Wednesday, October 19, 2011

 Blogging Towards Sunday, October 23rd    
Mark 2:18-22

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees take on the discipline of fasting, but yours do not?’ 19Jesus said to them, ‘When you're celebrating a wedding, you don't skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. As long as the bride and groom are with you, you have a good time. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire.

20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

21 ‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away [rips: in Greek schism] from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.

22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’

Comments and Questions

Today’s selection from Mark is the third, or the center, of a 5 series structures of stories that NT scholar Joel Marcus calls “The Opposition Asserts Itself” for it presents the reaction of the religious establishment to the new word and religious event experienced in this Jesus of Nazareth.  After a chapter detailing Jesus’ explosion onto the speaking circuit of ancient Palestine, and his rapidly emerging fame, he’s challenged by the establishment, the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, those that are at the top of the religious pyramid in his society. the second and third confrontation of Jesus with the Pharisees. 

What were they afraid of?  We see the Jesus event and wonder why didn’t they 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 records his version of the Jesus Experience.  Here’s what it looks like:

A       Mark 2:1-12            Jesus heals a paralytic and forgives sin
   B       Mark 2:13-17            Jesus eats with sinners, a doctor comes for the sick not the healthy
      C      Mark 2:18-22            Why is he different? One pours new wine into new wineskins!
   B’      Mark 2:23-28            Plucking grain on the Sabbath: What’s the point of the Sabbath?
A’      Mark 3:1-6            Healing on the Sabbath. What is permissible on the Sabbath?

Fasting was a common spiritual practice.  It was required on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  But we also know that the Pharisees and Essenes at Qumran (who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls) fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12, Didache 8:1).  It’s likely that this practice of fasting was connected with eschatological hopes, and even a desire to hasten the Day of the Lord, the End (Amos 8:11, 19-24, Jer 16:14, 19:6) or the Apocalypse.  We tend to see it as the destruction of the world, yet they more likely saw it as God’s definitive coming with justice into the world, righting the wrongs, overthrowing the unjust and powerful and raising up the poor and oppressed.  Eschatology refers to the study of the last things, the moment\change/transformation of the world from how it is to how God intends it to be.  This conflict is about more than personal piety.  It’s about universal salvation.

Jesus responds to their questions and concerns about piety and spiritual practice with a prophetic word (v.20) and then two short parables: about the cloth (v 21) and the new wine (22).  Both the image of the bridegroom/wedding and the garment are associated with an eschatological change.  In several religious traditions the cosmos is compared to a garment (see Heb 1:10-12 and Psalm 106:26-28).  It infers that the Christ, or Messiah, rolls up this world garment and unfurls the new cosmos.  The text uses the word “schism” v.21.

Jesus is challenging those that oppose him.  Is he talking of religious schism and division? God is doing something different, a new thing (as Isaiah talks of).  You can merely fit it into the way you do things and see the world; to “get” this new thing of God you have to change everything, your worldview, expectations, practices and vision. The old skins won’t stretch to accommodate the new wine. You have to put new wine into new wineskins! 

·       What strikes you in these stories?  How does it interact with your life today?
·       How would we respond to someone saying this to us in the church today?
·       The world is changing all around us.  According to Jesus’ teaching how are we called to change?; to be open to change?
·       How do you – do we as a church – need to be freed from our habits, expectations, traditions – our used cloth and worn wineskins – to receive the gifts and call the Spirit of God has for us today?
·       How is God calling you – us as a church – to follow him? To be church today?

Next week: Mark 2:23-3:6.  Look for a study of the text on Monte’s blog at during the week to prepare for Sunday.

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