blog 2Move Two:

Mark has said some important things about Jesus up to this point in his Gospel.

The basic premise of the Gospel? “Jesus is the Messiah” … “Jesus is the Christ.” Mark understood he had a great deal of work to do in defining those terms. He knew “Messiah” meant different things to different people; the title conjured up different hopes and ambitions.

It took Mark an entire book to communicate what “Messiah” really meant.

Whatever the definition of “Messiah” or “Christ,” the Jesus who claimed those titles was a powerful, popular figure at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. He burst on the scene, he drew the crowds, he wowed people with his words and works. Everyone was amazed by him and came running to be in his presence.

But as Chapter Two begins, something changes. The story shifts. From Mark 2:1-3:6, Mark tells five stories (in a row) of Jesus saying or doing something that gets him in trouble. Every time he turns around, he bumps into resistance and refusal and rejection. Before, everyone was amazed. Now, a certain group of people are offended and alarmed. Mark’s emphasis tilts from descriptions of a “popular” Christ to the portrayal of a “controversial” Christ. Because Jesus was such a powerful and popular figure, he provoked a powerfully hostile response. With the crowds and his disciples, Jesus remained popular. But in the eyes of a few—the religious leaders who were growing more concerned by the minute—Jesus was showing himself to be dangerous, threatening, and a potential heretic.

Many still loved him. But not all. Not by a long-shot.

Of Tax Collectors and Sinners

The second story Mark tells in this ‘controversy’ section (Mark 2:13-17) is set in another home. Jesus is sitting at table, surrounded by a motley crew. Nefarious characters with shady reputations. Tax collectors and sinners. Women of easy virtue. Men of dubious moral and legal history. And Jesus sits with them in complete ease. He shares their bread and wine. He laughs at their jokes. He speaks with and listens to them as though they are real people, people who matter, people whose lives count.

The Pharisees, witnesses to this fiasco, don’t like it one bit. “This is not how holy people conduct themselves. These are not the sorts of people to waste time on if you’re serious about righteousness. We would never behave this way! Why is Jesus condoning them with his presence? Why is he permitting them to pollute his soul with theirs?” The Pharisees questions make their way to the ears of the disciples. One of them whispers these questions in the ear of Jesus.

Perhaps Jesus has to excuse himself from the table to take a restroom break and cannot resist a quick remark. Perhaps he can no longer endure their scandalized, judgmental stares and their snide comments to each other. Whatever the reason, he will not leave them standing outside the house with their arms crossed and their brows furrowed. He walks over to them, stands for a quiet moment, and then gives his answer.

Gesturing to the house, he says, “It’s the sick who need the doctor, not the well. You despise the sick for being sick. You think yourselves so much better than the sick. I don’t make that mistake. My calling is to minister to those who recognize their need and come to me for help. Do you recognize your need? Do you want my help?”

They sneer in answer, a question beneath response. You can almost hear them muttering as they turn away. Jesus shakes his head sadly and walks back to the eager patients waiting for him inside the house.

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