Blogging Towards , Sunday, October 30th
How do you decide what is right? How can we agree on what is morally and ethically good? Isn't it just a question of subjective point of view and our own particular context at any given moment? Today’s passage of Mark contains the last 2 conflicts in a series of encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees begun back in 2:13. Both stories have obvious parallels and contrasts: they deal with the Sabbath and one concerns the actions of Jesus and one his disciples. Both stories invite deeper reflection upon the meaning, purpose and scope of the Sabbath as a spiritual practice and religious law in light of Jesus’ comment in 2:22 “No! One pours new wine into new wineskins.”
Jesus appeals to god’s original intention in creation | Mark 2:23-28
This encounter is all about the Sabbath, the day of intentional rest that the God of Israel commanded. It’s not about justifying laziness, but rather an invitation to worship. Observing the Sabbath isn’t first and foremost about obeying a rule, but more about remembering the past and appropriating it for today. The Sabbath is one of the 10 commandments that the Jews are asked to practice. Ironically this is the only commandment that changes in between the two times the commandments are recorded in the Bible (Exodus 31:12-17 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Sabbath rest is a spiritual practice of taking a break from the ordinary to remember and perceive the extraordinary, to discern God’s presence and purpose in our daily life and concrete world. The Israelites are asked to practice Sabbath in remembrance of God’s creative work of 6 days followed by a day of rest, and also because before the Exodus liberation they were slaves in Egypt, unable to rest. The First Testament contains several how to guides for doing Sabbath: Exodus 31:12-17: 34:21& 35:1-3, and Deuteronomy 5:12-15. The rest is required even in crucial times like harvest time and the construction of the Tabernacle. God is saying that we need and deserve a holy break, to take time to do other holy work – spending time with God in remembering and listening. Grace has to be cultivated. Jesus and his disciples get in trouble not for stealing wheat (Lev 19:9; 23:22 describes God’s social security program for the poor and hungry), but rather because they’re picking of wheat is perceived by the Pharisees as the work of harvesting. We see the Jesus event and wonder why didn’t the get on board once that saw that Jesus was doing a new thing? Why were they threatened? Did Jesus represent a threat to their power?; to their way of being?; a worldview deemed as heretical?; was he working against them or with them? We don’t know exactly, in particular as Mark is not an “objective” narrator. But he does structure his telling of the emergence of the opposition to the Jesus movement in a literary way that points to a deeper meaning. This second major section of the gospel forms a chiasm (a literary sandwich structure, common in Jewish literature, that consists in sandwiching the principal point in the middle of corresponding stories.) While we don’t have to understand it to “get” the story, it does point to the beauty and complexity with which Mark
Jesus threatens the status quo by doing good | Mark 3:1-6
This second story about the spiritual practice of Sabbath happens again on a Sabbath day in a synagogue. In this place of gathered spiritual community, Jesus confronts an established world view. The atmosphere is loaded. Unkown folks are trying to trip up Jesus, to get him to do what they see as the wrong thing. The man is described with a shriveled hand v.3. It’s not dried up like a raisin, but rather dried up in the sense of paralysis, not able to do what God intended. But Jesus isn’t just a happy go lucky healer, he’s also an agent provacateur. He’s trying to heal more than just that hand.
Jesus challenges the crowd with a real need, not a hypothetical dilemma. Is healing work? Is it wrong to heal this man on the day of rest? Deliberate transgression of the Sabbath law carried the death penalty (Exodus 31:14-15; Numbers 15:32-36). In the oral rabbinical tradition it was understood that the Sabbath laws may and indeed must be broken to rescue life that is in danger. This principle grew out of experiences during the experiences during the Maccabean Revolt, when pious Jews who refused to defend themselves on the Sabbath where slaughtered by the Syrians (1 Maccabbees 2:29-41). But was this man in a situation where his life was in danger? Couldn’t Jesus have just waited until the next day, after the Sabbath, to heal him?
Jesus is angry at the lack of compassion in the hard-hearted hearts of the Pharisees, who are deliberately compared to the hard heartedness of Pharoah in regards to the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 7:3, 13, 22; 8:15, etc.) Yet he’s smart. He doesn’t “touch” the man, rather the man stands and sticks his arm out and then bam! He’s healed. Ironically, Jesus reacts to the Pharisees’ lack of compassion. And at the end of the encounter, the Pharisees are reacting, seeking the death of Jesus, because of his compassion. Like the demons in Mark 1:24. The Pharisees are threatened by Jesus, who threatens the status quo with his words and actions. Has Jesus come to destroy everything that they already know? Why won’t he just get with the traditional program already? The Pharisees think that they’re doing right. Jesus thinks he is. How does one decide?
· What strikes you in these stories? How does it interact with your life today?
· How do you decide what is good and necessary in terms of your actions?
· What is Jesus fighting for in these two encounters? Is it still relevant for our world today? Why? How?
· Jesus seems to be leading an occupy the Sabbath movement. What do you think?
· How does Jesus challenge the status quo in this story? How does he do so today?
· How is God calling you – us as a church – to follow him? To be church today?
Next week: Mark 3:7-19