The Gospel according to Mark

Chapter 2

2:1-2 Jesus and his first four disciples now came back to Capernaum after they had been away preaching in the neighboring towns (1:38-39). The place in which Jesus stayed was packed with people, and he took the opportunity to teach them.

2:3-4 We can imagine Peter remembering the astonishing scene. Jesus was probably under a typical Middle Eastern verandah which was covered with a bamboo and tile roof. The four men who wanted to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing managed to carry him up on to this roof. They took off some tiles and moved some of the bamboo cross pieces to make a hole big enough to lower the man right in front of the Messiah.

2:5 It is easy enough to see how the faith and practical concerns of others helps us when we are sick. In this case Jesus recognized the faith and determination of the man's four friends. But his first words to the paralyzed man were surprising. "Son, your sins are forgiven." Presumably the Messiah knew that some sin had impacted the man's life and the terrible guilt had caused the trauma that paralyzed him. By declaring that he was forgiven the power of the man's bondage to guilt was broken.

2:6-7 The rabbis were right that only God can forgive sin. So this preacher from Nazareth was speaking blasphemy. What they did not know was that Jesus is the eternal Son of God (Mark 1:1, 11). And because he loves humans totally he has every right to forgive us, and he has the power to free us from guilt..

2:8-9 Just by looking at the way they were discussing this, Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he asked them an unexpected question. Which would be easier for him to say, "your sins are forgiven" or to heal the helpless paralytic right there?

2:10-11 Before they could get their minds around this question he demonstrated his authority by telling the paralyzed man to pick up the mat he was lying on and go home. In our day we cannot claim that everyone is physically healed when we pray in the name of Jesus, but sufficient people are miraculously healed to demonstrate that Jesus is alive and continuing his healing work among us.

2:12 Mark may have asked. "What happened then?" There was an awed silence as the man they had known as a paraplegic went out through the crowded house and into the street. Then the astonishment turned to spontaneous expressions of praise to God. Nothing like this had ever been seen before in their city. Obviously this did not fit the theology of the rabbis, and by the time Jesus confronted them with another healing in their synagogue "The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians (mainly of the Sadducee party) against him, how to destroy him" (3:6). That was the beginning of the unholy alliance of theological opposites which would end in the crucifixion of their Messiah.

2:13-14 "Matthew was a tax collector. How did he become a disciple?" Alphaeus had a son named Levi, who was also given the name Mattityah, Greek Mathaios, which means "Gift of Yahweh." As a young man Levi decided to get work as a tax collector under the hated Roman government, which would have upset his family and friends. He was appointed to collect taxes for the city of Capernaum. The main road to the north around the Lake of Galilee skirted the shore, and the customs tax booth was close to where Jesus began teaching. So Matthew had seen people being healed and heard Jesus explaining the good news. . When Jesus came by his tax office and said "follow me" he gladly did so. (Matthew 9:9, Luke 5:27-28).

2:15 To announce his conversion he gave a great feast for all his tax collector friends, and others viewed as sinners in the community. This was obviously an occasion that was public knowledge in the city.

2:16-17 The Pharisees, who kept away from those they considered sinners, asked the disciples why Jesus kept such bad company. The answer was unanswerable. Where do you expect to find a doctor? Among healthy people or among the sick? Jesus made clear that he delights in being the heart doctor for the very worst of sinners. But the answer was also a rebuke for the smug self-satisfaction of the Pharisees. It was the spiritually needy who flocked around Jesus. And Matthew the hated tax collector and his friends were closer to God than those who thought they were righteous by obeying legalistic rules.

2:18 Both the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees engaged in the practice of denying themselves by fasting to gain favor with God. They wondered why the disciples of Jesus were so lax in these religious observances. All religions recommend fasting to clarify the mind and help us pray or meditate. But the Sermon on the Mount made clear it should not be done hypocritically to impress others (Matthew 6:16). Already in the Old Testament the Messiah had revealed what the heart of fasting was really about. "Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose; to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?" (Isaiah 58:5-7). This suggests that fasting is designed to help us in the liberating work of the Messiah's Kingdom. We do without an extra suit so another can have a blanket. Moses fasted to write the law for his people (Exodus 34:28). Esther called her people to fasting and prayer when they were to be exterminated (Esther 4:16). Church leaders in Antioch fasted to send out missionaries (Acts 13:2-3). It is never a mindless duty required to gain the approval of God.

2:19 Here Jesus pointed out that fasting is not appropriate at a wedding. But when the wedding is over people go back to the meager food they have to eat. This is a fact, but we wonder what it means for us? John the Baptist had said "He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase but I must decrease" (John 3:29-30). Could it be that the banquet that Levi had just given for his friends (2:15-16) was the joyful marriage of the Messiah with the rejected of the world.

2:20 On one interpretation fasting would be required after Jesus' ascension. Based on this verse St. Antony (c. 251-356) and the early monks of Egypt engaged in extreme austerities, as did some monks in the later monastic movement. A weekly fast on Fridays and fasting in Lent was prescribed by church authorities. It seems more likely that Jesus is contrasting his own style of joyful wedding ministry with John the Baptist's severe style (as in Matthew 11:16-19). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said "Whenever you fast" (Matthew 16:18) indicating that there are time when fasting secret is the delight of the Father, but it is not a rule of compulsory austerity..

2:21-22 This interpretation is confirmed by Jesus' words about the newness of his ministry contrasted with the legalism of Jewish traditions. You don't use new cloth to patch up a tattered garment. And if you put new wine into dried up old wineskins they will burst. The church in each city continually needs new types of congregational organization to met the needs of the new life created by the Spirit. But Luke added the comment that people who enjoy mature old wine do not appreciate the frothy new wine that comes out of the stomping vat (Luke 5:38). The art is to allow the traditionalists to enjoy the old forms and make sure that appropriate styles of ministry are provided for the new in the faith.

2:23-24 That reminded Peter of an incident when Jesus and his close disciples went out for a sabbath afternoon walk through the harvest fields. As we would do, Peter found himself breaking off an ear of wheat and chewing on the grain. Pharisees were watching them and they complained that this was harvesting, which meant they were working on the sabbath. Pharisaic rabbis had made it their business to safeguard the sabbath by enforcing 39 rules as to what was permitted and not permitted on that day.

2:25-27 He answered them by pointing out that when David and his companions were famished they broke the rule about not eating the holy bread reserved for the tabernacle at Nob (1 Samuel 21:1-6 - Abiathar was the son of Ahimelech, and was probably already exercising the office). The point is that rules are made for humans to enjoy their life, not to make life impossible. Similarly the weekly day of rest is for our joy. We are not made to live by legalistic rules.

2:28 The conclusion is that, as man, Jesus had the right to use the day of rest in a happy creative way. And he gives us this freedom. This is a lesson which churches often forgot and made Sunday observance a misery for everyone, especially children.

Chapter 3