Read Mark 2:18-28
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It was a slow day today at the dealership. Eh, it happens. When it happens there are opportunities to talk with fellow suffering sales colleagues or strike up an argument on Facebook. Today, I did both.
A colleague of mine came out complaining of the proposal of New York City’s mayor to allocate $10 million in taxpayer’s money for aiding those newly released from New York City prisons in finding employment. “How Stupid is that?” we were asked. Being sometimes inclined to cause problems I responded with “why do you let them do that to you?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, I mean, you let the people on the news get you all ginned up over things that do not make any difference to you whatsoever. If NYC decides to spend their tax revenues in that manner it has absolutely no impact on you in Boerne, Texas in any way, shape or form.”
“Well I just think it is stupid.”
“Sure. It may be but it doesn’t make any difference for you. It is not your money. It isn’t your time. I mean if it were the Governor of Texas or the Mayor of Boerne, sure, but this will not impact you at all.”
We sometimes get upset over stuff because we think we should or because it doesn’t follow how we understand things to be best done. The Pharisees were apparently good at getting upset at how other people were choosing to conduct themselves or live out their faith. In this they are not alone. The above is a story from contemporary politics but I could have just as easily referenced the recent kerfuffle at Princeton Seminary over their decision to first award the Kuyper Prize to Tim Keller and then to rescind the same award under complaints from some of their current students, professors, and alumni.
The Facebook argument I got involved in was one about interpretation of the U.S. Constitution of all things. Like I said it was slow today. That all started from a reaction to a tweet that Trump made about the Freedom Caucus and the relative constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and the right of the Federal Government to be involved in health care at all. Seems each of us can get bent out of shape over things that have little direct impact on us. In the midst of that argument the person I was debating with and I got so caught up in minutiae that I think we both lost the point of the original argument. We lost the forest for the trees as the saying goes.
I mention these two events as a strange segue to the last 10 verses of Mark. Pharisees indeed seem throughout the gospels to be really concerned about “the how” of others’ living and in the process lose sight of the forest for the trees. New Testament scholars sometimes get so caught up in details that they lose sight of the broader point that either a Biblical writer or Jesus is trying to make.
Case in point. Mark gets a detail completely wrong. The event of David and his colleagues feasting on the temple showbread did not happen during the tenure of Abiathar as the High Priest but rather occurred when Abiathar’s father was the High Priest. Liberal Critical scholars and folks who like to undercut Biblical authority (not always the same people) will use this sort of “mistake” to suggest that the Bible is in error. I think this is being picky. Mark may have gotten this wrong. A copyist may have messed this up (the High Priest at the time was Ahimelech). I think that the “mistake” is original to Mark because both Matthew and Luke rework the episode in their gospels to not include the name of the High Priest at all. This implies they were cleaning it up if you hold to the theory that they had Mark’s gospel as a source document for their own work. If you are interested in a reasonable explanation for this “mistake” by Mark, theologian Wiliam Placher provides one. He suggests that it isn’t an error by the normally very careful Mark but an actual rendering of the words of Jesus. What? Blasphemy you say? How could Jesus have made the error? Well, Placher suggests that Jesus is intentional in his saying the wrong name to highlight the poor scriptural knowledge of his critics. Before you roll your eyes, think about the number of people who tell you something that the Bible says that the Bible doesn’t say. To this day there are a lot of people who believe that “cleanliness is next to godliness” and “God helps those who help themselves” are found in the pages of scripture. Memory tells me that they are both from Ben Franklin although the latter may very well only be the work of erstwhile nuns. I like Placher’s clever Jesus answer. I enjoy picturing Jesus appreciating the irony of his critics nodding in agreement as he mistells the story.
No matter, none of this is the point of these 10 verses!
Notice what Jesus does in response to the question about fasting and Sabbath. He directs the attention to himself.
In the response to fasting it is apparent that Jesus intends for us to realize that he is the bridegroom. John the Baptist and his disciples fasted in preparation for the arrival of the messiah, but in Jesus, the Messiah is arrived. The pharisees were fasting to perpetuate an interpretation of the law that did not include the purpose of the law but rather was following the law solely for the sake of the law. Example: why is there a set belt law or a helmet law? To encourage safety of motorists and motorcyclists in the event of an accident. The law exists to develop and encourage a habit that is good for the individual and the community. The Mosaic Law serves a similar purpose, it promotes practices and ways of interaction that are healthier for the spirit of the individual and the community. Together the practice of the Mosaic law instructs the individual in the manner of Godly living and empowers the community to be a witness to God in the world. This is precisely what Jesus means when he says that the Sabbath was created for people rather than people being created for the Sabbath.
Fasting in the manner of the Baptizer’s disciples made no sense now that the Kingdom had arrived, but fasting in the manner of the Pharisees was senseless as well since it was not for the purpose of deeper spiritual commitment to God but following the law only to follow the law. The former is fasting to make ready a way for the Lord (literally building a road) even after the Lord has already arrived on the way created. The latter is forgetting why the way (road) was being built in the first place!
Jesus focuses the attention on himself and if you think back he did that throughout this whole chapter. When it came time to heal the paralytic he called attention to his authority to forgive sins. When asked why he was in fellowship with sinners he called attention to his purpose to bring healing to the sinner. When asked about fasting he asks why fast when he is present and when asked about the Sabbath he claims authority over the strict interpretation of the Mosaic law by saying the Son of Man, he himself, is Lord of the Sabbath. With this Son of Man comment the chapter comes full circle with Jesus claiming the authority understood to belong only to YHWH.
Do you see what Mark has done? He is building the case that this Jesus is the one whom the Baptist foretold. He is establishing step by step that Jesus is whom the demon in the first chapter said he was: “The Holy One of YHWH”!
- Do you know Jesus to be these things, to be more than a great teacher?
- Do you ever find yourself following the rules of church all the while losing sight of the why of the rules?
- How often do you in the midst of controversies take your eyes off of Jesus?
- Have you ever found yourself, like the pharisees, judging the piety of your neighbor because they aren’t following the law correctly?
- Do you forget to keep Jesus in the center and in focus?
I suspect that for most of us an honest answer to these questions will give us pause. Take heart fellow hypocrites, the only answer that matters at the end of the day is how you answer the first question. And if the answer to that first question is negative then I encourage you to keep reading the gospel of Mark and to pray specifically that the Holy Spirit will convict you of the truth of whom Christ is for you and indeed for all.
And if you answered yes to the first question but struggled with the subsequent questions then I commend to you the words of a well known hymn:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of His glory and grace.
Feel free to use this Bible study for your own groups or discussion. It is freely given. If you do I merely ask that you acknowledge where you got it and if you find it useful that you encourage others to seek it out. It is freely given and written with fear, foreboding, and prayer by a fellow hypocrite who is simply trying to figure out the road ahead.