Questions of Discipline

In Mark’s gospel this week, Jesus answers a controversy about spiritual discipline such as fasting. John’s followers and the Pharisees fasted in anticipation of the Messiah. The lack of this popular practice on the part of Jesus’ inner circle scandalised both groups.   Jesus answered with three images: the joy of the wedding feast, the repair of a worn cloth and the proper storage of wine in wineskins. 

In the time of Jesus, the presence of the groom marked the beginning of the wedding feast, a rich Scriptural sign of the Kingdom. The last two images contrasted the old with the new. Old cloth required stretched cloth for proper mending. New wine requires new wineskins to allow for proper fermenting of the wine and expansion of the skins. Jesus used the controversy to highlight Himself (bridegroom) and His message (new cloth and new wine). He was unique on the scene; His preaching differed from that of John and the Pharisees. Both groups anticipated the Kingdom; he embodied that reality.

Later, in the passages from Mark, Jesus discussed Sabbath duty with the Pharisees. As rural inhabitants, Jesus and His followers from Galilee had a looser interpretation of that duty than the stricter Pharisees who lived in the cities. But, there was a deeper controversy than simply rural vs. urban ways; this controversy was a struggle over the nature and application of the Law, specifically what it meant to be “kosher.”

Jesus seemed to goad the Pharisees into a rabbinical debate but they did not respond, and for good reason. In the controversy from Mark 2:23-28, he laid out a principle (“the Sabbath was made for man”) and a new authority (“the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath”).  In the question to do good on the Sabbath He asserted both, for the question was rhetorical. There was no restriction on doing good in the Torah and, specifically, none against healing on the seventh day. So, why did He ask the question beyond proof of His power and the stature of humanity on the Lord’s day?  The question challenged His opponents to look beyond their egos as experts in the Law and see something greater was present. But it grieved Him to see their lack of faith. They interpreted His question and His healing as insults to their positions. They felt shamed and so left to conspire against Him.

Have you felt your faith challenged by the words and actions of others? Should we set any prejudice aside, to see the good they might be trying to do?



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