Hello, and welcome to the STC podcast. My name is Casey Strine, I’m a member of the STC staff, and I’m excited to be sharing a few of my reflections on the Gospel of Mark with you this week.
This week we will be looking at materials from chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the Gospel according to Mark. The Gospel of Mark is generally known as a fast moving story where Jesus hardly finishes doing one thing before he has started the next. Today, as we move into chapter 3 of Mark, focusing on verses 1 to 6, we see Jesus performing another healing in a synagogue and coming into conflict with the religious authorities of the day.
Mark tells us first that Jesus has entered a synagogue, where he encounters a man with a hand that does not operate properly for some reason. Having told us this information, Mark then tells us that this was a sabbath day—when the synagogue would have been full, especially since Jesus was present. Among those in the synagogue were the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a group of very learned Jewish men with a great deal of religious authority and influence who were known for disputing many theological questions with other Jewish groups. It is hardly any surprise to see them watching Jesus and waiting sceptically to see what he does. This, it seems, was what they did with lots of figures in Judaism at the time.
At the forefront of their minds was whether Jesus would follow their custom for how to observe the Sabbath. Celebrated on Saturday each week, the Sabbath is a time of rest from all labour designed to remind people of their dependence on God and to refresh them through time spent with their family and closest friends. This included a service in the synagogue, at which there would be readings from various parts of what Christians now call the Old Testament and a sort of sermon on them. The Sabbath, then, was a time of rest when the Pharisees believed religious officials should even refrain from doing many things. I wonder seriously if any of the Pharisees had ever cured anyone of a ‘withered hand’—I have no idea—let alone on the Sabbath. The amazement of the crowds at Jesus’ ability to do such things definitely suggests it was a truly extraordinary thing, something most of them had never witnessed in their lifetimes.
Jesus heals the man despite the Pharisees’ judgmental stares. Mark tells us their attitude grieved Jesus because they would not even answer his question of whether it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath, to bring life to a place where there was previously death. Jesus never says so explicitly, but he implies that the point of the Sabbath is to refresh people, to fill them with life—precisely what he is doing to this man’s hand. The Pharisees are having none of it.
I like to think that I would have been on Jesus’ side. I like to think that I would have sneered at the Pharisees and looked at them with the same sort of derision Jesus did. I like to think of myself as someone radically committed to showing God’s love in all situations. Yet, I also know that I’m fairly good at following social convention and behaving in an ‘acceptable manner’ most of the time. Would I have sided with Jesus over against more senior, more established, perhaps more powerful religious figures in the room? I don’t know for sure. What about you?
Whoever we are and whatever our experience of institutional religion, this passage is an important reminder to ask ourselves this question: Are we complicit in any rules or traditions that keep us from doing more to bring the good news of Christ Jesus’ healing kingdom into the world? It might not be a comfortable question for you—it certainly isn’t one for someone like me who is ordained in the Church of England!
I’m not supporting insurrection or acting out in a way that starts social unrest, but I am asking if we’ve avoided the disapproving looks of others by not doing something we know we could do to care for another? I’m also not about causing a guilt trip here; rather, I just want us all to be self-critical enough to think about how we’re doing in following Jesus’ call to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. There is forgiveness if we have not. And, in God’s mercy, probably another chance around the corner to do the thing God calls us to do.
Christ Jesus, grant us a heart that breaks for the things that break your heart and the courage to love others as you modelled for us. Amen.
READING: Mark 3:1-19
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’
Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.
Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.