Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Mark Chapter 2:1-3:12 Summary
I Wanna Start a Fight: Jesus Debates the Religious Leaders
- Jesus returns to Capernaum, and everyone learns that he is "at home" (2:1). The KJV's translation, "in the house," might even be better because the NRSV's "at home" suggests that Jesus owns a home in Capernaum. Nopers. It's probably the house of Peter and Andrew, where Jesus stayed earlier (remember 1:29, 33).
- While Jesus teaches inside, the house becomes very crowded, and a big mob gathers outside of the door. It's like the paparazzi of yore.
- Four people have carried a paralyzed man to Jesus, but they can't reach him because of the crowd.
- Solution? They climb on the roof, dig a hole above Jesus, and lower the paralyzed person down to Jesus. Okay, this party is getting out of control.
- Jesus interprets this action as "faith," not vandalism, and tells the paralyzed man that his washouts are forgiven.
- Let's take a thirty-second time-out to dwell on a startling historical fact. Many circles in antiquity understood illness and disability to be the result of a person's bad behaviors. Maybe pinpointing causes for hapless suffering consoles frightened people, and so the blame-game is pretty old.
- Back to the story. Scribes, who are higher-ups in the religious leadership, are upset that Jesus is presumptuous enough to usurp the authority to forgive sins, which they assume belongs to God alone.
- They're fuming, but privately—they don't actually say anything.
- Jesus has the uncanny power to read minds, sort of like Edward in Twilight, just to make an absurd comparison. But unlike that sulking vampire, Jesus's superpower arises from the "spirit" (2:8), which descended to him in 1:10 (also, remember 1:8). Maybe it's better to capitalize this, "Spirit," in order to make these connections explicit. You careful readers should feel free to decide what you like better. The Greek can be translated either way.
- Jesus picks a fight with the scribes. He's not scared to go toe-to-toe in an argument about principles.
- Jesus poses a rhetorical question: "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk?'" (2:9). Both are as relatively easy to say in Greek as they are in English.
- Jesus tells the paralyzed person to get up and go home. And guess what? He does it. He gets up and walks. This clinches Jesus's argument, for it proves that he has the "authority" (2:10; remember 1:22, 27) to forgive sins, like God. Score: Jesus 1; Brass 0.
- Everyone (scribes, too?) is dumbfounded and praises God. Jesus is just flat-out incomparable.
- The whole crowd follows Jesus from the house to the sea, and he continues to teach them.
- Jesus tells Levi, a tax collector, to follow him. And he does…duh.
- They end up dining together at Levi's house with many other "tax collectors and sinners" who were following Jesus (2:15). By the way, as is customary for Greeks and Roman, they ate while reclining on couches. "Sat" and "sitting" (2:15) in the NRSV and KJV translate the custom into modern idiom. For some ancient flavor, read it as "reclined" and "reclining" instead.
- Many people today scorn the IRS, which would provoke even more ire if they were collecting taxes for a foreign occupying government, like the Romans. That's why the scribes lump tax collectors together with other "sinners" (2:16) and ask Jesus's disciples why he eats with such people. They must be afraid to ask Jesus himself, since he just finished schooling them.
- Jesus overhears their question and rescues his disciples with his pithy wit: "'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'" (2:17).
- The scribes do not respond. Score: Jesus 2; Brass, 0.
- Now the disciples of John and the Pharisees, who both teach their own particular brand of Judaism, ask Jesus why they themselves fast, but Jesus and his followers don't. After all, they're lying around feasting with tax collectors and sinners.
- Jesus responds with three tricky metaphors. Eat a donut while you try to unpack them.
- First, fasting while Jesus is alive is like fasting at a wedding. It's a big downer for the bridegroom. It's better to fast when the bridegroom is "taken away" (2:20). When? Inquiring readers want to know.
- Second, it's dumb to sew a new piece of cloth on an old article of clothing because it will tear. By the way, it's also dumb to sew worn-out elastic on a new pair of underwear because they will get all wadded and ride up. Just FYI.
- Third, new wine will cause old wine skins to burst. So the old and the new don't mix, right? Good. Now explain how that answers the question posed in 2:18.
- No one takes issue. Score: Jesus 3; Brass 0.
- Pharisees catch the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath as they make their way through a field.
- This smacks far too much of the type of labor prohibited on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees demand that Jesus explain their behavior.
- In their defense, Jesus offers an argument that is challenging even for us smarty-pants to unpack. He cites a story in scripture, where David himself, the second king of Israel, ate bread reserved for priests alone when he had need for food (1 Samuel 21:1-7).
- Jesus draws a potentially outrageous implication from this: human needs may arise that do not jive with sacred rules and regulations, particularly those governing the Sabbath (2:27). The "Son of Man" is apparently allowed some finesse for determining what is or is not permitted on the Sabbath (2:28).
- Score: Jesus 4; Brass 0.
- Jesus goes into another synagogue, where there's a disabled person who has a withered hand.
- The pesky Sabbath is at issue again, and the Pharisees are watching to see if Jesus will heal him and further challenge their conceptions of what it means to have a sacred day with no labor.
- Jesus doesn't disappoint and calls the disabled man forward.
- Jesus asks, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or kill?" The answer is sort of, shall we say, obvious.
- Again, silence. Score: Jesus 5; Brass 0.
- This really ticks Jesus off, and he answers his own question by healing the man. Game, set, and match. Jesus wins in a shutout.
- The Pharisees partner with the Herodians and together they plan how they might destroy Jesus. They are very poor sports.
- The narrator summarizes. Lots of people from lots of cities and regions follow Jesus, who is healing the sick and exorcising demons.
- All the demons know that Jesus is the "Son of God" (3:11). Boy, these demons sure are smart, being from another world and all. But Jesus tells them to pipe down.