to reconsider their priorities.
The Man with the Withered Hand (Mark 3:1-6)
We cannot know what caused this man’s infirmity, but his disability, no doubt, had catastrophic effects. In Jesus’ day, most people earned a living by manual labor; that is, most were, as we might say, “blue-collar” workers. This man’s infirmity probably hampered his ability to earn a living. Furthermore, his dignity must have been injured by his incapacity, a disability that must have affected his sense of self-worth. Perhaps his infirmity reduced him to depending on others or to begging in the streets. He belonged to a religious community, but the leaders seemed to care little about his needs. They seemed more concerned about their status than the wellbeing of this poor, suffering man.
I do not have the capacity to restore withered limbs, but I can have compassion for people whose physical limitations rob them of their daily needs and the dignity of working for a living. Furthermore, I can make sure that I put “shoe leather” to my concerns, and I can encourage my fellow evangelicals to give greater attention to life-affirming ministry to those who cannot take care of all their needs.
The Woman with Reproductive Illness/ the Terminal Disease of Jairus’ Daughter (Mark 5:21-43)
Mark interwove two compelling stories in one narrative account. Soon after crossing the Sea of Galilee, Jesus encountered a man agonized by the serious illness of a beloved daughter. She stood at the threshold of death, and the worried father compelled Jesus to heal the little girl. Of course, the Lord agreed to travel to the man’s home, but, as the crowd pressed upon Jesus, a woman with gynecological problems touched Jesus’ garment, immediately receiving divine healing power.
This infirmed woman had suffered menstrual bleeding for twelve years, and her illness, again, had catastrophic effects. According to the Mosaic Law, she could not have intimate relations or participate in the religious life of the community. Perhaps her ailment prevented her from marrying; or, if she was married, she could not bear children. Her ceremonial uncleanness kept her from full participation in the religious life of the Jews; so, she had little spiritual support from her community, isolated and alone. Jesus took pity on this dear woman. Again, how many people live within a stone’s throw of God’s people, but they suffer, for whatever reason, from terrible loneliness and isolation.
As Jesus ministered to the woman, news arrived that Jairus’ daughter had died. The Lord comforted the bereaved father, and raised the girl from the dead. I try to imagine the emotional response of the heart-broken dad, and, since I have three precious daughters, I can envision the anguish this man endured. Perhaps he reasoned that Jesus had not reacted quickly enough to the emergency. If only the woman had not distracted Jesus at the critical moment of need. I cannot conceive of this man’s grief at the news his daughter had died. Moreover, I have, at times, wondered why God did not act more quickly to some acute need in my life. God seems to work in his own time, unconcerned about my timetable or agony. We encounter, every day, people who suffer from disillusionment and doubt because the Lord did not intervene, as expected, at a critical moment in life.
The Blessing of the Children (Mark 10:13-16)
By the time the Gospel of Mark reaches Chapter Ten, Jesus’ circumstances had changed dramatically. The band of disciples had left Galilee in route to Jerusalem. Shortly before they reached Judea, the men tarried briefly on the western shore of the Jordan. The Twelve regarded themselves, by this point, as guardians of Jesus’ time and energy, and when a group of people brought children to the Lord, the disciples rebuked the parents. The Greek text seems to indicate that the fathers of these children brought them to the Lord, and the disciples, fearing that the crowds might prove a distraction, reprimanded the parents.
The ancient world did not hold children in high regard, especially little girls. Some ancient manuscripts even indicate infanticide among some Middle Eastern cultures. Clearly, the Twelve saw these children as an unnecessary disruption in the Lord’s work. Perhaps they reasoned that children could not add anything to the work of the Kingdom. They had no wealth or influence, and, in their minds, Jesus was wasting time with these kids.
The Lord, seeing the actions of the disciples, angrily reproved his mistaken followers. In a scene of great tenderness, Jesus received and blessed the little ones, and he told his disciples that they needed to become like these children if they wanted to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Dear readers, how do we respond to those who bring no wealth or influence to the work of the local church? Do we tend to see people as statistics who may bring some advantage or influence to the congregation? God, help us not to see people as merely donors but as objects of God’s love.