Sunday, June 16
Mark 2:1-12: The question of Jesus’ identity, including the divine authority inherent in that identity, now comes to the fore in five consecutive stories of conflict (2:1—3:6). If the demons feel threatened by the dominating presence of Jesus, so do the official representatives of Judaism. Already Mark has noted that Jesus taught with authority, a point of contrast with Israel’s appointed teachers (1:22), while with the merest word, the slightest touch, He has removed fever, cleansed leprosy, and driven out demonic forces. In the present story, however, which is the first of five conflict stories, Jesus deals directly with sin, the root of all those other problems. With consummate insouciance to the objections of His critics, Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins and then heals him as a sign of His authority to do so. The critics then accuse Him of “blasphemy” (verse 7), the very charge they will lay against Him at His trial (14:65; cf. Leviticus 24:16). In short, the Lord’s Passion has already commenced; the shadow of the Cross has even now begun to fall across the story. This too is important, because the Cross has everything to do with the forgiveness of sins. Jesus deals effectively with this paralytic’s sins for the simple reason that He pays the atoning price of those sins. Mark never separates Jesus’ divine authority from His work of salvation.
Monday, June 17
Mark 2:13-17: Like the previous conflict story, this second one also portrays Jesus as teaching (2:2,13). As we have earlier observed, it is significant that His teaching takes place at the waterside, and it is here that He summons Levi. This new disciple, because he collects taxes on behalf of the hated Roman overlord, belonged to a class of citizens odious to most Jews (except the Herodians, who favored Roman rule), and especially to Israel’s rabbinical leaders, identified here as “the scribes and Pharisees.” Moreover, when Levi invites all his friends to a party, so that they may meet Jesus, Jesus shows no concern at all for the scruples of those who oppose such things. He comes to Levi’s house and enjoys what appears to have been a jolly good time. It was from this occasion, apparently, that Jesus’ enemies tagged Him as a party-goer (Matthew 11:18-19) and a friend of sinners. The Lord nowhere disowns this latter label. Indeed, He is certainly the friend of sinners. After all, He has demonstrated that He knows exactly what to do with sins, and in the present scene He gathers the sinners unto Himself as special objects of His mission (verse 17). To the shock of the Pharisees, He insists on being the sinners’ friend who suffers and dies to redeem them, and one of the great ironies of the Markan gospel is that Jesus’ enemies are the very ones who make this redemption possible.
Tuesday, June 18
Mark 2:18-22: Notice how these five conflict stories in Mark are linked to one another. The first two (the paralytic and Levi’s friends) are joined by the theme of Jesus dealing with sin. Now the third of these stories is joined to the second by the theme of eating, which will also be the linking image between stories three and four. (Four and five, in turn, will be united by the theme of the Sabbath.) Whereas the Lord’s enemies had earlier complained of His eating with sinners (2:16), in this third story they are bothered by the fact that His disciples are failing to keep the Jewish weekly fast days. We know from the Mishnah and the Talmud that devout Jews regularly fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, two days equally distant from the Sabbath, to commemorate the forty days fast of Moses on Mount Sinai (the first of those being a Thursday and the last a Monday). Indeed, the Pharisee in the parable boasted of observing that discipline (Luke 18:12). In response, Jesus does not denigrate the importance of fasting but directs the structure of the fasting observance to His own person, explaining that His presence with the disciples is sufficient warrant for their not observing the fast (verse 19). Then, aware what His enemies are even now plotting against Him, He foretells His coming death, “when the Bridegroom will be taken away.” Then, says Jesus, fasting will be appropriate. “They will fast on that day,” He declares, in our earliest reference to the traditional Friday fast that Christians maintain to give weekly honor to the Cross of their Lord. By the year 100, and perhaps decades earlier, the Christians added Wednesday as another weekly fast day (the day on which Judas sold Him — Mark 14:1,10), so as not to be fasting less than the Jews did (cf. Didache 8). To the present day the Christian churches of the East maintain this discipline of fasting on Wednesday and Friday each week.
Wednesday, June 19
Mark 2:23-38: The fourth conflict story in Mark is joined to the second and third by the theme of eating. Walking with Jesus through a field of standing grain on a Sabbath day, the disciples reach out and pick ripe kernels from the stalks that have grown up to about the level of their hands. They rub the kernels between their fingers to remove the residual chaff and begin eating them. Most of us would probably not think of such activity as “harvesting a crop,” but to the scrupulous, supercilious minds of Jesus’ enemies it amounts to nothing less than a violation of the Sabbath by “laboring.” As in the previous story Jesus assessed the value of fasting solely in terms of His own identity (“Bridegroom”), in the present account He does the same with respect to the Sabbath (“Lord of the Sabbath”). In both cases He is once again teaching “as one having authority” (1:22). Each of these five conflict stories is reducible to a Christological content; each serves to illustrate some property or aspect of Jesus’ identity. Through them all the animosity of the Lord’s enemies is mounting, as the self-assured claims of Jesus progressively challenge the religious hold of His opponents. They feel threatened for much the same reasons that the demons feel threatened. Furthermore, it may even appear that the Lord is “rubbing it in”; a distinct measure of sarcasm attends His question to the scribal authorities, “Have you never read . . .?” (verse 25; cf. 12:10,24-26) In all His dealings with these men, we never find Jesus conciliatory or even subtle; He is invariably blunt and uncompromising. After all, He reads their hearts (2:8; 3:5).
Thursday, June 20
Mark 3:1-6: As the topic of sin unites the first and second of these conflict stories, and the image of eating joins the second, third, and fourth, so the theme of the Sabbath ties together the fourth and the fifth. Among them all, this final incident must have been the most exasperating to Jesus’ enemies. Now that He already declared Himself “Lord of the Sabbath,” they are watching Him closely as He enters the synagogue. In the earlier narrative of Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath, there had been a very dramatic expulsion of demonic forces from a possessed man (1:23-26). On that occasion, however, no one had thought to raise an objection to any alleged violation of the Sabbath. Perhaps everyone had simply been too astounded even to consider the question. All is different now. Jesus has already asserted His supreme authority, not only in regard to the Jewish calendar (fast days and the Sabbath), but even sin itself. In this fifth story there is no pronounced interest in the Sabbath-question as such (unlike 2:27). Everything has to do, rather, with Jesus’ authority. His enemies have come to accuse Him (katagorein in 3:2; cf. also 15:3-4). But in the end it is Jesus who does the accusing, and with manifest anger. He heals the man with the withered hand, but without any outward word or gesture. That is to say, He cannot be accused of violating the Sabbath! The crippled man simply extends his hand and is instantly healed. Although Jesus gives them no evidence by which they can accuse Him, the critics are not deterred. They promptly conspire with the Herodians (their natural opponents) to “destroy” Jesus (apoluein in verse 6; cf. also 11:18).
Friday, June 21
Mark 3:7-12: Jesus now makes His third trip to the sea (verse 7). On each occasion He has called disciples, this time a great number from a very wide area, from as far south as Idumea (in the Negev Desert) to as far north as Tyre and Sidon (in contemporary Lebanon), and even from east of the Jordan River. To this image of the sea Mark now adds that of the boat (mentioned in passing in 1:20), which Jesus uses to escape the press of the crowd (3:9). In the next chapter the boat itself will become the place of catechesis (4:1). Although Jesus’ human enemies are absent from the present scene, His demonic enemies are once again very much in evidence, and their perception of Jesus has become more defined. Whereas they had earlier called Him “the Holy One of God” (1:24), they now address Him very specifically as “the Son of God” (3:11 and again in 5:7). What the Pharisees cannot bring themselves to see is becoming unmistakable to the demons. This is the fifth instance in which Mark has spoken of them.
Saturday, June 22
Mark 3:13-19: The “authority” (exsousia) that Jesus has manifested in teaching (1:22) and in driving out demons (1:27) is now shared with the Twelve (3:14-15), who are promptly named. Accounts of these Twelve are found here and in 6:7-13, and in both instances these accounts appear in proximity to stories of Jesus’ blood relatives (3:21 and 6:1-6), as though to suggest that this group of disciples are to be His new family. The selection of these Twelve may profitably be compared to Numbers 1:1-15. For example, Peter’s name, “Rock,” finds a correspondence in the names of two of Moses’ companions: Eliesur (“God is my rock”) and Surisadai (“the Almighty is my rock”). Similarly, like James and John, two of Moses companions are blood brothers. Moreover, as in the Book of Numbers, Jesus chooses these Twelve on the mountain (verse 13). We should also note that this list of the Twelve ends on the theme of the Lord’s Passion: “and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him” (verse 19).