In his book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection John Cacioppo writes, “It is estimated that one in five Americans suffers from persistent loneliness, and while we’re more connected than ever before, social media may actually be exacerbating the problem.” One study found that 25% of respondents admitted they had no one with whom they could talk about their personal troubles or successes.  The number was 50% if family members were excluded. 

One might think with our increasing connectedness via social media that people would feel less lonely.  But as Andy Crouch points out in his book Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing, technology offers us, “not total disengagement but powerful and rewarding simulations of engagement.”  And so social media simulates connections, but they are not real connections.  They are not real because the user controls what is communicated to their social network.  Therefore, the user can minimize risk.  But at the same time, there’s very little meaningful action that can be taken on social media.  After all, if all the servers in the physical world were somehow destroyed, all those “virtual” connections in the cloud would disappear.  Social media like any media can play a positive role in our lives, but it depends upon how we use it.  If we’re not careful it can lead us to withdrawing from risking real relationships and exercising meaningful action.  It can lead us to withdrawing into safety. 

In our scripture text from Mark 11:27-33, the religious leaders withdraw into safety.  In response to Jesus condemning and stopping the sacrificial system the day before in the Temple, the chief priests, scribes, elders and teachers of the law challenge him on his authority.  “Who gave you authority to do this?”  In response Jesus asked them a question about John the Baptist.  Was John’s ministry of God or of human origin.  Because of their fear of Jesus’ response and the people who thought John the Baptist was a prophet, the religious leaders responded, “We don’t know.”  They withdraw.  They do not take any meaningful action or any meaningful risk. 

The temptation to withdraw, the temptation to say “we don’t know” or the temptation to pretend we do not know what we know, is probably one of the bigger temptations in our culture today.  But when we withdraw into our own comfortable and “safe” world, we end up apathetic and our neighbors end up suffering.

Sunday, we’ll explore steps we can take to move from the comforts of privilege to the joy of flourishing.