No, this is not about getting in the ring with God and duking it out but instead the ways that we try to limit how God works. Leviticus 1-3 has a lengthy description of different offerings that the people were required to do along with specific instructions about each kind – burnt offering, grain offering, and fellowship offering among others that were described in the latter part of Exodus. Some of these offerings were done to help people “be right” with God.
In the reading from Mark 2, we hear about Jesus helping a man “get right” with God as well even though that’s not necessarily what’s being asked for. A paralyzed man is brought to Jesus to be healed and the first thing said is “Your sins are forgiven.” This sets off some of the religious leaders who could not believe that Jesus would do such a thing because “who can forgive sins but God alone?” And then Jesus heals the man.
This is the first of the many times that Jesus butts heads with the religious leaders of the day. Ultimately it came down to whether people were open to God doing a new thing in new ways (or even God doing an “old thing” in a new way).
We’re still fighting that battle today. Just yesterday I saw an article that went viral about one branch of the church pushing back in a very public and wide-ranging way because someone tried to do something in a new way. We keep wanting to put God in a box but the reality is…God was never in the box. We just think God was and then we find God outside of it in all kinds of ways. After all, God didn’t make the box…we did. And we keep on trying to make them and God keeps showing up outside of them.
That’s one of the reasons I am grateful to be serving in the UCC denomination. One of the UCC’s taglines (which we’re all working on living into) is “God is still speaking.” Reminds me that God usually doesn’t speak from the places, from the people, or in the ways we expect.