Good Friday morning to you. I hope you are having a great day. Yesterday we looked at the role of women in Mark's Gospel as well as the insiders and the outsiders. Today, I want to begin by looking at five challenges (or debates) leveled at Jesus at the beginning of his ministry in Mark. From Mark 2:1 through 3:6 we discover not only these challenges, but what may even be accusations. They are the following:
1) You mean this Jesus can forgive sin? How can he do this? According to the teachers of the law only God could forgive sins (2:6-9)
2) Why does this Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? (2:15-17)
3) Why doesn't Jesus' disciples fast? (2:18-20)
4) Why are the disciples of Jesus picking corn on the Sabbath? (2:23-28)
5) Would Jesus actually heal on the Sabbath? (3:1-6)
Well, from the beginning Jesus ruffles some feathers. One of the things new ministers are warned against when arriving at a new appointment (at least in the United Methodist Church) is changing everything at the beginning. For example: we are warned against changing the worship service when we first arrive. We are encouraged to make any changes over time. We don't want to send people into shock at the beginning. Now, of course there are exceptions to every rule. Jesus must have missed this training. Oh, but according to Matthew Jesus did not come to change the Law! Well, for someone who made that claim, he sure came pretty close. In Matthew, if you recall, (Matthew 5) Jesus re-interpreted the Law ("You have heard it said, but I say unto you...) On the surface it would appear that Mark does not record this re-interpretation. But, a more careful study reveals that he may have, just in a different way. The following passage takes place in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. There is a man there with a shriveled hand. Those in the synagogue are watching to see if Jesus will heal the man so they can accuse him of breaking the Sabbath.
"Then Jesus asked them, 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" (Mark 3:4) I would suggest that what Jesus is doing here is similar to what he did in Matthew Five. Here he teaches that human need overrides Sabbath regulations. He was re-interpreting the Sabbath. Then the scene becomes very interesting and I believe sets a pattern that will follow. So, the man has a withered hand and Jesus silences his critics for the time being.
"He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, and said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored." (Mark 3:5) Jesus was angry! Wow! We don't read that often. Why was he angry? Because of his opponent's objections and their refusal to "stretch" their own notions in order to make room for God's healing action. Notice he tells the man to "stretch out your hand." This is in contrast to them not being willing to stretch. Oh, If I had a dollar for all the times I heard someone say, "I'm set in my ways and you aren't going to change me." Well, what is really being said is, "I'm set in my ways and not even God can change me." Well, this is the same attitude of Jesus' opponents.
Well, Jesus does heal in the Bible. But, I would argue that his healing miracles are more about the greater message he is trying to relay. For instance, Jesus heals a blind man in chapter eight. The timing is interesting. The disciples have failed to understand what Jesus has been trying to get through to them. They have watched miracle after miracle, and heard teaching after teaching. Then there was the interesting passage after they witnessed Jesus feed over four thousand people. One would think that if they just witnessed this being done with just seven loaves of bread that they would have believed Jesus to be able to do anything and that they would have believed anything he told them. Well, they had short memories.
"The disciples (after getting into a boat) had forgotten to bring bread...'Be careful,' Jesus warned them. 'Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.' They discussed this with one another and said, 'It is because we have no bread.' Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: 'Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand...Do you have eyes but fail to see?" (Mark 8:14-18) Then Jesus heals a blind man. Was this miracle recorded so we can know that Jesus heals, or in response to the blindness of the disciples?
The healing of this blind man is interesting. Have you ever noticed that Jesus heals in various ways? Sometimes he just touches the person and they are healed. Sometimes he doesn't even go to the person, but speaks from a distance and they are healed. But here Jesus "spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him." (Mark 8:23b) Umm...I have been to various doctors, some of whom were questionable to say the least, but none of them ever gave me this treatment. Did you know that spit was used for healing purposes in ancient times? Oh yes! Think about it. When you smash your thumb what is often the first reaction (well after you have quit yelling and...well yelling)? You put your thumb in your mouth. In ancient times (this has been discovered from ancient sources) spit was the equivalent of our Ben Gay. I kid you not. I can hear it now, "Honey, will you rub some Ben Gay on my back?" "Um...well... I think we are out of Ben Gay, but I tell you what...lay down and I'll spit on you." Umm... yeah! I don't think I'll do that. Well, Jesus does this and then asks the man "Do you see anything?" (Mark 8:23b) The man "looked up and said, 'I see people; they look like trees walking around.'" (Mark 8:24) He could see, but not clearly. Jesus then put his hands on him and his sight was fully restored. Is this a way of saying to the disciples: "You may not see clearly now, but you will?" I think so. I think it is a message to all of us.
Well, there is so much more to see (pun intended) in this Gospel. We will return to it on Monday. Have a great weekend. -Pastor Rick