First Act. Presentation of Jesus: Mark 1.14-8.30
Scene 2: Mounting Opposition to the Authority of Jesus: Mark 2.1-3.6
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When he entered again into Capernaum after some days, it was heard that he was in the house. Immediately many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even around the door; and he spoke the word to them. Four people came, carrying a paralytic to him. When they could not come near to him for the crowd, they removed the roof where he was. When they had broken it up, they let down the mat that the paralytic was lying on. Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”
But there were some of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak blasphemies like that? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to tell the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven;’ or to say, ‘Arise, and take up your bed, and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I tell you, arise, take up your mat, and go to your house.”
He arose, and immediately took up the mat, and went out in front of them all; so that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
He went out again by the seaside. All the multitude came to him, and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he arose and followed him.
He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners sat down with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many, and they followed him. The scribes and the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why is it that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, and they came and asked him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast?”
Jesus said to them, “Can the groomsmen fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they can’t fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then will they fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, or else the patch shrinks and the new tears away from the old, and a worse hole is made. No one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine will burst the skins, and the wine pours out, and the skins will be destroyed; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins.”
He was going on the Sabbath day through the grainfields, and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Behold, why do they do that which is not lawful on the Sabbath day?”
He said to them, “Did you never read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry—he, and those who were with him? How he entered into God’s house when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and gave also to those who were with him?” He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
He entered again into the synagogue, and there was a man there who had his hand withered. They watched him, whether he would heal him on the Sabbath day, that they might accuse him. He said to the man who had his hand withered,“Stand up.” He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? To save a life, or to kill?” But they were silent. When he had looked around at them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored as healthy as the other. The Pharisees went out, and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
On one occasion in the past, I was working on a large church staff and teaching regularly. The lead pastor of the congregation floated the idea by me and the other staff pastors that he was going to promote me to an executive pastor position in the church, a position that I had not sought to achieve. The clamor that resulted from just the suggestion became outright opposition against me personally led by one of the other staff members. Those on the staff who had befriended me since my arrival were now unsure of me and my motives. The apex of my career with that congregation had been reached with just a suggestion and the slide to ouster began to occur.
It took a few months, but it happened when someone prophetically spoke to the pastor and told him that when he left for his next mission trip that I was going to take over his church while he was away. I had had several conversations with the lead pastor about the inclusion of some folks who claimed to be prophets and what their modus-operandi was like. When they found opposition to their prophetic work, they would conveniently prophesy against the one they saw as getting in the way of their own securing of a ministry in a church. This so-called prophetic word was delivered to the pastor on a Friday. On Sunday, the pastor avoided me completely. I called him on Sunday afternoon and he told me that we needed to talk Monday morning. When I hung up the phone, I told Donna that we were going to be fired the next morning. On Monday morning, he called me into his office and fired me telling me that when I left his office, I was officially relieved of all my duties in his church.
Opposition in the workplace, church, or other work environments is just plain nasty. When Jesus got in the way of the religious leaders of his day, they mounted a campaign of opposition against him. Mark tells that story in this section of his book.
Observing Mark’s Story
We now enter a new scene in Mark, which records the mounting opposition to the ministry of Jesus. As Jesus brought the rule of God into this present evil age, the enemy of this age began to oppose him at every turn. In this scene, we will see Jesus assert his deity (Mark 2.1-12); appoint Levi (Mark 2.13-14); associate with sinners (Mark 2.15-17); answer questions about fasting (Mark 2.18-22), and assault his adversaries (Mark 2.23-3.6).
Interpreting Mark’s Story: Mark 2-1-35
Assertion of Deity (Mark 2.1-12)
The healing of the paralytic at the beginning of this story brought to the surface a controversy with Judaism, the official religion of the day. This story centered on the healing of a paralyzed man by Jesus that raised questions about the authority of Jesus to forgive sins. When Jesus returned to Capernaum, the town folks heard of his return and crowded in and around the house where Jesus was staying to hear him preach about the kingdom of God. While Jesus was speaking, four men brought a friend who was paralyzed. Because of the crowd that had gathered, the only way to get to Jesus was to tear open the roof and lower him down into the room.
What Jesus said to the paralytic was unexpected. He told the man that his sins were forgiven. There were some teachers of the Law listening to Jesus who were thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Healing the person was not in question. It was the words that Jesus chose to use in healing the man that brought the ire of opposition. The scribes believed that only God could forgive sins. They believed that the Messiah that was to come would exterminate the godless in Israel. He would crush demonic powers, but forgiveness of sins was never attributed to the Messiah in their minds. This was something completely new for them to hear.
I’m sure you can relate. When a people hear something that they have never heard before in the church, or elsewhere for that matter, their first response is usually to reject it and then as they think about it, they get upset at the person making the statement. Over my own years of teaching, I have had many folks come to me after a presentation and say, “What you said this morning, I have never heard in all my days in the church.” Then without hesitation, they began to tell me why what I had said could possibly not be the truth. Once in a prolonged teaching over several days, I had folks bring me books to show me how wrong I was. This really is not an uncommon idea for those of us who do not teach the kind of “popular anemic theology” that most church folks are fed Sunday after Sunday.
Jesus knew in his spirit what they were thinking and challenged it. He asked a double question. To answer either question would be to move them toward immediate verification of his solution. Jesus had a prophetic insight that God revealed to him on this occasion. Jesus did not allow the scribes to answer, but specifically saying to them by his actions, his works, that he was the Messiah for which Israel had long looked toward. What was happening was not what they expected. He was God and he could forgive sins.
The paralyzed man heard the command of Jesus, got up, took up his mat, and walked away. This demonstrated for all to see that his sins had been forgiven. Jesus was forcing the leaders to recognize him as their Messiah and authenticating his claim by healing the paralyzed man. The rule of God again was visible in its action. Remember, he was preaching to them about the kingdom (his words) and he healed the paralyzed man (his works) demonstrating the kingdom. His words and works carry the same message. In spite of their hard hearts, the scribes also glorified God.
Appointment of Levi (Mark 2.13-14)
The healing of the paralytic is immediately followed by the story of the appointment of Matthew and the association of Jesus with sinners, which reveals the growing opposition to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus moved to the seaside to teach about the kingdom of God to the crowds that gathered. While he was walking along, he saw Levi (Matthew) collecting taxes. He spoke a command to him, “Follow me.” Just like the first four, Matthew left his livelihood and followed Jesus. If one stops to think about that telling of the story, it seems that Matthew just stopped being one thing and started being something else. It seems that the next story fills in a bit of the transition information about Matthew.
Association with Sinners (Mark 2.15-17)
As a spontaneous expression of his joy, Matthew threw a party for other tax collectors and sinners. The religious leaders saw Jesus partying with the tax collectors and sinners and immediately criticized him for failing to make a distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous. Jesus should have known that it was inappropriate for him to recline with these sorts of people. When Jesus heard their criticism, he silenced their opposition to his ministry with a proverb of the day, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” He used a bit of sarcasm against these religious zealots. With this little proverb, Jesus told the Pharisees that the message of the kingdom was not to be delivered to the righteous but to the outcasts or as The Message suggests the translation: “the sin-sick.”
When I lived in Southern California, Jack Sims, a friend of mine, called me one day and asked me to meet him at a local coffee shop. As we sat and chatted, he told me about an idea he had for a new church plant that he was working on, which he was going to be known as “Matthew’s Party.” I listened as he dreamed out loud about making the church a bit more festive and was taking his clue from this story in Mark about Matthew throwing a party for his friends. He intended to meet at an odd time in a very public place, a health and exercise club, which had a meeting room. He pulled it off. I went to his first meeting and almost to the person, the folks attending were friends who were unchurched.
What is Jesus telling you to do in your community?
Answers Question about Fasting (Mark 2.18-22)
The opposition against Jesus continued to intensify. The religious leaders, (the religious police) were hot on his trail, following and watching him, hoping he would slip up so they could nail him. As they listened, they asked questions. Here’s one:
Question (Mark 2.18)
The Pharisees observed that the disciples of Jesus were not fasting while other religious disciples were. “Why is that?” he was asked. His critics did not believe that he was showing proper respect by being in a state of mourning because the kingdom had not come. In this story, it is the disciples of Jesus who were on the other end of the attack.
Answer (Mark 2.19-20)
To answer their query, Jesus likened his presence at a wedding that was a time for joy and celebration, not an occasion for mourning. A wedding was a time for music, dancing, and fun. It was unthinkable to fast in the presence of the bridegroom. Again, Jesus confronted the conventional religious tradition of the day who said that the kingdom would not come without fasting so that one could be worthy of its arrival which demonstrates a certain inclination toward the works of a person gaining favor with God. That, by the way, has not changed in a lot of Christian circles today. Jesus stood before them as the king revealing his kingdom. There was no need for fasting, only celebration.
Indictment (Mark 2.21-22)
Jesus used a common saying to demonstrate his point. In their day, no one used a valuable new cloth to mend a tattered garment. No one poured fermenting new wine into a worn-out, damaged wineskin. What did this mean? The disciples of Jesus were participating in something that was totally new and different. They did not have to prepare as the disciples of John or try to become worthy, as the disciples of the Pharisees had to do. These groups who participated in fasting represented their basic ignorance that the kingdom had come in the presence of Jesus.
Here’s an opinion to muse on. Wineskin used as a metaphor is useful to describe what happens in ChurchWorld today. There are thousands of churches in USAmerica, and around the world, that are worn-out and their staff keep running to conferences and reading books to gain new ideas to “pour” into the old worn-out wineskins. There seems to be a disabling theology that every church should live forever. Just like the wineskins in the story of Jesus, some should be taken to the wineskin graveyard while new wineskins have a go.
It just seems illogical to keep putting resources (money, time, and energy) into a wineskin (read church) that is worn-out with endless meetings, committees, sermons, money collecting, etc. When will the old be laid to rest and the new become the focus?
Assault His Adversaries (Mark 2.23-3.6)
I understand that using the word “assault” can possibly be assaulting on the reader’s mind, who has come to believe a story about the sanitized Jesus that we have presented to us on a weekly basis. However, Mark tells two stories to demonstrate how Jesus assaulted his adversaries. These stories point out that deception leads to opposition. We have all been deceived. We have been promised one thing and delivered another. In the marketing world, it is called “bait and switch.” We are taught not to oppose those who teach us. When we disagree, we are booted out usually for rebellion! Such should not be so. Verses out of context like “don’t touch God’s anointed” should be hung in public effigy. (For a larger discussion of the damaging use of this verse see: Touch not mine anointed. (http://wgriff.in/cw_tga)
Story #1: Plucking Grain (Mark 2.23-27)
Remember, deception leads to opposition. The Pharisees were so deceived that they thought they were right about how to worship God and everyone else was wrong. It was not that the disciples were picking heads of grain that caused the Pharisees to complain. It was because they were doing it on the Sabbath. The action of plucking was interpreted as reaping, as in gathering a crop, and reaping was considered work. The tendency of religious leaders is to take what is meant to be helpful and make a law out of it. Then these leaders watch very carefully so they can catch someone breaking their law and, then, oppose those who break their laws. This whole process leads to abusive behavior by pastoral leaders and others who are deluded into thinking that they have authority over you because they hold the position of pastor.
Jesus quoted a story from Scripture that the Pharisees would have been familiar with (1 Sam. 21.1-6). The story compared the behavior of his disciples with that of David and his followers. They both did something that was forbidden. The fact that God does not condemn David for his action indicates that the narrowness with which the scribes interpreted the Law was not in accordance with the grace of God as shown in their own sacred text. The Pharisees were being unduly stringent at exceeding the intention of the Law.
Then, Jesus continued by saying that the Sabbath was a day of rest, joy, and refreshment. It was made for humankind to enjoy. The Pharisees, however, had made it into a day of restrictions that caused humankind to become rigid in order not to break Sabbath and thus be prosecuted for some violation.
Take giving as an illustration. Giving should be joyful and generous. ChurchWorld has settled on the legalism of a tithe, which was never generous giving, but taxation of the Jews and turned it into a new legalism in order to raise funds for buildings for churches to meet in and salaries for the folks who run those churches. Such should not be the case. Such should not be the case. Yes, I wrote that twice to make the point!
Story #2: The Withered Hand Healing (Mark 3.1-6)
The adversaries of Jesus were convinced that he was a violator of the Sabbath, the Sabbath that they had created. It was the legal tradition of the Sabbath not to practice medicine or healing. The scribes had made a precise rule of what cases caused immediate danger to life and what aid could be given. They were watching, hoping to trap Jesus. However, they were caught in their own trap, or hoisted on their own petard!
They knew that the Law was not opposed to the saving of life on the Sabbath. They knew what was correct, but they were so deceived by their own interpretation of Oral Law, they could not allow others to know the truth. Therefore, to cover pursuit of applying the Law, they had to oppose Jesus. The word looked in this section implies that Jesus looked into each person’s eyes one by one. He was angry and distressed because, in their concern for legal detail, they had forgotten the mercy and grace of God. When Jesus restored the man’s hand, he demonstrated once again the kingdom of God entering into the present evil age.
Jesus refused to observe the traditional religious rules, which caused serious conflict with the law police. People who would not commonly talk to each other such as the Pharisees and the Herodians, became allies so that they could defeat a common enemy who was tearing away at their religious and political belief systems. It is common for religious people to try to destroy those who will not bow to their tradition. The enemy continually brings opposition to detour Jesus followers from the direction and ministry to which God has called each one of us to do.
Living into Mark’s Story
- How difficult is it for you to change (Mark 2.6)?
- There is risk in delivering a prophetic insight. To your knowledge have you ever received or delivered a prophetic insight to another (Mark 2.8)?
- How does the call of God on your life necessitate an abandoning of other concerns (Mark 2.15)?
- Separation to remain pure is the first sign of legalism and unrighteousness (Mark 2.15-17).
- Read Mark 3.7-35
Easy to Understand
Tom Wright. Mark for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone [Paperback]
Winn Griffin. Gracelets: Being Conduits of the Extravagant Acts of God’s Grace [Paperback]
Ben Witherington III. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary.
William L. Lane. The Gospel according to Mark: The English Text With Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)