Mark 2:13–3:6—Discussions about religion

03141413 Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that gathered around him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax-collection booth. “Come, be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. 15 That night Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners. (There were many people of this kind among the crowds that followed Jesus.) 16 But when some of the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with people like that, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” 18 John’s disciples and the Pharisees sometimes fasted. One day some people came to Jesus and asked, “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast?” 19 Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while they are with the groom. 20 But someday he will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. 21 And who would patch an old garment with unshrunk cloth? For the new patch shrinks and pulls away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger hole than before. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. The wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine needs new wineskins.” 23 One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of wheat. 24 But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “They shouldn’t be doing that! It’s against the law to work by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.” 25 But Jesus replied, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what King David did when he and his companions were hungry? 26 He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest), ate the special bread reserved for the priests alone, and then gave some to his companions. That was breaking the law, too.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath. 28 And I, the Son of Man, am master even of the Sabbath!” 3:1 Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. Would he heal the man’s hand on the Sabbath? If he did, they planned to condemn him. 3 Jesus said to the man, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Is it legal to do good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing harm? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him. 5 He looked around at them angrily, because he was deeply disturbed by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Reach out your hand.” The man reached out his hand, and it became normal again! 6 At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to discuss plans for killing Jesus.

Points of Interest:

  • ‘I have come to call sinners’—Jesus’ call of Levi follows the pattern of the call of the other disciples: he sees and calls Levi; Levi gets up, leaves what he is doing, and follows; and they end the night at Levi’s house for dinner (just like they did with Peter, whose mother-in-law cooked once she was healed). The difference here is that Levi falls into a much different social class. Tax collectors were wealthier than fisherman, but far less respectable. They were considered traitors, because they were collecting taxes for the Romans, and they gained much of their wealth through extortion. Perhaps the best modern-day analog would be the mafia, making money off of ‘protection’ schemes. Fisherman like Andrew and Peter would be decent, hard-working small business owners. Levi got rich over extorting people like Andrew and Peter. And he hung out with a bad crowd, the kind of people Andrew’s mom would warn him about. Now, Jesus the rabbi is bringing them over to Levi’s for a party. When the religious teachers ask the disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” The disciples might be tempted to respond, “We were wondering the same.” While they hem and haw, Jesus rescues them by answering himself. They must have felt relieved at first, and then shocked—if they really understood what he was saying to them. Jesus says that he is like a sin-doctor; he goes to those who are sick with sin, not those who are healthy. “I have come to call sinners,” he says. But four out of the five people he has called are decent, up-standing fishermen. Jesus seems to be saying that they, just like the Mafioso Levi, were called not because of their goodness, but because of their need for him. When Jesus said to Andrew and Peter, James and John, and Levi, ‘Come, follow me,’ he was really saying, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’ To follow Jesus requires that we admit we are sick with sin. We follow Jesus, not because he needs us, but because we need him to make us spiritually well.
  • ‘No one puts new wine into old skins’—Jesus is not behaving like a religious leader is supposed to behave. People have come to expect certain behavior from rabbis. The Pharisees, it is said, fasted twice a week. But Jesus didn’t follow the example of the Pharisees. This was confusing to people. Jesus answered that they were confused because he was something new and different, but they were trying to shove him into old categories. If you do that, you miss the good new thing Jesus brings. In the case of fasting, the good new thing he brings is the presence of God. Fasting symbolized sadness at distance from God; but the disciples were not far from God: he was eating at their table.
  • ‘The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath’—the Pharisees fundamentally misunderstand what God’s laws are for. Jesus says that the law of the Sabbath was supposed to be something people enjoy. People are more important than even one of the 10 Commandments, and the commandment only exists to make people’s lives better. The Pharisees, however, make people the slaves of the laws. Laws, when they are in charge, tend to become rigid; eventually, the rigid interpretation of the law gets in the way of the actual intention of it. This is exactly what the Pharisees have done, to the point that this wonderful provision of rest from God would get in the way even of someone being miraculously healed. While the law can get rigid if it is made the master, people need laws. Apparently, God felt that if he didn’t command his people to rest, they wouldn’t; we often don’t know what’s good for us without some help. At its best, God’s law provides us that help. But the law becomes rigid. If the law tends to become rigid if it is in control, and people tend to become self-destructive if they are in control, what is the way out of the dilemma? Jesus says he is the way, “I am master of the Sabbath.” If we stick close to Jesus and listen to him, he helps us get the best life we can out of following God’s law.

Taking it home:

  • For you: We live in a funny in-between time as far as fasting is concerned. Jesus says that there will, in the future, be times when the disciples will fast; but now is not the time. We live in an in-between time: Jesus’ death and resurrection make his presence available to us in ways it was not available before, but we are not in Jesus’ presence in the way the disciples were. It is appropriate for us both to feast at what Jesus has given us and to fast to show our desire for more. Consider fasting today, even if you are not fasting at any other time during the entire 40 days. During your fast, whenever you are hungry, tell Jesus how much hungrier you are for more of his presence.
  • For your 6: One of the main barriers to many of our 6 following Jesus is a history of someone lording it over them with a rigid use of God’s law. In your prayers for your 6 today, ask Jesus to free them from any undue condemnation. Also, be on the lookout for ways that Jesus’ words or God’s commands could benefit them.
  • For our church: Pray that we would be a church that is always getting new wine. It’s so easy to start out fresh and vibrant, and end up hard and old. That’s what happened to the Pharisees. If you can believe it, when the Pharisees began, they were offering a bold, new way for people to experience God. Over time, though, they became rigid. Pray for God’s mercy for our church. A rigid, religious attitude is an easy trap for any church to fall into. That religious attitude dries up our love for people and our ability to receive from God. Pray that God would keep us soft.