September 23, 2003
Mark 2

We begin with another healing story. In his post about Mark 1, Kynn wrote that he doubts Jesus actually faith-healed people, it was just symbolic of his compassion. The stories feel too detailed to me to be taken as completely metaphorical, especially since Mark is so economical with its language. But the healing stories do seem to be making points other than simply showing the fact that Jesus could heal. The leper story in chapter 1 underlined that chapter's theme of secrecy. The new healing story serves to kick off this chapter's theme: arguing with Pharisees.

A group arrives with a paralyzed man, and goes through some acrobatics to get through the crowd to reach Jesus. Apparently moved by this, Jesus says to the man, "Your sins are forgiven." This gets the Pharisees worked up because only God can forgive sins. But to prove he has that authority, Jesus makes the man get up and walk.

We get a few more episodes of argument, though without miracles. The Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating with sinners and taxmen, prompting the famous line: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." The Pharisees catch Jesus and co. eating on a fast day, and Jesus responds, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?" He goes on cryptically:

‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’

I don't quite understand the segue here. Maybe he's saying, you don't receive the great thing I'm offering by sticking to the same old rules? Not sure.

Finally, Jesus gets a hard time for picking wheat with his followers on the Sabbath. He responds with a story about King David doing the same thing, concluding: 'The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’

That last line points up another conspicuous thing about this chapter. In chapter 1, as I said, Jesus was bent on suppressing messianic rumors, and it's not even clear how sure he is of who he is. But in this chapter, he's definitely acting like a big freakin' deal. He's the "bridegroom," he's big enough to forgive sins, he's big enough to be above the Mosaic laws. Instead of trying to hide his healing powers, he shoves them in the Pharisees' faces. At about this point, you'd expect people around him to be thinking, "Who does he think he is -- God?"

He also starts calling himself the Son of Man. This has previously appeared in the Bible as a name that God kept calling Ezekiel. I don't know what it means; I'm sure it had implications for Jews at the time that are lost on me. But in identifying himself with a prophet, he's still not explicitly calling himself more than a prophet. In his other behavior, however, he's giving off some pretty strong signals.

It's also notable that, though he in some sense places himself above the law, he doesn't totally disdain the law either. Rather, he puts it in perspective. He doesn't deny that one shouldn't work on the sabbath, but feeding the hungry takes priority over that. Likewise he doesn't deny the validity of fast days, but says something more important sometimes comes along. It's worth noting about the relationship between the New Testament and the Old -- he puts Mosaic law in its place but doesn't toss it overboard either.

Posted by Camassia at September 23, 2003 06:23 PM | TrackBack

Mark 2 sets several things up. The first of these is conflict between Jesus and the lawyers and the Pharisees. Next, Jesus predicts his demise or departure in the "bridegroom" bit. Finally, he seems to be preempting the Jewish law by his own authority. This, to me, is the meaning of "new wine" and old skins. He says that the Sabbath is made for man, and that, therefore, the Son of Man has sovreignty over the sabbath. Question: is he equating "man" and "son of man" here?
What is most interesting to me in Mark 2, however, is the way Jesus equates sin with disease. You will note that he cures paralysis by the forgiving of sin. Then, when questioned by the lawyers and Pharisees for hanging out with tax collectors and other sinners, he tells them that healthy people have no need of a physician. I came, he says, not to invite the virtuous, but the sinners. So, he equates sin with disease twice; one time from each direction. There is no difference between his role as preacher and his role as healer. (Does not AA call substance abuse a disease and also attest that to arrest the disease takes reliance on one's "higher power" and a spiritual renewal?).
Finally, we see the Pharisees and other members of the "establishment" beginning to plot against him. Note that Jesus says he "came" to invite the sinners. There is no doubt that he is now aware of his mission. By the second chapter, Mark has laid the groundwork of the whole story.

Posted by: Rob on September 23, 2003 06:42 PM

I agree with you, although I actually didn't read it that he healed the man by forgiving sins. I took the healing to be a separate action. Though now that you mention it, it's not entirely clear. Hmm.

Posted by: Camassia on September 23, 2003 06:54 PM

Actually, it's closer to say that I don't know for sure, and it's not important to my faith either way. It could be literal healing (under a method which is unknown to me) or it could be symbolic healing, and I'd be fine with either one. Unfortunately there's not a good way for us here in the 21st century to know. :)


Posted by: Kynn Bartlett on September 24, 2003 08:12 AM

Kynn, your post reminds me of one of my major problems with religion (please don't take this as a personal attack on you or your views - it's a good post which prompts me to share my point.)

You accept the healing either way - as symbolic or actual but symbolism is not actually real or factual evidence of anything other than the desire of the author to make HIS point. On the other hand if the healing DID take place but can't be replicated or proven, how much truth can one attribute to the action?

Either way, it requires that "faith" thing that I have a hard time with. It's the "I know what REALLY went down and if you want to get to heaven YOU'LL JUST HAVE TO TRUST ME!" reasoning that drives me crazy sometimes.

Posted by: David on September 24, 2003 10:21 AM

You come to this site and you read these thoughts expressed by various people. Obviously, something draws you to these activities. Don't stress about it, follow it where it takes you.
I think that it's important that we understand what kind of healing it was. I don't think that there is anything, in any of the gospels, that is included as "optional" material. Thinking about what kind of healing it was, and what it means for us in the 21st century, is exactly what makes an exercise like this valuable. I'm not saying that it won't mean something different to you than it means to me, but it needs to mean SOMETHING to each of us.

Posted by: Rob on September 24, 2003 10:31 AM

Actually, David is drawn to this site because he's my brother-in-law, but not all my relatives read it...

Posted by: Camassia on September 24, 2003 08:35 PM

It is interesting to contrast Psalm 26 with 2 Mark:
Psalm 25:4-7, "I do not keep company with worthless men; I have nothing to do with hypocrites. I hate the company of evil men and avoid the wicked. Lord, I wash my hands to show that I am innocent and march in worship around your altar."
This is certainly different than the portrait of Jesus drawn in Mark 2. The hand-washing is interesting. It both prefigures Pilate and an incident in which Jesus or his disciples are chided for not washing their hands prior to eating. Jesus, of course, actively sought the company of the wicked. He did not, on the other hand, have much use for hypocrites.

Posted by: Rob on September 25, 2003 01:39 AM

Hi, David, a brief response -- I actually share your same problem with the "faith thing." I think too often the idea of "faith thing" is used to belittle people who haven't yet managed the act of self-hypnosis in order to set aside their rationality.

I should post on this, too.


Posted by: Kynn Bartlett on September 26, 2003 01:00 PM

"Son of Man" as Jesus uses it is a title referring the numinous figure in Daniel 7:13-14. Jesus is identifying himself with that cosmic figure. That he used the title of himself is, I think, beyond dispute since it turns up only in the gospels and does not seem to be a title the Church picked up on in its liturgy (judging from the marked absence of the title in the epistles). If it was being retrojected into Jesus' mouth, you'd expect to hear it being bandied about in the epistles.

Other things to note: Mark 2 reflects a curiously Johannine and eucharistic note in that it links the imagery of a bridegroom, wine and grain, much like John chapters 2 and 3. The claim to be the bridegroom is a Messianic and divine claim that rings chimes from Isaiah and Hosea (which describe God as the Bridegroom and Israel as the Bride).

As you read this gospel (and the rest of the New Testament) put yourself in the place of a Christian whose normative encounter with Christ, 30 odd years after the events the gospel describes, is *sacramental* (through baptism and the Eucharist, primarily, but also through other sacraments) and note how often Eucharistic, baptismal and nuptial themes enter the picture.

Remember, the gospels are catechetical literature written for people who are already believers and whose experience of Christ is being mediated to them through the early liturgy of the Church: a liturgy whose basic outlines then, as now, include the liturgy of the Word (and therefore a profound familiarity with the Hebrew Bible) and the Eucharist. The "new wine" Jesus speaks of is not, for them, an abstraction or a figure of speech. After hearing this reading, the believer for whom Mark wrote then actually *drank* the New Wine which is the Eucharist. He is acutely aware that this New Wine is bursting the old wineskins of the Levitical covenant, while at the same time being aware that the Levitical covenant was a prophetic foreshadow of the "new covenant in my blood" (again, back to the Eucharist).

Posted by: Mark Shea on September 27, 2003 03:22 PM

Very excellent post, Mark. I especially like the light you shine on the "New Wine". Thanks.

Posted by: Rob on September 27, 2003 07:12 PM

It seems that people must have some justification through science that things are, when truly science changes almost daily. Being a person of this elusive faith, the truth is that Jesus did miracles of scientific wonder. What set Jesus apart from other messiahs, was the blind shall see, the lame shall walk, the leper shall be cleansed. That was the reality, the sign that this indeed was God Himself.To ask for proof, to repeat the experiment is merely to ask God to come back and do it again, though He will not (at
least not in the position of sacrificial lamb). Jesus was in the company of sinners, not evil men. He was in the company of real people, all whom made mistakes,He was followed by people that wanted to be different, to change. Jesus said seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened. Look for God in His word, the bible.
It will not hurt you, it might convict you. Read it with the heart of a child. The words are truth, because you do not believe changes nothing, just means your wrong. Science is truth, yet only mans perception of it, so it changes. The world is claimed to be even older than science last thought, I am not sure how old the bible says it is, but some people have their opinion. If the bible said it was 5000 years old, I can accept that. When God made Adam, how old was he?
What state of development was this being? A fetus, a boy, or a man? If God made the Earth, how old would it be? Could the creator of the universe make a million-year old rock?Why not? Maybe He made the Earth a billion years old in the six days of creation. Maybe He did it to confuse the all-knowing scientific community, or to give them the right to doubt. Perhaps I am not as learned as some of you, though my accumlated scientific knowledge may be above many.
It is my belief that the ability to believe is the abilty to see. True faith comes as a gift from God and only to those who seek it. One must read the bible as Jesus said, as a child. A trusting open heart that is trying to understand not judge.When you do God will change you forever.

Posted by: James May on September 28, 2003 12:03 AM

Amen, James.
What is science but a body of knowledge gained through study? The knowledge gained through any science is only as good as the instruments used to gather it. The best instruments that we have for the scientific study of the relationship of our God to ourselves are the books of the Bible. If we start to measure the words of the Bible using instruments designed to measure the data of other bodies of knowledge, we will compile only distortions and error.
The Bible contains the essentials myths of our culture: we should read the books as they were written and, as James said, let them change us.

Posted by: Rob on September 28, 2003 10:06 AM
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