Mark has already told his readers that Jesus is the Son of God, and he’s done a pretty good job of backing that up in what he showed in Chapter 1. John the Baptist pointed the way to him. God himself said Jesus was his son. Even the demons knew who he was and called him the Holy One of God. Then there’s the healing, the authoritative teaching, and the power over the demons.
Not everyone that Jesus encounters accepts who he is, though.
In Mark Chapter 2 and the first part of Chapter 3, there are five stories, all of which show growing opposition. In the course of that opposition, Mark poses another question that we need to consider.
Jesus heals a paralyzed man
Jesus is in a house in Capernaum preaching, and the crowds are so great nobody can even get to the door. The paralyzed man has four friends, though, that are determined to get him to Jesus. They climb to the top of the house, make an opening in the roof, and lower their friend through the opening so that he can get to Jesus. Jesus responds because of their incredible faith, and tells the man his sins are forgiven. In this culture, the belief was that this kind of physical illness was a punishment for sin, and Jesus could have been saying this just as a way of telling him, his friends, and the crowd that he was healed… or it could have been that Jesus was dealing with his spiritual needs before he took care of the physical needs. Either way, the statement stirred up some trouble.
Scribes were there, and asked a question “in their hearts”:
“Why does this man speak like that? … Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
They think he’s blaspheming, setting himself on a level with God by claiming to do what God alone can do. They challenge his authority to make such a statement. Though they don’t believe, they’ve hit the nail on the head. No one but God can forgive a person’s sins. Jesus can. What does that make Jesus?
Jesus knows what they’re thinking, confronts them, and then tells them that he will show them proof of his authority as the Son of Man to forgive sins; he does so by healing the man and sending him home on this own two feet.
Jesus calls Levi
The story is similar to Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, James and John in Chapter 1. Jesus says, “Follow me”, and Levi immediately does so.
There is one major difference, though. Levi is a tax collector, and his friends are tax collectors and sinners. Levi has Jesus to his home for dinner, and has all his friends there too. Mark lets us know that many tax collectors and sinners were following Jesus, so I guess you could say they were Jesus’ friends too.
The scribes and the Pharisees object to the company Jesus is keeping. They certainly wouldn’t be seen with these kinds of people. No self-respecting teacher would. Why does Jesus, they ask his disciples.
Jesus had an answer for them: I’m not here to call the righteous; those that are well don’t need a doctor, the sick do. I’m here to call sinners.
Of course no one is righteous enough not to need Jesus. There are some, though, that think they’re righteous enough not to need him. Like the scribes and the Pharisees.
The Pharisees and John’s disciples are fasting. Jesus’ disciples aren’t. Jesus is being asked why – as a teacher, why isn’t he imposing this discipline on them?
Jesus compares the situation to a couple of different things. It would be inappropriate for people to fast at a wedding – it’s a time of celebration. In the same way, now is not the time for Jesus’ disciples to be fasting – the implication is that the time while he is here is a joyful time, and the fasting would be out-of-place. He says there is a time when they will fast, though – the implication is that it will be when he is taken away.
He also compares it to someone sewing a new piece of unshrunk cloth on old clothes, or pouring new wine into old wineskins. In either of those situations, the result is going to be a mess. The new patch will pull away from the old clothes and make a worse hole; the old wineskins will burst if new wine is put in it.
Fasting is an important spiritual discipline – the issue here is not really fasting and whether or not to do it. The issue is their challenge to Jesus – the issue is the idea that if he were a good teacher, he’d make his disciples do what the Pharisees do; he’d make them follow their rules. What Jesus was bringing was something completely new, and wasn’t going to fit into their rules and traditions.
Plucking grain on the Sabbath
Jesus and his disciples are making their way through a field of grain on the Sabbath, and as they go, they pluck some of the grain and begin to eat it. They were hungry. Nobody would object to this – under the Law, the poor were allowed to go into a field and do this.
The problem is, this is the Sabbath, and the Pharisees were watching. The Pharisees had decided that the prohibition against work on the Sabbath included this kind of an act. They again criticize Jesus’ disciples, and in doing so, are criticizing him and his authority. Again, if he were a good teacher, he would whip his disciples into line. He’d make them follow the Pharisees’ rules.
Jesus tells them that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was to provide men with rest, not to be a burdensome rule for them. Jesus’ was concerned with the disciples’ hunger; the Pharisees were concerned with their traditions. Jesus tells them, in essence that he doesn’t have to follow their rules – as the Son of Man, he’s Lord of the Sabbath.
The man with the withered hand
Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. A man is there with a withered hand – the Pharisees expect him to heal the man, and are watching and waiting to see if he will. They are looking for him to do something that would provide a basis to accuse him, and hope this will provide a chance.
They don’t care about the man and his needs. Jesus does, though. He confronts them with the decision that is there: to do good or to harm, to save life or to kill. They won’t answer his questions.
He heals the man.
As a result, the Pharisees join force with Herod’s backers to plan to destroy him.
Five stories. A progression of opposition – from questioning Jesus’ authority in their hearts, to asking his disciples why he does what he does, to questioning Jesus’ about his disciples’ behavior, to actively plotting to kill him.
The basic bottom line is that in each situation their expectations and their traditions are more important to them than people are, and they question his authority to do what he’s doing.
And it is this issue – the issue of authority, that I think Mark wants us to consider. The questions that the scribes ask are fitting ones for us to ask – Why does he speak like that? Who can forgive sins but God alone? What does it mean that he can say he forgives sins, and can back it up with power? What is his authority for doing the things he does, instead of doing what they expect him to do?