RSS

Tag Archives: Pharisees

Mark, Episode 3: When Jesus Breaks the Rules

So far in this Mark study, we’ve found out why and who for Jesus came. The next stories tell us a bit of the how. Even though Jesus made clear claims to be the long-expected Jewish Messiah, he was not the Messiah that the Jews expected. I’m not denying that he was the Messiah, just that he wasn’t the one the Jews thought he would be.

 

The general public loved him and he quickly gathered a large following (without the help of Facebook or Twitter). But the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, were skeptical. Why? In short, because he didn’t follow their rules. Because he wasn’t the kind of Messiah they wanted. He didn’t fit in their box.

3768451285_318ce84bf7_z

Credit: Pat Dalton… (https://flic.kr/p/6K1ih2)

Read Mark 2:18-3:6.

If you know anything about the origin of the Bible, you might know that the original writings didn’t have either chapters or verses. The recent organizational invention is usually helpful if often arbitrary. In this case, I’ve chosen 2:18-3:6 because the three stories here have a common thread: Jesus breaks the rules.

Necessary background info: the Pharisees loved the rules. Not the beautiful and good kind of love, but the one that’s obsessive to the point of restraining orders. To the Pharisees, rules were the whole of their religion. Their theology was that good obedience to the rules meant acceptance from God. But as Jesus points out multiple times in his ministry, the Pharisees’ rules superseded God. They worshiped not God but the rules.

In The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard, he presents two extreme views of spiritual discipline. The modern view, he writes, is that discipline is unnecessary to good spiritual health and growth. Most Christians reject discipline, instead favoring closeness with God that comes “naturally” (read: relying on highly unpredictable, varying moods to experience the spiritual).

Willard contrasts this with the early church view, which was based on the teaching of Jesus and Paul. The early Christians believed the spiritual, just like the physical body, needed rigorous, diligent exercise to be strengthened. However, over time, long after the Apostles were gone, some Christian leaders took spiritual discipline to ridiculous extremes. Examples include: “eating no cooked food for seven years, exposing the naked body to poisonous flies while sleeping in a marsh for six months, not lying down to sleep for forty or fifty years, not speaking a word for many years, proudly keeping a record of the years since one had seen a woman, carrying heavy weights everywhere one went, or living in iron bracelets and chains, explicitly vying with one another for the championship in austerities.”

Willard goes on to compare this fanatic level of asceticism to someone consumed by their diet or bodybuilding. He writes: “The point no longer seems to be health or strength, but self-admiration, self-righteousness, and self-obsession. In such bodybuilding groups, we often see muscle for muscle’s sake. Similarly, in the excesses of spiritual ‘asceticism’ we see asceticism for asceticism’s sake. These people are no longer truly ascetic, no longer are they truly concerned about taking pains for the end of a healthy, outgoing union with the healthy, outgoing, and sociable Christ who also loves himself and all of God’s creation. … Here it is a matter of taking pains about taking pains. It is in fact a variety of self-obsession–narcissism–a thing farthest removed from the worship and service of God. It is actually losing one’s life through trying to save it.”

The Pharisees had lost the point. The rules had never been about gaining God’s approval. And they definitely were not about the rules themselves. As if God felt bored one day and made up random laws for the hell of it.

Rather, every law was for the good of humans, not much different from a parent’s rules for the health and safety of their children. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Letting the disciples starve for the day would defeat the Sabbath’s purpose.

Jesus does not deny that fasting or honoring the Sabbath are important disciplines and should be followed, but he also does not advocate for obedience regardless of whatever other harm it may cause. He’s also not saying that the laws depend completely on personal judgment, but neither are they as inflexible as the Pharisees believed. Sometimes the question needs to be asked, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”

Which extreme do you lean toward: laissez faire abandonment or tyrannical diligence? How have you seen either one come between you and God?

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 4, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Mark, Episode 2: Who Jesus Loves

Last week in Mark, we read about what Jesus came to do. This week we will find out who he came for.

Crowds followed Jesus in the first chapter of Mark. The general public loved him, especially the sick and disabled. In the second chapter, the Pharisees have joined them, but not to be his disciples or seek healing. Instead they are skeptics watching Jesus carefully, waiting to either approve or reject him as a worthy teacher.

Mark 2:1-17

Jesus returns home to Capernaum. Both followers and skeptics pack his house to listen to him teach. Some guys show up with a paralyzed man. Evidently they had heard the rumors of healings and wanted to help this man back on his feet.

We don’t know how he was paralyzed or who these guys carrying him are. But we know his healing mattered so much to them that they could not wait for Jesus to come outside. They couldn’t wait for him to finish preaching. Not even for other people to make room for them. Maybe the man’s life was in danger. Whatever the situation, the men take him to the roof of the house and literally make a hole big enough to lower down the paralyzed man on a mat. Can you imagine their boldness, breaking into Jesus’ house, interrupting his lesson to a crowded room, and expecting him to heal their friend?

Their bold faith moves Jesus’ heart. So much so that he goes beyond healing the man’s physical disability. He extends spiritual healing as well. Rather than be impressed, the skeptics immediately begin doubting. They judge him as a blasphemer. But Jesus knew their thoughts, and in his response, he gives himself the title “Son of Man.” This was a prophetic name used for the Messiah, which the scribes would have recognized. He still doesn’t identify as God, but he claims authority from God. Just like in the first chapter, he uses a miracle to prove his identity. He equates the power to heal with the power to forgive.

5132377065_b91404ff0d_b

Credit: Kennisland (https://flic.kr/p/8PwLTK)

Jesus goes on to call a new disciple named Levi. Like the fishermen in chapter 1, Levi follows without question. In Luke 5, Levi hosts a big party in Jesus’ honor and invites his friends. These include other tax collectors and the only people who would associate with tax collectors–the unsavory types of society. So Jesus were at Levi’s party when the scribes criticize him again.

The Pharisees believed eating with the unrighteous would make themselves unrighteous, as if sin was a contagious disease. They were worried about being infected. Yes, one sinner can influence others to sin, but the Pharisees considered any association with known sinners to put themselves at risk of losing God’s approval. Jesus, on the other hand, knew eating with sinners would have the opposite effect. He had no fear of “catching” their sin, because he would actually be their cure.

Jesus refers again to the metaphor between spiritual and physical healing. A righteous person does not need saving. Since Jesus came as the Messiah, that meant he was only of use to the spiritually sick who did need saving. The Pharisees believed they were righteous, but the apostle Paul would later teach that no one is righteous and that is why all must be saved by Jesus Christ (Romans 3:10).

So when Jesus says he came not for the righteous, but for sinners, really he means he came for all people. The scribes couldn’t understand this because they thought God kept favorites. They thought he loved the good and obedient more than the rebellious. But Jesus says they’ve got God wrong. There are no scales, no weighing good deeds against the bad. God loves all people equally because they are equally sinful. He expresses his love by sending them a savior.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 28, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,