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Mark 2

Scripture: Mark 2:1-28

Overview:

  • Jesus heads back to Capernaum where he’s greeted like a rock star
  • The crowds are so crowdy that a couple of guys decide the only way to get their paralyzed friend in to see Jesus is to bust through the roof
  • The dudes bust open the roof and lower their buddy down
  • Jesus forgives his sins
  • Jesus knows that the teachers of the law are bugged by his offering the man absolution, so he calls them out on it by saying, “What’s easier, forgiveness or healing? Hmm?”
  • To emphasize that he’s awesome, and God, and has authority to forgive people, Jesus heals the paralytic and tells him to skedaddle
  • The people are amazed
  • Later Jesus runs across Levi, a tax collector (boo! hiss!) and tells him to follow him
  • Levi follows him, and throws a big party
  • At the party Jesus is seen hanging out with lots of unsavory people (like tax collectors (boo! hiss!)) and the Pharisees think this is a bad thing
  • Jesus retorts that in order for a doctor to do his job he must work among the sick (slam)
  • Later it is noticed that Jesus and his disciples don’t fast twice a week like the other holy people do
  • Jesus tells them that there’s no need to fast when there’s a party going on, like at a wedding
  • Jesus also tells them that trying to squeeze something new onto (or into) something old just doesn’t work
  • Then Jesus is harassed by the Pharisees for picking grain on the Sabbath (which was considered work–a big no, no)
  • Jesus reminds the Pharisees that they’re cool with the Old Testament story of when (nearly-king) David ate the bread dedicated only for the priests
  • “If it’s cool for David to do, then it’s cool for me, cause I’m cooler than David,” Jesus seems to say
  • Also, Jesus reminds them that their rules about the Sabbath aren’t God’s rules (oh, and that he’s God and gets to make the rules)

Historical Context:

Capernaum

Capernaum was a fishing village in the first century, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It had a population of about 1,500. Capernaum means “Nahum’s village” in Hebrew, but apparently there is no connection with the prophet named Nahum. (Wikipedia)

Capernaum was most likely the hometown of the apostles Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, as well as the tax collector Matthew. According to Luke 7, it is also the place where a Roman Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant. The text in Mark 2 implies that this is where Jesus lived (though Mark also makes sure to mention that Jesus was from Nazareth). Later in his ministry Jesus would make it clear that he did not own a home, so it is possible that he lived there by staying with his disciples (possibly Peter). Jesus would later curse Capernaum (as well as Bethsaida and Chorazin), saying “You will go down to Hades,” (Matthew 11:23) because of their lack of response to his teaching. (Wikipedia)

Archeological excavation of the town has shown that the layout was quite regular–large north-south main streets bordered by small cross-sectional streets. Given the coarse construction of the walls of the homes located there, there was typically no second story, and the roof would have been constructed of light wooden beams and thatch mixed with mud. With the type of construction seen in Capernaum, it would not have been difficult to raise the ceiling by the courtyard stairs and to remove a part to allow a bed to be brought down to where Jesus stood. (Wikipedia)

Son of Man

The Son of Man was a descriptive phrase from the Old Testament, and Jesus’ preferred designation of himself (used 13 times in Mark). Historically it was used in Ezekiel (2) and Psalms (8:4) as a substitute for “human being.” Later it was used in Daniel (7:13) in a context which implied both the humanity and deity of the person approaching the Ancient of Days and given an everlasting kingdom. (Bible.org)

Son of Man was not a common term in the first century for the messiah. Though Daniel 7 was commonly accepted as messianic, the term was not in popular usage. (France)

Read more about the Son of Man in the Introduction to Mark post.

Tax Collectors

Tax collectors were reviled by the Jews of Jesus’ day because of their greed and collaboration with the Roman occupiers. Tax collectors amassed personal wealth by demanding tax payments in excess of what Rome levied and keeping the difference. (Wikipedia)

Levi, who would later be called Matthew, may have collected taxes from the Hebrew people for Herod Antipas rather than the Romans. Capernaum would have had caravans passing through it on their way to Egypt or Damascus and because Levi is identified as working at a booth (or taking a toll) versus collecting a “tribute,” (i.e. a Roman tax), he may have been working for the native government. Thus, Matthew’s employer might well have been Herod Antipas. Traditionally Matthew is seen as a collector of Roman taxes. (Coffman)

Pharisees

Pharisees were one of the three main religious groups of the time of Jesus (alongside the Sadducees and Essenes). According to the first century Jewish historian, Josephus (himself a Pharisee), they appear to be a group of at least 6,000, forming a powerful counterweight to Herod’s authority.  (Turton)

Josephus claimed that Pharisees received the backing and goodwill of the common people, apparently in contrast to the more elite Sadducees. Pharisees claimed Mosaic authority for their interpretation of Jewish Laws, while Sadducees represented the authority of the priestly privileges and prerogatives established since the days of Solomon, when Zadok, their ancestor, officiated as High Priest. (Wikipedia)

Their name means “one who is separated.” It may refer to their separation from Gentiles, sources of ritual impurity or from irreligious Jews. One of their core beliefs was that all Jews should observe the purity laws (which applied to Temple service) outside the Temple.  The Pharisees promoted a form of Judaism that decentralized the Temple and applied Jewish law to everyday activities in order to sanctify the ordinary world. This was a more participatory form of Judaism, in which rituals were not monopolized by an inherited priesthood but rather could be performed by all adult Jews individually or collectively. Among Pharisees, leaders were not determined by birth but by scholarly achievement. In general, the Pharisees emphasized a commitment to social justice, belief in the brotherhood of mankind, and a faith in the redemption of the Jewish nation and, ultimately, humanity. Moreover, they believed that these ends would be achieved through halakha (“the walk, or how to walk”), a corpus of laws derived from a close reading of sacred texts. This belief entailed both a commitment to relate religion to ordinary concerns and daily life, and a commitment to study and scholarly debate. (Wikipedia)

After the fall of the Temple in 70 A.D., the Pharisaic outlook evolved into Rabbinic Judaism.

David and the consecrated bread

Jesus references a story about David (before he became king) from 1 Samuel 21 in which David ate some bread reserved only for priests, and did so on the Sabbath. However there are differences in Mark’s retelling of Jesus’ words and those in 1 Samuel, namely that Abiathar was not the high priest during that time, nor is it explicit that the event took place on a Saturday.

Abiathar was the high priest when David was king. His father Ahimelech would’ve been the high priest when David ate the showbread. (Coffman) However, it is possible that Mark references Abiathar because he was much better known than his father. (Barnes)

Also, through there is no explicit reference in 1 Samuel of David eating the bread on the Sabbath, it is implicit in the fact that the priest talks about the removal and replacement of bread, which happens during the Sabbath. (Coffman)

Regardless of the possible discrepancies, the implication of the text is less about the rights of Jesus to work on the Sabbath (picking grain being considered work), as his comparison of himself to David and his ability to override tradition. Jesus is claiming to have the authority to re-write the rules and declaring that he should be given the same respect as as the soon-to-be king, David.

Observations:

  • By assuming God’s role in offering the paralytic man forgiveness,  Jesus is threatening the Jewish perception that God is “one” (Deut. 6:4). He is either asserting that he is a god or that he is equal to God.
  • Note the contrast of Jesus previous desire to keep his healing events quiet/secret (chapter 1), yet with the healing of the paralytic man he seems to deliberately invite public debate/controversy over his identity.
  • In Greek, the term paralytic is a compound of “to loose” and “along side.” The man may have possibly been a stroke victim, paralyzed on one side. (Bible.org)
  • The story of the wineskins contrasts the radical perspective Jesus is bringing to belief in a Messiah and its incompatibility with the current religious, nationalistic paradigm.
  • The application of the story of the un-shrunk cloth demonstrates that Jesus did not intend to mend the current (old) religious notions but introduce something entirely new. Jesus’ new teachings were not intended to be subordinated to and synchronized with such things as Jewish fasts, ceremonies and ordinances.  (Coffman)

Discussion:

  • Note the pattern in the last two chapters of sin and forgiveness, exclusion and inclusion, uncleanliness and cleanliness. Mark shows Jesus persistently encountering outsiders and bringing them inside.  What are the implications of these stories to Mark’s original audience? What are the implications for us?
  • The desperation of the paralyzed man’s to get him in front of Jesus for healing is inspiring. Note how they disregarded convention and caused controversy in their quest. How do you think the owner of the home reacted to his roof being destroyed? Who paid for the repairs? Why do you think this didn’t matter to those seeking Jesus’ healing touch? How desperately do we seek to get in front of Jesus now? How desperately do we seek Jesus to get our friends in front of Jesus?
  • Though the paralyzed man’s friends undoubtedly brought him to be healed, do you think they would’ve been satisfied if all Jesus did was forgive the man of his sins? To Jesus this seemed to be the greater act and the most important thing to be done. Is it to us? Are we satisfied with Jesus simply forgiving us?
  • Jesus tells his critics that a doctor’s work is among the sick. Who are the “sick” in our generation? Who should we be associating with that the upright, holy people would look down on us for hanging out with?

References:

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