What Does Jesus’ Call Mean for Me?
Explore the Bible Series
December 13, 2009
Background Passage: Mark 2:1-3:6
Lesson Passage: Mark 2:15-28
This lesson centers attention on early conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees. We know little about the genesis of the Pharisaical Party, but they certainly existed, as an identifiable group, by the middle of the Second Century B.C. Some trace their origins to the time of Ezra (c. Fifth Century B.C.). By Jesus’ day, the Pharisees numbered about six thousand; so, they did not constitute a majority among the Jews; however, they did exercise considerable influence in Judea and Galilee. Their name implies separation and purity, but they enjoyed significant interaction with the common people. Above all, they acted as biblical copyists, commentators, and synagogue leaders. History reveals their critical role in developing the oral tradition treasured by First Century Judaism.
Some modern scholars downplay Pharisaic conflict with Jesus, but the Gospel accounts highlight this discord. In many ways, the Jewish leaders agreed with Jesus’ teaching: the existence of demons and angels, the future resurrection of the dead, and the purity and authority of the Mosaic Law. Nevertheless, they disagreed with some important aspects of the Lord’s interpretation of the oral tradition: the proper observance of the Sabbath, cleanliness rites, and messianic interpretations. Quickly, they grew disenchanted with Jesus’ actions and teachings, and that dissatisfaction degenerated into murderous designs. We will encounter the foreshadowing of these schemes in this week’s lesson.
E.P. Sanders, New Testament scholar at Duke Divinity School, lists several characteristics of the Pharisees, characteristics that brought them in tension with the teachings of Jesus. In general, I do not fully agree with Sanders’ view of the Gospels, but some of his points seem helpful. I have summarized these ideas.
1. The Pharisees were a small group, centered upon Jerusalem.
2. The Pharisees debated with one another, often sharply, but without violence. Their discussions took for granted that the Torah should be kept, and were concerned with the proper manner of that law keeping. (Our text, this week, seems to challenge Sanders’ view. Mark 3:6 indicates that these Pharisees turned, quite quickly and naturally, to the conclusion that they must destroy Jesus. This, it seems, could mean nothing less than they had murderous intents).
3. The Pharisees were concerned with their own purity, not with checking up on other people… they did not go spying on others or plot to kill them. (Again, this text seems to contest this view. Jesus’ meal with the publicans offended the Pharisees, and they seemed to have a keen awareness of an “us” and “them” separatism).
4. Many of Jesus’ key teachings in the area of the Torah involved an intensification, not an abrogation, of the Torah. (I completely agree, at this point, with Sanders. Jesus did not nullify the Law; rather, he intensified the application of the teachings of Moses—see the Sermon on the Mount).
5. Though Jesus did not speak against the Law, he challenged the adequacy of the Mosaic dispensation at various points. This, along with his claim to be spokesman of Israel’s God, and his announcement of the Kingdom, did generate real opposition… and this led to his death.
We should avoid demonizing the scribes and Pharisees. They treated Jesus in a shameful manner, but they also may mirror certain aspects of our religious life. At times, we may all lapse into a kind of Christian separatism that holds a dim view of everyone who does not practice the faith in precisely the manner we do. Like them, we may evidence a static institutionalism that engenders anger someone challenges our cherished views. We may become convinced that Christianity is bound up in keeping a prescribed set of rules, and, when others do not abide by these artificial standards, we may write them off as spiritually inferior.
I. Conflict Over the Healing of a Paralyzed Man (2:1-12; Matt. 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26)
A. The setting of the conflict (vv. 1-2): Jesus, after a brief preaching tour of Galilee, returned to his adopted home, in Capernaum. The Romans maintained a large military base in this city, and the region served as major crossroads for trade routes. It seems likely that Jesus stayed in the home of Simon Peter during his visits to Capernaum; indeed, this episode may have occurred in Peter’s household.
B. Healing of the paralyzed man (vv. 3-5 and 11-12): As Jesus preached to the throng, four men brought a paralytic for healing. We don’t know the nature of this man’s malady, illness or injury, but the paralysis forced his friends to carry the man, perhaps on a make-shift pallet. Because of the teeming crowd, the friends lowered the paralytic through the tiles of the ceiling. At first, Jesus did not offer to heal the man; rather, he forgave his sins. After the raising of the paralyzed man, the crowds marveled at Jesus’ power and authority.
C. The opposition of the scribes (vv. 6-10): The Jewish leaders took offense at Jesus’ audacity to forgive sin. They understood that ultimately the authority to forgive belongs only to God. They were, of course, correct in their theological understanding; however, they misunderstood the identity of the Lord Jesus. The Lord healed the infirmed man as a demonstration of his divine authority to forgive sins. Please note that scribes did not voice their concerns about Jesus’ remarkable claim; instead, the Lord knew their hearts.
II. Conflict Over Jesus’ Relationship with Tax Collectors and Sinners (2:13-17; Matt. 9:9-13; Luke 5:27-32)
A. The call of Levi (vv. 13-14): The Romans often hired Jews to collect taxes (this activity was administered by the Jewish ruler Herod Antipas), and these publicans were despised by their countrymen, a hatred fueled by a reputation for graft and dishonesty. Levi (Matthew), despite his despised status, became the fifth member of the apostolic band.
B. The opposition of the scribes and Pharisees (vv. 15-17): Soon after his encounter with Jesus, Matthew asked the Lord to join him for meal, and he invited many of his friends to join in the festivities. These friends, of course, were people of poor reputation, and Jesus did not hesitate to fellowship with the unseemly crowd. The Pharisees used the term “sinners” to denote those who did not observe their strict oral tradition, and they relegated these outcasts to an inferior social status. Jesus’ association with sinners offended the Jewish leaders, and, this time, they gave voice to their concerns. As became his practice, the Lord, using a wisdom statement, reminded the leaders that he came to restore the spiritual health of sinners.
III. Conflict Over Fasting (2:18-22; Matt. 9:14-17; Luke 5:33-39)
A. The occasion of the dispute (2:18): This is the only dispute, in our lesson materials, that did not revolve around the Pharisees. In this case, people from the crowds asked Jesus why his disciples did not follow the fasting traditions observed by the disciples of John the Baptist and the followers of the Pharisees. The Mosiac Law required only one annual fast, related to the Day of Atonement, but First Century Pharisees fasted each week, on Monday and Thursday. It is possible that a Jewish sect called the Essenes may have influenced John, and, if so, his disciples may have practiced an even more ascetic form of fasting than the Pharisees. Whatever the case, the crowds were puzzled why Jesus and his followers did not observe the fasting rituals of the Pharisees. We should note that this episode does not evidence the same combativeness that we find in the other stories recorded in this section.
B. Jesus’ answer to the crowds (vv. 19-22): Jesus affirmed, in a veiled manner, his status as the promised Messiah, and he pointed out the inappropriate nature of fasting at the time when Messiah had come. Then, the Lord gave three examples of inappropriate behavior.
1. Fasting at a wedding (vv. 19-20)
2. Sewing a piece of new cloth to mend an old, worn garment (v. 21)
3. Storing new wine in an old wineskin (v. 22)
IV. Conflict Over Sabbath Observance (2:23-27; Matt. 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5)
A. The occasion of the conflict (vv. 23-24): Jesus and his disciples, on a given Sabbath day, plucked heads of grain and ate the kernels, as they passed through a grain field. The Mosiac Law allowed the activity (See Deuteronomy 23:25); the conflict focused on this activity on the sabbath. The Pharisees regarded Jesus’ activity as reaping, an activity expressly forbidden by the Law (See Exodus 34:21).
B. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees (vv. 26-27): At a time of severe need, David violated the ceremonial law by eating the showbread, from the tabernacle (See I Samuel 21:1-6). God did not condemn David’s activity because of the unusual circumstances, and Jesus, by inference, claimed that human need outweighed the obligation to the law. By the way, there is a minor problem n connection to Jesus’ reference to the High Priest Abiathar. We know that Abiathar’s father Abimelech served as High Priest at the time of David’s need. Perhaps Jesus meant only to date the episode and did not intend to assert Abiathar’s priesthood, at the time of David’s activities.
V. Conflict over the Healing of a Man with a Withered Hand (3:1-6; Matt. 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11)
A. The occasion of the conflict (vv. 1-2): This episode probably occurred in Capernaum. As worshippers gathered for sabbath observance, Jesus determined to heal a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees anticipated that Jesus would help the poor man (they watched him), and they sought an occasion to accuse the Lord before the crowds.
B. Jesus’ provocation of the debate (vv. 3-5): Jesus grew angry at the hardheartedness of his adversaries. They cared nothing for this poor, suffering man, and they simply saw him as an occasion to entrap Jesus. Grieved at his heart, Jesus healed the man in defiance of the Pharisees’ disapproval.
C. The response of the Pharisees (v. 6): The displeasure of the Pharisees provoked an unlikely alliance with the Herodians, a group that supported the Tetrarch Herod Antipas. We know little about this sect, but they clearly had little in common with the Pharisees. In this case, however, the Pharisees sought alliances wherever they could find them, and they turned to a group with which they shared a common alarm about Jesus. Perhaps the Herodians saw Jesus as a destabilizing force to the political status quo in Galilee and Judea,