Mark:  Why the Gospel is good news

Week 3:  Faith in Action.  Mark 2:1-17

Sermon:  Sun 24th January 2016
In this opening section of Mark (Mark 1-8:26) in which Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God, our reading gives more evidence to reveal the identity of Jesus and the nature of life in the kingdom of God.  The miraculous signs accompany his teaching and reveal more about his character, authority and purpose. They invite a response – both then and now.
As C.S. Lewis famously wrote in “Mere Christianity”:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice.
Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
Can you remember an occasion when you have invited someone to a special event?   Who did you invite and why?
Study: (see Helpful Hints)
Read Mark 2:1-12 (note: for a fuller account see Luke 5: 17-26 & Matthew 9:2-8)

  1. From Luke’s account, why do you think the friends of the parlaysed man brought him to Jesus?  What does their action reveal about themselves and the nature of friendship?
  1. Think of your friends and your loved ones.  How have you/can and do you invite them to an encounter with Jesus?
  1. It is thought that the house belonged to Simon Peter or as Tom Wright suggests perhaps Jesus.  From Mark 2:5, what does Jesus reply to the man’s sudden arrival through the roof teach us?
  1. Read Mark 2:6-7. Why do you think the Scribes and Pharisees felt so alarmed and threatened by the offer of personal forgiveness that Jesus gave to everyone?

  1. Read verses 13-17. Tax collectors were not popular people. Tom Wright compares Levi to a traffic warden “working for a government you hated and wanted to get rid of?” What does this episode tell us about Jesus?
Can you think of people today who are “unpopular” because of the work they do or who and what they are associated with? How would you react if they came to St. John’s? How would Jesus react? 

Take a few minutes to consider the variety of people whom you see and interact with in your daily life.  How can you appropriately begin to share the transforming love of Jesus with them? Do you support this with personal prayer?
Helpful Hints:
3.         Jesus recognized the bold action of the paralyzed man (note: remember he must have agreed and wanted to meet Jesus himself) and his friends demonstrated faith.  They chose to go to Jesus. Nothing was going to stop them because of their belief in Jesus and what he could do.  Evidence that they believed he was the Messiah.
Seeing the parlaysed man, Jesus looked at him compassionately and healed his real need, which was to be forgiven of his sins. To be forgiven and restored to relationship with God. To be adopted into the kingdom of God through his faith.
A feature of the kingdom is wholeness (shalom).  An integral part of wholeness in the kingdom of God is physical wholeness. Accordingly, in an imperfect world, as a sign of the kingdom of God breaking in and bringing transformation, the paralysed man is healed and set free – physically, spiritually, relationally, emotionally and also financially.  He can now walk and work.  He is no longer imprisoned on his mat and dependent on others.
4.         Knowing that only God can forgive sins, the religious leaders believed that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy.  How could a carpenter from Nazareth be the promised Messiah?  As custodians of the law, it was their duty to stop this man.
If Jesus was the Messiah, as his healings, teaching and followed appeared to suggest to so many, then they would have to accept him, change their understanding of faith and lose their job and position in society.  Jesus threatened their whole way of life.
Importantly, Jesus was teaching that God’s love was for all people not just the Jews exclusively.
  1. At the time in which Jesus ministered, there were a number of different groups within Judaism. Each group had different ideas about how ‘freedom’, brought by the Messiah, would come for the Jewish people. Zealots were willing to participate in an armed struggle against the occupying Romans to free the Promised Land. The Essenes were committed to strict adherence of the law and to living simply, often in separated sections of towns or villages or in religious communities. We know little about the Sadducees, apart from the fact that they were religious conservatives and often in disagreement with the Pharisees.
Pharisees were a small but highly respected group who were committed to keeping the Jewish law as faithfully and diligently as possible. “Pharisaism was reputed for high ideals and was, in the words of (the Jewish historian) Josephus, ‘extremely influential among the common people.”[1] It’s easy for us to criticize the Pharisees, but we need to keep in mind that their behaviour was driven by their reverence of God’s law and a desire to see Him work in powerful ways again in Israel.

Eugene Peterson helpfully comments: “The Pharisees had become a little rigid through the years, true. They needed some reforming, some livening up, yes. But they could very well serve as a solid base to work from... There was much to admire in the Pharisees. Every Jew owed a debt of gratitude to the Pharisees for keeping Jewish identity alive. I don’t think we appreciate the Pharisees nearly enough. They need to be honoured far more than has been common among Christians. All the same, it is obvious that Jesus did not work out of a Pharisee context.”[2]

One area of life that Pharisees were particularly concerned about was ‘table fellowship.’ “Even everyday mealtimes were highly complex events in which social values, boundaries, statuses and hierarchies were reinforced. Anyone who challenged these rankings and boundaries would be judged to have acted dishonourably, a serious charge in cultures based on the values of honour and shame.”[3]

For Jesus to enter the home of Levi, a tax collector working on behalf of Rome, must have been scandalous to most people at the time. If we think about how collaborators were regarded in Nazi-occupied countries during World War II, then we have some idea of how Levi was thought of by most of his fellow Jews. Tax collectors were pariah figures who were disqualified as witnesses in a Jewish court, even their touch made a house unclean. Yet in Mark 2:17, Jesus demonstrates that these are exactly the sort of people he has come to save and to be in relationship with.   Jesus came for everyone. All are loved and invited into an intimate personal relationship with God through faith Jesus.   What’s more, Jesus goes out to look for and invite everyone to come and follow him and become his disciples.  As the Jews understood from rabbinic training, to follow and become like their teacher – that is Jesus.
[1] J Edwards, Pillar New Testament Commentary (pub: IVP/Apollos, page 87)
[2] E Peterson, “The Jesus Way”, (pub: Hodder, page 212-213)
[3]  SS Bartchy, “IVP Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels” (pub: IVP, page 796)

Richard Jones, 30/11/2015