Connections 07.18.2021: On the Fringes

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

We sometimes hear of or talk about people living on the fringes. We usually use the phrase to refer to those who live on the fringes or edges of society economically, socially, culturally, or politically. In our context here in the United States in 2021, we probably use the phrase most often to refer to groups whose political views are dangerous because they are so extreme and are grounded in fantasy rather than fact. We are rightfully concerned about such views gaining traction and even moving into the mainstream.

The fact that present-day political fringe groups are wrong and worrisome doesn’t mean, though, that every group that operates outside the mainstream is misguided. Consider the group that followed Jesus around Galilee. They followed Jesus as he went around challenging the dominant systems of the time. By following him, they participated in the challenges that his ways of thinking, talking, and acting posed to those systems.

Jesus and his disciples may have been on the fringes of society in first-century Israel, but none of us, looking back from our vantage point, would say that they were on the wrong side of history. After all, if they were, it would mean that we are too.

We are the present-day followers of Jesus. But our standing in society differs from that of his original followers. We don’t live on the fringes because of our religion. We are very much in the mainstream. The presence of Christianity in American culture is as accepted and expected as is the presence of a church building on every corner.

But we might question the substance of the kind of Christianity we practice and accept these days. Do we Christians find ourselves more often swimming against the current or going with the flow? Do we find ourselves uncritically accepting the legitimacy of the entrenched economic, social, cultural, political, and religious power structures of our time, or actively seeking to discern how we can promote greater justice and righteousness?

Are we interested in maintaining our society’s margins so people on the fringes will know their place—and will know to stay in it—or are we committed to reaching across the margins and pulling people in from the fringes—not out of a desire to absorb or “normalize” them, but rather out of love that wants to include and accept them—and to take seriously their experiences, perspectives, and insights?

People on the fringes were drawn to Jesus. He and his disciples could hardly find time to rest and reflect because so many people were bringing their sick friends and family members to him. We can safely assume that in most cases the sick people’s diseases restricted them not only physically, but also socially and religiously. For them to be healed meant more than being made physically well—it also meant being restored to a place where they could participate in society.

The sick people who came to Jesus from the fringes of society just wanted to touch the fringe of his cloak (v. 56)—and when they did, they were healed. And when they were healed, they became included. Assuming that many of them became disciples of Jesus and continued as members of the church following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, don’t you think they brought with them some valuable insights into what life on the fringes was all about?

Our text can lead us to ask two questions to evaluate whether we are being the church. First, to what extent do people on the fringes feel drawn to us? Second, to what extent are we reaching across the margins to the people living on the fringes?

Discussion

  • Even though it didn’t work out, what can we take away from Jesus’ wanting his disciples to get away from their ministry and rest?
  • In what ways are people in our time “like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 34)?
  • What does our text teach us about the necessity of compassion? What does it imply about the cost of compassion?
  • How can we move toward effectively practicing both compassionate ministry and appropriate self-care?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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