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Mark 2:1528comment (0)

December 10, 2009

By Cecil Taylor

Related Scripture: Mark 2:1528

Explore the Bible
Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

Mark 2:15–28

Call of Levi (15–17)

After answering Jesus’ call, the tax collector Levi threw a dinner party for Him. Many of Levi’s colleagues came. Jews hated tax collectors because they worked for the Romans and often overcharged their countrymen and kept the extra. While a “sinner” could be any Jew who did not follow the rigid religious practices of the Pharisees, these guests must have been people of bad moral character. Eating with undesirables brought Jesus sharp criticism from Jewish leaders. Jesus defended His fellowship with sinners using a well-known proverb about a doctor and his patients. Just as a doctor has to go where he is needed, so Jesus went where He was needed. For Him to refuse to have dealings with the disreputable would be as absurd as for a doctor to refuse to have anything to do with the sick.

Question About Fasting (18–22)
His opponents complained that Jesus and His disciples neglected to fast. Fasting was a major act of worship required only on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29, 31). True to form, however, the Pharisees overdid it. They fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12). John the Baptist’s disciples also fasted regularly. Any failure of Jesus’ disciples to fast could have been taken as a lack of respect for God and a severe absence of piety. The accusation may have been false. Jesus fasted in the wilderness (Matt. 4:2). Perhaps it means only that Jesus and His followers did not follow the rules laid down by the rabbis. True or not, the complaint gave Jesus occasion to teach a lesson. He defended His disciples with three parables.

The parable of the wedding guests sent the message, “Guests do not fast during a wedding feast.” Guests at a wedding celebration were not required to fast even if the Day of Atonement fell during the festivities. This parable yields a clue to Jesus’ identity. He is the “bridegroom,” a key Jewish way to refer to God (Hos. 2:16–23). That the bridegroom was “with them” suggests something like “Immanuel” (Matt. 1:23), “God with us!” Furthermore Jews often spoke of the kingdom of God as a wedding feast. All in all, this parable makes it clear that Jesus is the central figure of the promised kingdom of God, that the Kingdom is in some sense present and that Jesus’ disciples enjoy life in that Kingdom here and now. It would be unreasonable to expect them to mourn. Only when the bridegroom is “taken away,” a hint about Jesus’ destiny of death, will they fast out of genuine sorrow.

Maintaining the theme of the wedding feast — a new garment and wine were essential to such a celebration — Jesus developed His reply in the little parables of the patch and of the wineskins. Both share a common point: the fundamental incompatibility between the old order of Judaism and the new order of God’s Kingdom that came in Jesus. The kingdom of God can neither be added to Judaism (as a patch) nor confined within it (as new wine).

Sabbath in a Wheatfield (23–28)
One Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples picked and ate grain as they made their way through the fields. The Law (Deut. 23:25) allowed this. However, the rabbis said plucking grain was “reaping,” one of the acts they considered “work” and hence forbidden on the Sabbath (Ex. 34:21). Jesus defended Himself and His men with three arguments.

• Scripture — The priests in David’s day gave the king and his men the showbread to eat (1 Sam. 21:1–9). Only priests were supposed to eat it. Because Scripture did not condemn David for eating it, however, it seems the law (the Old Testament) itself recognized that human need overrides ceremonial law. Jesus’ disciples broke no biblical law (cf. Lev. 24:5–9) but only the Pharisees’ interpretation.

• Principle — God made the Sabbath not to burden man but to benefit him. If God meant the day to meet human need, then meeting human need was the best way to keep it.

• Authority — In His role as “Son of Man,” Jesus claimed authority over the Sabbath to determine what is appropriate (or inappropriate) behavior on it. If Jesus of Nazareth is then Lord of the Lord’s Day, then He must be the Lord Himself.

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