Critics stalk Jesus
Jesus to a paralyzed man: “Your sins are gone”1 Several days later, Jesus went back to Capernaum. Word got out that he was home. 2 A crowd of people came to the house to see him. They packed the place. Even the entrance to the house was full. Jesus started talking with them about the word, the message from God that he came to deliver. 3 Some people came to the house with a paralyzed man, carried by four men. 4 They couldn’t work their way through the crowd, so they broke through the roof. They tore open a hole above where Jesus was standing. Then they lowered the paralyzed man, who was laying on a mat. 5 When Jesus saw the faith of those people, he turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven and gone.” 6 Sitting nearby, watching, was a group of top Jewish scholars known as scribes.  What they saw didn’t make sense. 7 They thought, “Where does he come off talking like that? He just insulted God; it’s blasphemy. Isn’t God the only one who can forgive sins?” 8 As soon as Jesus said what he did to the paralyzed man, he knew what the scholars were thinking. So he asked them, “Why are you thinking what you’re thinking? 9 Let me ask you something. Is it easier to tell a paralyzed person, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or is it easier to tell that paralyzed person, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10 I want you to know that the Son of Humans has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, 11 “I’m telling you now, get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” 12 Instantly, the man got up, picked up his mat, and walked right out of that house with everyone watching, stunned. The people started thanking God. They said, “Never in our life! We’ve never seen anything like this!”
Jesus hobnobbing with sinners13 Once again, Jesus took a walk out alongside the lakeshore. A large crowd gathered around him, and he started teaching them. 14 As he continued walking along, he noticed a man sitting in a tax collector’s booth. The man was Levi, the son of Alpheus. Jesus called over to him and said, “Follow me.” Levi got right up and followed him. 15 Later, Jesus and his disciples ate a meal at Levi’s house. There were a lot of tax collectors and sinners around the table. Many of them followed Jesus around as he taught. 16 Pharisees and Jewish scholars known as scribes saw Jesus and his disciples eating with those folks. The Jews asked the disciples, “Why is he eating with taxmen and sinners?” 17 Jesus overheard the question. So he answered it. “Healthy folks don’t need a doctor. Sick folks do. I’m not here with an invitation for saints. I’ve come for sinners.”
Why don’t the disciples fast?18 One day the Pharisees were fasting. So were the disciples of John the Baptizer. Some folks went over to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast? The disciples of John do. So do the disciples of the Pharisees.” 19 Jesus said, “At a wedding, do the best friends of the groom fast? No they don’t, not as long as the groom is with them. 20 The time is coming when the groom will be taken away. They can fast then. 21 When you tear a piece of clothing, you’re not going to fix it by sewing on a patch of cloth that has never been washed. If you do that, the patch would shrink and rip the hole even bigger. 22 You’re not going to put new wine into old wineskins. If you did, the wine would expand as it continues to ferment, and it would pop the wineskin. You’d lose the wine and the wineskin.”
Boss of the Sabbath23 Jesus and his disciples took a walk through grain fields one Sabbath Saturday. As they walked, his disciples picked a snack of grain kernels. They plucked a few grain heads off the stalks. 24 Pharisees watching said to Jesus, “Look at that. Why are they breaking Sabbath law?” 25 Jesus asked them, “Haven’t you read the story about what David did when he and the people with him were hungry and needed food? 26 David went right into the sacred place for worshiping God, back when Abiathar was high priest. David took the sacred bread that only priests were allowed to eat. He ate it and he shared it with people who were with him.” 27 Then Jesus told them, “The Sabbath was made for people. People weren’t made for the Sabbath. 28 So listen. The Son of Humans is boss. Even of the Sabbath.
The “word,” logos in Greek, is a tech term. It usually means a message from God. It shows up in longer phrases such as “the word of God” or “the word of the Lord.” In the Gospel of Mark, however, it almost always refers to the message of Jesus who, in another Gospel, says, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30 NLT).
Scribes specialized in the Jewish laws. Each of the major groups of Jews had their own scribes. That included the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. But in the time of Jesus, most scribes were Pharisees. This was the branch of the Jewish faith well-known for its meticulous devotion to observing the Law as they interpreted it, and insisting that everyone else do the same. In the Gospel of Mark, scribes represent the opposite of Jesus. If the Gospel of Mark were a cowboy movie produced in the early 1900s, the scribes would be wearing the black hats and starting fistfights in the saloon.
Usually translated “Son of Man.” This is a title Jesus used a lot to describe himself. In the Jewish Bible the phrase contains hints of divinity in some passages and humanity in others–perhaps a perfect phrase for describing someone Christians would say was fully God and fully human. Hint of the divine: the prophet Daniel saw someone like a son of man coming from heaven (Daniel 7:13). Hint of the human: God often described Ezekiel as a mere mortal by using the phrase “son of man” (Ezekiel 2:1).
Levi was also known as Matthew, according to Matthew’s version of this story (Matthew 9:9).
Pharisees were one of several groups of Jews. It was a bit like Methodists being one of many groups of Christians. Pharisees were known for not only strictly keeping the laws of Moses, but also for keeping hundreds of other laws that were a bit like the rules in church manuals today. For example, Jewish law said Jews should not work on the Sabbath. Pharisees defined what they considered work. Pharisees taught that healing people on the Sabbath was practicing medicine. They said this was forbidden except when someone was at risk of dying that day.
Many Jews considered tax collectors collaborators with the enemy–Romans who had been occupying the Jewish homeland for about a century. Tax collectors were often Jews who bid on the job of collecting taxes from their fellow Jews. Their bid was a promise to pay that amount of money to Rome. Whatever they collected above that bid, they kept as profit. Many tax collectors had a reputation for overcharging. Some rabbis later taught that it was perfectly okay to lie to a tax collector–essentially, to cheat a cheater.
Mark doesn’t say why the two groups were fasting. All Jews were encouraged to fast on Yom Kippur, a nationwide day of repentance also known as the Day of Atonement. Jews also fasted on other occasions, and to express sorrow for their sins or their grief over a loss. In addition to this, some Pharisees fasted every Monday and Thursday. They treated it as a way to express their devotion to God. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Jesus was not impressed.
Bible experts debate why Jesus followed his illustration about a bridegroom with two snippets of wisdom that can seem unrelated. One theory is that the two short sayings, which sound a little like condensed parables, are sending the signal that the old style of Jewish faith can’t continue under the new agreement God is setting up through Jesus. The old practices are represented by the old cloth and the old wineskin that is already stretched as far as it will go.
The Jewish Sabbath Day starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Jews are not supposed to work during those 24 hours.
The laws that Moses gave the Jews say they should not work on the Sabbath, but the law stopped short of defining “work.” So Pharisees defined it. They taught people to observe hundreds of laws identifying what they considered work. Picking grain, they said, was harvesting.
Every Sabbath, Jewish priests put 12 loaves of fresh bread inside the worship center–one loaf for each of the tribes of Israel. Then priests ate the old loaves put there the previous Sabbath (Exodus 25:30).
Some Bible experts say Mark may have intended to say that because the Sabbath was made for people, people are the boss of the Sabbath. That is, they decide what to do with the sacred day. Scholars make this case from the Aramaic language that many Jews spoke during that time, and from the possibility that Mark intended some parallelism. As the argument goes, he was using a bit of a poetic beat to say that since the Sabbath was made for humans, the son of humans (the generations to come) are in charge of what happens on the Sabbath.
What do you think of the men who had the chutzpah to tear open the roof of someone’s home and lower a paralyzed man to Jesus below?
Some Bible experts call attention to the fact that Jesus phrased the forgiveness in the passive voice. Instead of saying “I forgive you,” (active voice) Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven.” Scholars say that suggests that it was God doing the forgiving and Jesus delivering the message. What do you think about that?
Why do you think Jesus forgave the paralyzed man (2:5) his sins when the man had not repented or done anything that we typically think a person needs to do to get forgiven?
Many people reading the story, Christians included, would argue that the Jewish scholars had every right to criticize Jesus for forgiving this man. Jesus defended himself by healing the man, implying that this proved Jesus had God’s backing. What do you think are some of the arguments the Jewish scholars could have made in response?
The Jewish scholars watched Jesus perform healing miracles, like curing the paralyzed man, whom they may have personally known all of his life. Then Jesus reads their minds and asks them, “Why are you thinking what you’re thinking?” (2:8). Yet most of the scholars seemed intransigent and absolutely opposed to Jesus throughout his ministry. How could they deny that Jesus had superhuman power?
Why do you think Jesus seemed particularly fond of describing himself as the “Son of Humans” (5:24)?
Jewish scholars came from all over the Jewish homeland to witness what was going on with Jesus. What do you think would have been the main attraction for them? Would it have been the unusual teachings of Jesus that didn’t always track well with Jewish traditions? Or would it have been his healing ministry?
Jesus invited the tax collector Levi, also known as Matthew, to join his group as one of the disciples (2:14). Most Jews hated tax collectors because the tax collectors worked as collaborators with the occupying Roman army. Why do you think Jesus would risk antagonizing Jewish leaders by picking a man like this to join his team?
Jewish leaders seemed to lose respect for Jesus when they saw he was hanging out with sinners (2:16). Why would they think like that? Why shouldn’t a religion leader spend time with people who needed religion?
LIFE APPLICATION. When the people saw Jesus forgive the sins of the paralyzed man and then heal him, they said “Never in our life! We’ve never seen anything like this!” (2:12). Luke’s version adds more drama: “The people weren’t just astonished. They were rattled” (Luke 5:26). Have you or anyone you know experienced anything like that—God doing something so remarkable that it left you absolutely astonished and maybe a little spooked?
LIFE APPLICATION. When have you seen someone get so aggressive in helping another person that they remind you of the stretcher bearers who carried the paralyzed man?
LIFE APPLICATION. When Jewish scholars ask why the disciples of Jesus didn’t fast like other Jews, Jesus essentially seems to say that the disciples would fast when he was gone. Some Christians today do occasionally skip meals, as a spiritual practice. If you know of any Christians who do occasionally fast, what are some of the reasons that motivate them to do it?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus offered one of his coolest quotes when he defended his disciples who were being criticized for picking some heads of grain while walking through a field one Sabbath. Some Jews consider that harvesting, which they said was work, which was forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for people. People weren’t made for the Sabbath” (2:27). Most Christians treat Sunday as their day of rest and worship. But over the past couple of generations, Sunday has lost its uniqueness. It has become blended into the week as just another day. Do you see that as a problem?