The Disruptor for the Detestable

Last summer CNBC, a cable channel that covers the Stock Market and offers economic analysis, issued its annual Distruptor 50 list. Innovative companies believed to be changing the world make the list. These companies are considered forward thinking. One of the measures is their economic success. For instance, 31 companies in last year’s list had already passed the billion-dollar mark.

Some that you may have heard of: Airbnb, Lyft, Space X, Survey Monkey, Uber, Pinterest, Spotify, Dropbox, Blue Apron and Warby Parker. “Unseating corporate giants is no easy feat,” the article notes. 

It is this description that may catch our attention. Take for instance Lyft and Uber. Those two companies ran into the efforts of traditional Taxi Cab companies to block their access at airports. In fact, you may have flown into an airport and attempted to access either the Lyft or Uber app only to find out they had been blocked from access at the airport. Things have changed as these two companies disrupted the monopoly held by traditional cab companies.

For years we have heard talk of a Glass Ceiling. The reference is to an invisible wall that keeps women from earning the same salary that men do for the same job. Patti Fletcher wrote an article for entrepreneur.com titled, 10 Signs That You Are a Disrupter. Her list aims to encourage women who plan to start or currently are involved in a business.

Here are a few from her list:

  1. You are motivated by purpose, not ego.
  2. You can’t stand the status quote – especially when it doesn’t work.
  3. You’re not afraid of facing tough problems.

The Church is not immune to events, conversations and personalities that disrupt egos, threaten the status quo and present difficult problems.

If we want to make critical connections when reading the New Testament, it is essential to understand that Jesus was and is a Disrupter who brings Good News to the Detestable -those in Jesus’ day labeled unclean.

Think of Disrupter as those living in Jesus’ day would have in mind when they heard Prophet. The designation takes us all the way back to Moses. We think of Moses as Law Giver, but in Deuteronomy 18 we get these words,

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet just like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

What would prompt the need for a prophet? After all, the priest-class reminded the people of the laws that directed both their religious practice and their social commitments. 

We learn that any group of people may assume their position privileges them. And, since the priest class was by right of the tribe, it became quite the institution. Rather than serve the people, there are times they became the served. Maybe you recall Eli’s sons who illustrate the danger. 

What’s more, the people would be tempted by the pagan gods of the nations they encountered when they entered the land promised to them. Some would rise to tell the people these gods should be listened to, should be followed. Others would make grand announcements in favor of these gods declaring things that did not come to pass, that were inconsistent with what the people know of God. The penalty would be stiff. 

But, when the people did not want to hear from their God, God would raise up a prophet and put his words in their mouth. He would disrupt what had become standard. He would disturb what had become socially and religiously expected. 

The parallels in every era indicate we always run the risk of settling into the way things are. Even more, when we hear religious leaders do an about face as to what should bear valued, our re-centering solution is Jesus. If we are encouraged to do other than love others, our neighbors, then we know something has gone off the rails. The Apostle Paul connects our love for neighbor as a summary action of faithfulness to God.

If Jesus came at a time when Israel needed a Disrupter, know that every era needs to experience Jesus as Disrupter.

A Disrupter rescues us from ourselves. 

And this brings us to Mark and the event in the synagogue in Capernaum.

When we use the Law as a means to exclude others, we have missed the function of the Law. For those who are not in Christ, the Law serves as a wicked taskmaster, a constant reminder of the power of Sin and how it shows up in our lives despite our longing for different.

For those who are in Christ, the Law opens us to the vision of God and our love for others. Read it carefully, and the Law turns our hearts toward humanity as valuable rather than as useful. Value directs our attention to human beings as Image Bearers of God. Useful leads us to think how human beings help fulfill our desires, no matter virtuous or sinister.

When Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath, he is confronted by a man with an unclean spirit.

What do we make of a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue?

Why in Matthew the first sign Jesus did was to cleanse a leper, right after giving what we call the Sermon on the Mount. Unclean.

Aside from teaching Luke gives us this same story. Jesus rebuked the spirit. The spirit threw the man down and left him. Unclean.

John gives us the story of the wedding at Cana where Jesus turns the water in the pots used for ceremonial cleansing into wine. The very items used in ritual cleansing, Jesus gives something new and better.

Unclean became a designation of exclusion. The practice was hard-wired into Israel’s experience. Every young person exposed to the Law appears to have embraced the division created that separates people into clean and unclean. And, rather than point people to what it means to be clean, how to be clean and to help point them to the God who makes clean, the standard practice was exclusion.

Just remember Peter’s vision on the rooftop in Acts 10. God came to Peter in a vision and disrupted Peter’s long-held conviction and practice. The voice over and again instructed Peter to let go of exclusion and instead embrace what God made as good. The symbolism is clear. It wasn’t just about food.

Peter would need to overcome the long-held teaching that some people were unclean, namely those not like himself.

Here we may want to take stock of ourselves. Do we need a Disrupter? While Jesus indeed did liberate the man from the unclean spirit, that this occurred in the synagogue cannot be dismissed as merely a placeholder.

Jesus the Disrupter Begins His Ministry in the very place we least expect it is needed.

When we read the Text, it is easy to focus on how the synagogue leaders got it wrong, how the scribes taught the Torah tentatively. We like to set the details up without so much as a thought as to how the story may be our undoing today. It is a story that disrupts our own tendency toward exclusion.

Jesus’ prophetic ministry – his ministry as a prophet to Israel – disrupts the social and religious fabric of his day. Those habits and practices that left people on the margins of life – the unclean, the detestable, the outcast, the stranger, the widow.

One way to bring this forward is to notice at least one key feature of all those then considered excludable – they could not fruitfully contribute to the economic well-being of Israel. They were a drain on the system. Socially they made ordinary people means – uncomfortable. Religiously they were easily excluded by laws that pointed up their condition, even when that situation was no fault of their own.

Some of us grew up where it was believed we need to know about other religions and those fringe movements called cults. We were discipled to see the difference. We kept an eye out for the Moonies, the Krishnas and those like Jim Jones.

One essential element we were instructed to keep an eye on, “What do these groups say about Jesus?” Important stuff to be sure. It became more important to identify what they said about Jesus than what Jesus said. And, if I may suggest, we missed one of the largest religions. This religion may be the largest world religion ever. Its subtlety is genius. Its major doctrine easily overlooked. John Cobb Jr. identifies the current, reigning world religion as economism. Think about what most concerns us – the economy. That famous line from a Presidential race from years ago resurfaces over and again, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The Wiki notes that the first President Bush scored a 90% approval rating after the invasion of Iraq. Later the following year, in the midst of a recession, his negative approval rating was 64%. Do the math. 

We accept a lot of things when the economy is our focus. No wonder Cobb takes stock of the condition of the world and considers economism the number one world religion. 

Anyone who dares suggest other things to be more critical is considered a heretic, a false prophet, and in need of repentance.

And now you know what Moses may have meant when he relayed God’s words, 

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet just like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

Most of us want Jesus to disrupt our world according to our vision for the world. Maybe we should be asking Jesus for his Spirit to disturb us in all the ways we have bought into the systems that exclude, that demonstrate that Mammon is our god. 

Jesus the Disrupter is Good News for the Detestable – the Unclean, the Excluded.

When God revealed in Jesus shows up for the unclean, for the detestable, for the excluded, those who do not fit those categories may want to take notice. Some have suggested that should you want to be where God shows up, then look for ways to be in a relationship with those who are considered the least, the lost, the left out.

When we wonder where God is and what it is that keeps him from showing up; maybe we need to be where it is clear that he will show up. Rather than determine that God is not active, God is not present, perhaps we should reconfigure our priorities and put ourselves in contact with those for whom Jesus regularly showed up.

When we decide that God is no longer relevant because he isn’t giving us what we want, maybe we should determine that we will make our way to the places where God is giving liberty and freedom from the conditions that trap them.

When we . . . You get the point. We are in the synagogue. And, given what we know of the Good News, given what we have ourselves experienced, there should not be someone in our midst that goes unclean, detestable and excluded, mainly if we are eager to see God at work.

Jesus is always the Disrupter who bears Good News.

Text(s):Mark 1:21-28; Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 8:1-13

*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.