Monday, October 09, 2006

Mark 2

This chapter describes Jesus's first miracle and several key teachings.

The miracle involves the healing of a paralytic. The paralytic’s friends are so certain that Jesus can heal the man that they climb up on the roof of the house in Capernaum where Jesus is staying and break in through the roof. This would certainly have resulted in severe punishment under any other circumstances, so Jesus rewards their faith by healing the paralytic. But He does so in a very odd way: He forgives the man’s sins. We are told that He then reads the minds of teachers of the law, who think that He is blaspheming by claiming to forgive sins. He therefore converts the spiritual miracle of forgiving sin into the physical miracle of mobility.

Jesus calls Levi, the taxpayer, to His service. Taxpayers were resented, not only because they fed the luxury of the Romans and their Jewish collaborators, but because they were corrupt. He goes to Levi’s house to eat with tax collectors, sinners and, of course, Levi. This time, Pharisees join the teachers of the law in criticizing Jesus’s mingling with the impure. In reply, Jesus gives a very important teaching, that He calls those who are ill from sin; note again the parallelism of physical illness and sin.

Next, Mark presents three teachings. His first lesson is that the disciples do not follow an ascetic life because their Savior is with them in the flesh, as a bridegroom. Afterwards, they will fast. The second appears to be a disconnected teaching presented as a dyad: unshrunk patches are not sewed on clothes that have already shrunk from washing and yeasty wine must be placed in flexible wineskins so that it doesn’t burst the skin.

The third teaching is that Love rules the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made to benefit mankind and not as an arbitrary rule into which mankind must fit itself. On these grounds, he rebukes the Pharisees for trying to forbid Jesus’s disciples from plucking grain. But the biblical example He gives is very odd. He says that David entered the temple to get ceremonial bread in the days of Abiathar the high priest.

In reality, Ahimelech was high priest (1 Sam. 21) and Abiathar was his son. But even more peculiar, Jesus says that David ate the consecrated bread inside the temple and took some to his men to eat. But in 1 Samuel 21, we are not told that David ate the bread inside the temple, but we are also pretty sure he has no men with him.

Points that are raised by this chapter:

1. The action takes place in Capernaum.
2. Note that the paralytic does not get up and walk until Jesus tells him to do so. Does forgiving sin produce physical health?
3. Why did the teachers of the law and the Pharisees criticize Jesus for associating with tax collectors? This would not seem to be a religious or purity issue, but rather an issue of nationalism.
4. Christians have a tendency to feel superior over having seen the truth. But Jesus seems to say that the church is a hospital to heal sin.
5. Why is Jesus’s description of David’s consumption of the show bread seemingly so divergent from the one we know from the 1 Samuel? Is the present canon of the Old Testament wrong? Is Jesus wrong? Did Jesus know a version of the story as told in 1 Samuel that differs from what was enrolled in the canon? Or has translation from Hebrew and Greek into English created seams in the story that do not exist in the original.


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