Mark 2:1–3:6. Controversy Follows Fame.

Key Notes: Through the roof. Eating with sinners. Judaism outmoded. Sabbath rules and exceptions.

If Israel was thrilled by this Singular Man, it was also quickly upset with Him. How could He dare to ignore our laws and our social rules? Why cannot He be normal as we are? Who does He think He is? This section is divided into six episodes, each one upsetting in a different way.

2:1–2 Returning to Capernaum, he was preaching to a crowd packed into His house.
2;3–4 Four men brought theiryoung, newly? paralyzed friend to the door for healing, but could not get through the crowd. In desperation, they went up on the roof and pulled the roof apart. It was made of branches and mud laid over beams. [When the mud was softened by the rains, the owner would roll it smooth with a small stone roller to seal it.] Now they are breaking it up for the sake of their friend. What will the owner think about his house? Dried mud and sticks are showering down on the crowd below and the man on his pallet comes down in front of Jesus, suspended by four ropes. It was dramatic,  a unique entry.

2:5–7 Jesus paid no attention to the mess. He looked up at the hopeful, pleading faces of the four friends peering down through the roof and told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. The reaction was prompt. Forget the dirt. The religious police recognized a heretic. Who is He to forgive sins? Does He think He is--God? Blasphemy!

2:8–12 Jesus challenged their angry grumbling with a dilemma. Which is easier to say to a paralyzed man:

  "your sins are forgiven" or
“take up your bed and walk”?

The answer is simple: anyone can say your sins are forgiven—who can affirm or deny it? But to tell a man who can’t move to get up and walk will not work. It can’t happen.
Jesus, the Son of Man, demonstrated His power on earth to forgive sins by commanding the paralytic to get up and walk out with his pallet.
His friends on the roof cheered. The crowd roared. The scribes buried their heads.

2:13–14 He called a tax-collector named Matthew / Levi  to follow Him and he got up and left his money and his lucrative job..  What an enormous persuasive power was at work!

2:15 Jesus and His disciples were sitting in his (Levi’s?) house with a group of his fellow tax-men and other sinners, likely prostitutes and thieves, drunks and derelicts. The scribes were scandalized. How could godly people contaminate themselves with such wretches? Psalm 1 blesses the man who does not “stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of the scoffers.” Don’t “birds of a feather flock together”? Jesus told them He was the doctor, caring for the sick,  the sinners. They would not pull Him down; He will lift them up. Sinners knew they needed help. There was no use trying to get “the righteous” scribes to repent.

2:18 John’s disciples were fasting along with the Pharisees. Why were Jesus and His disciples not fasting also?There were a lot of reasons for fasting. The destruction of Jerusalem in the years 606–587BC was remembered with fasting on the 4th, 5th, 7th and 10th month for years after the exiles had returned from Babylon. (Zech. 8:18). Some Pharisees fasted twice a week, perhaps to subdue the flesh or to make way for earnest prayer. Lk.18:12

2:19–22  Jesus made two statements:

  1. They were having a party as long as the Bridegroom was with them. After He has left, “on that day” [the day He died], they would fast.
  2. You can’t stick a new patch on an old fabric.

The idea of a wedding is surprising but not unheard of. The “bridegroom” term for Jesus was previously used by John the Baptist. He called himself “the friend of the Bridegroom” (Jn. 3:28–30), “rejoicing greatly at the Bridegroom’s voice”. The Bride is not seen at the party,  and appears at the end of the Age,  at the consummation of all things. (Rev.19:7–8; 21:1–4). That is the Church, which was just beginning its embryonic development during Jesus’ life with His disciples.

The value of the new and the old will be a recurring theme in NT teaching. On one hand, Jesus said “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matt.13:52). If we understand the old treasure as the old covenant,  it is a treasure that cannot be discarded. The history of Israel is crucial and its out-working is of enduring value. We all learn from Israel’s mistakes and Paul says they are examples for us. (ICor.10:6–12). The Ten Commandments are still valid, as the NT teaches. We must understand the sacrifice system if we are to understand the Cross and Jesus’ death. But Judaism, as Jesus’ religious community practiced it, was dried up, inflexible, leaking and ready to be discarded. It could not be patched; it had to be replaced by the Gospel. What Jesus was doing could not be contained within Judaism.

2:23–24 The disciples were walking on paths through a field on Sabbath, and snacking on grain. Mature wheat rubbed free of the hulls and eaten dry like a hand-full of peanuts, is nutritious and quite tasty. But all Sabbath work was forbidden according to OT law. (Ex.20:10). And picking grain was illegal Sabbath harvesting, they said. The religious leaders had put a hedge around this commandment to prevent it from being broken. They defined what “work” was, and made so many detailed rules that the Sabbath was a pain rather than a joy. It was hard to lift a finger without breaking some rule.

The Sabbath Day rules were well-grounded.

*When Israel was in the wilderness, manna was not to be collected on Sabbath but a double portion was to be collected the day before. Ex.22–30
*During the intense farming periods of plowing and harvesting,  they were to rest every seventh day. Ex.34:21
*No fires for cooking were to be started on Sabbath. Ex.35:3
*Even gathering firewood was forbidden. Num.15:32–36
*Marketing was not to be done in Jerusalem on Sabbath centuries after Moses (Neh.10:31), nor wine-pressing. Neh.13:15.
They were not to carry burdens on Sabbath. Jer.17:21
When Israel was in the desert, on their way to Canaan, the rules were enforced on pain of death. Apparently, these regulations were not enforced or perhaps even observed after the wilderness years that ended more than a thousand years before.

Isaiah (700BC) speaks gently:
            “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
            from doing your pleasure on My holy day,
            and call the Sabbath a delight,
            and the holy day of the Lord honorable…
            I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth,
            I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father….” (Isa.58:13–14)

Sabbath rest helped define Israel in the social and political world, setting it apart from the pagans, sometimes at great cost. Sunday rest serves a similar defining social function for Christians today.

2:25–27 Jesus dismissed their objection to His Sabbath activity with three statements.

I * David, “when he was in need and hungry” ate the priests’ sacred bread and gave it to those who were with him. Jesus and the disciples were in need and hungry.
* The priests’ bread was baked every Sabbath. (Lev.24:9–9). So the priests were legally working on Sabbath, baking bread.
*Jesus is the Son of Man and He has privileges David cannot claim.

II. The Sabbath was made for men, not man for the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the first labor legislation, certainly for Israel, and for the world. It is for our good to relieve us of the demands of competition. It was meant to be a rest, not a burden or a hindrance.

III. “…the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. “ What He says about the Sabbath is valid because He wrote the commandments in the first place. Jesus has appeared to set Himself over above Moses and that surely would not be tolerated.

3:1–6 Jesus now went on to demonstrate that He is Lord of the Sabbath. It appears that the Religious Police set Him up to heal a rather trivial illness on Sabbath. It was a test case. This crippled hand could wait for the next day to be treated, so if Jesus healed him now, it would prove that He was deliberately trying to break the Law. In another situation the rule of the synagogue protested that a crippled woman  should come back to be healed on some other day. (Lk.13:14). But it was not just a hand,  it was a person who could not work, perhaps as a stone-mason or carpenter. On other occasions Jesus pointed out that they would help their animal out of difficulty on Sabbath. The question He asked here was whether it was lawful to do good or harm to save life or to kill on the Sabbath . (The Maccabees refused to fight the Greeks on Sabbath and were slaughtered. I Macc.2:19–41). The synagogue leaders refused to answer.

Jesus looked around the room and was grieved at the hard hearts of His countrymen. He did nothing but order the man to extend his arm and he was healed. The Pharisees then went to consort with the Herodians. The party of Herod consisted of disloyal Jews who partnered with the Roman government,  Israel's hated enemy. By conspiring with such traitors the Pharisees show their desperation and fury.

All six episodes disturbed the religious authorities.

*Jesus forgave a man’s sins. “It is blasphemy!” He also healed the paralyzed man on the Sabbath but who cares about paralysis?
*Jesus took a tax-collector, a politically despised man,  as His personal disciple.
*Jesus ate dinner with the dregs of society.
*He feasted with His disciples while others fasted.
*He allowed the disciples to collect grain to eat on Sabbath.
*He healed a man with a disabled hand on Sabbath. A man was healed but who cared?

In three of  these episodes, Jesus was eating with others. A shared meal helps bond people together. We found that international students react quite differently to standing around on  a Sunday afternoon with snacks and a drink, compared to a Saturday night sit-down dinner, facing each other across the table. Sitting at table tends to bond people together. The religious leaders knew the meaning of Jesus’ association with the dregs of society. He was bonding with them.

Jesus exhibited mercy, love, and joy in these episodes. He was enjoying the work, which delighted the unwashed losers and frustrated the outwardly upright and self-righteous. He also showed His singularity at the beginning by forgiving sins, and at the end by declaring that He is Lord,  even of the Sabbath. The religious could not tolerate this unique Man and His display of power and authority. We are only beginning the study and already we can be sure that the end will be violent.

He has four new names. In the first chapter, He was called the Son of God. In the second chapter He is
            Son of Man 2:10,28
            Bridegroom 2:19,20
            Physician of souls 2:17
            Lord of the Sabbath 2:28

Are we forgiven? Are we called? Are we coming to His side? Are we eating at His table? Has He healed our withered hands? Can we trust His authority and follow Him even if the opposition is furious?

P. S. The article on Sabbath in Kittell’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament contains a list of the 39 forbidden activities of the Sabbath, as well as other prohibitions, and useful discussions of Jesus’ observance of Sabbath. (Theol. Dict. of NT. G.F. Bromiley , Edit; Eerdmans; ’71; Vol.VII, p .5–34.)