Conflict with the Authorities

October 15, 2017

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Gospel of Mark

19th Sunday after Pentecost

Conflict with the Authorities

Mark 2:1-3:6

          A man consulted a doctor. “I’ve been misbehaving, Doc, and my conscience is troubling me,” he complained. “and you want something that will strengthen your will power?” asked the doctor. “Well, no,” the man said, “I was thinking of something that would weaken my conscience.”

There is also the story of a taxpayer who needed to ease his conscience. He wrote to the Internal Revenue Service, “I have not been able to sleep well for two years. Here is my check for $1,200 for back taxes.” He even signed his name, then added a short P.S. “If I don’t sleep better in a week, I will send you another $1,200.” You see, he had to do something to relieve his guilt, but he didn’t want to do too much.

Today’s scripture stories bring together the ideas of sin and a troubled conscience. In the days of Jesus, it was not uncommon for people to connect suffering and illness with sin. Sin can be confining because of the guilt that many times goes along with it, and guilt can eat away at us. Therefore, guilt can grow and grow and become somewhat paralyzing. It can cause us physical problems. In one way or another guilt can become a prison for the consciences of those sinners who continue to be troubled by their misbehavior.

In our stories today, Jesus comes in conflict with the religious authorities as he goes about forgiving sins and healing those with physical problems. Jesus seems to defy the many religious laws and teachings of the Jews as he goes about his ministry of proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus seems to be revolutionary in his teaching, something that is hard to understand for Jewish religious authorities of his time. It is in these conflicts, early on, that Jesus seems to seal his fate as he moves toward the cross. Would you pray with me?


Back in the 1980’s, the Minnesota Twins had this description of the game of baseball in their program.

“You have two sides, one out in the field, and one in. Each man that’s on the side that’s in, goes out and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When three men are out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in, goes out and tries to get those coming in, out.”

“When both sides have been in and out nine times including the not outs, that’s the end of the game.” Baseball can be a confusing game. There are so many rules to understand that it can be hard on new players. And then the program stated, “It’s better just to play the game, you’ll soon pick up all the right rules.”

That is what our scripture today is about, rules. Hundreds of years of rules. In fact, too many rules for people to follow. There are the 619 commandments of God given to the Hebrew people and then there are the many teachings and rules about those commandments given by many different rabbis, Pharisees, and scribes.

But when Jesus came on the scene, we can truthfully say that he was a rule breaker. Who else could be more familiar with the commandments of God and their intended meaning that Jesus, the Son of God? Jesus knows how the teachers of the law have placed unbearable burdens on the Hebrew people over the years in complying with the commandments of God. It is because of these rules that Jesus comes into conflict with the religious authorities.

The Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible was about the law of God. Now, with the coming of Jesus, a new revelation is given. In fact, it is a revolution to the old way of thinking. Jesus’ teaching is about the love of God. That is what the New Testament is about, the love of God.

The first story we encounter in Chapter 2, verses 1-13, is a familiar one to many of us. You may know this story from your time in Sunday School. Jesus is now back in a home in Capernaum. The homes were very open in that day. When morning came, the front doors would be opened and it was natural for people to wander in and out of the homes. And so, Jesus is at a home and people have gathered around to hear his teaching.

A man, who is paralyzed is brought to Jesus. The paralyzed man’s four friends go the extra mile in making sure that their friend gets to Jesus. The only way they can get him to Jesus is through the mud roof of the house. Now, the roof of a Palestinian house was flat and was regularly used as a place of rest and of quiet, and so usually there was an outside stair which ascended to it. The friends made an opening that could be easily patched between the roof beams and lowered the man to Jesus.

When Jesus sees their faith in him, Jesus says to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Remember, illness was thought to be caused by the sins of the individual. Therefore, if his sins are forgiven, then the man will be healed. The basic and universal affliction of humankind is not paralysis but sin. Sins are real and they blind us to our identity as children of God and make us deaf to the Word of forgiveness.

The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, know about this man Jesus. They have dealt with false prophets before. Therefore, they have scribes and Pharisees constantly scouting out the movements and teachings of Jesus. The scribes realize that Jesus has just forgiven the paralyzed man’s sins, something that they believe could only be done by God. For any human to claim to do this is to insult God. This is blasphemy in the eyes of the scribes and the penalty for blasphemy is death by stoning. But Jesus knows what they are thinking and throws them a challenge: Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? Jesus speaks the word and the man is healed.

The experts in the law are caught at their own game. They know that the man could not be cured, unless he was forgiven. He is cured, therefore he is forgiven. Therefore, Jesus’ claim to forgive sin must be true. You and I both know that Jesus left the scribes baffled.

In the next story with the call of Levi, known as Matthew, to be a disciple, Jesus once again flings down the gauntlet of defiance. Not only does he call the most hated of men, a tax collector, to be his disciple, but Jesus has dinner with him as well. Even though he is Jewish, Matthew collects taxes for Rome and the Jews hate tax collectors. The tax collectors have a reputation for taking more than they need in order to add to their own wealth. Of course, since Matthew didn’t observe all the rules and regulations of the orthodox Pharisees, much like the common masses of people, he is considered a sinner.

Therefore, it is forbidden for any of the law abiders or rabbis, like Jesus, to have anything to do with these people. By going to Matthew’s house and sitting at his table and keeping company with his friends, Jesus is defying the orthodox conventions of his day. The scribes once again let Jesus know he is in conflict with the authorities. Jesus’ answer, I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. That too is our mission; to go where the people need to hear the good news about Jesus. You and I can’t spend all our time serving those who already are saved and know Jesus. It is our mission to find those who do not have a relationship with Jesus.

And then, to pour more salt in the wound, the Pharisees question why Jesus and his disciples do not fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You see, the fast was from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and after that normal food could be eaten. The Pharisees did it mostly to call attention to themselves for their goodness. They would actually whiten their faces and rumple their garments on their fast days so that no one could miss the fact that they were fasting and others could admire their devotion. But Jesus uses a vivid picture of a Jewish wedding to tell the Pharisees why his disciples do not fast.

A Jewish wedding was a week of continual feasting and rejoicing in an otherwise hard life. While the wedding was being celebrate, Jewish men were exempted from the rules of fasting and all religious observances which would lessen their joy. Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to miss a minute with him as he teaches and heals. After all, Jesus knows that the time is coming when he will be taken away to the cross.

Jesus then gives two teachings in verses 21 and 22 about the startlingly new messages he is giving to his followers. These teachings are much different from the orthodox Rabbinic ones. Jesus knows how difficult it is for human minds to accept and to entertain new truth and so he uses the illustrations of the new cloth patch and of putting new wine into old wineskins.

You see, when a new patch is put on an old garment and it gets wet, the new patch shrinks, and being much stronger than the old, it tears the old apart. Likewise, when new wine is put into an old wineskin, the new wine, while still fermenting, gives off gases that eventually explode the old wineskin. Both the wine and the wineskin would be lost. Jesus is pleading for these Pharisees and scribes to not be set in their ways, but to be open to new truths and to contemplate new ways for the love of God to act in people’s lives.

And lastly, in our final two stories, the harvesting in the field and the healing of the man’s withered hand, both done on the Sabbath, Jesus once again comes into conflict with the authorities. Any kind of work is forbidden on the Sabbath. Work was classified under thirty-nine different regulations, and four of these were reaping, winnowing, threshing and preparing a meal. By what the disciples do, picking the ears of corn, they are breaking these four rules. To the Jewish Rabbis it is a matter of deadly sin and of life and death. This issue was important to the Jews because by keeping the Sabbath the Jews identified themselves as a people obedient to God.

But Jesus knows that human need takes precedence over human and even divine law. Jesus doesn’t want men and women to be enslaved by and victims of the Sabbath. In fact, God made the Sabbath to make our lives better. Folks, religion does not consist in rules and regulations. Jesus wants people to know there is more to religion than Sunday observance for Christians. If it is just about going to church and abstaining from work and pleasure on Sunday, then being a Christian would be easy.

But it is so much more. It is about love and forgiveness and service and mercy that are at the heart of religion. Christianity has always consisted far more in doing things than in refraining from doing things. The best way to use sacred things is to use them to help one another.

Jesus answers the Pharisees, The Sabbath was made for [humankind], and not [humankind] for the Sabbath. This same holds true when Jesus heals a man’s withered hand in the synagogue. Once again, all work is forbidden on the Sabbath, and to heal is to work. Medical attention can only be given if a life is in danger, and this is no emergency. But Jesus brings the man forward in the synagogue so that no one can doubt what he is going to do. He is making the point once again, that people are more important than human made rules and regulations. This is not what God had intended. And the man’s hand is restored. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.

Once again, Jesus is in conflict with the authorities, and their response? Our scripture says, The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy [Jesus]. To the Pharisees, religion was ritual. To Jesus, religion was service. It was love of God and love of others.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, here is what we learn from these stories today. Jesus, the servant has much to offer us. First, Jesus offers us forgiveness. He offered forgiveness to the paralyzed man. His sins were burdening him so much that it kept him from being in service to his community. Sin is certainly like sickness and when we are forgiven, it is like having our health restored. Jesus demonstrated this to all who were present. Jesus truly is the Savior with authority to forgive sins.

Second, Jesus offers us fulfillment. Jesus called one of the most hated men in the town, Matthew the tax collector, to be his disciple. Jesus ate with sinners. Jesus tried to open peoples’ minds to new ways of thinking. Jesus demonstrated through Matthew that he came to convert the sinners, not to compliment the self-righteous. He came to lift the burden of the Jewish rules and regulations that were weighing on his people and that were impossible to obey. Jesus came to bring joy and gladness to life when people are in a fulfilling relationship with God.

And lastly, Jesus offers us freedom. The Sabbath was cherished by the Jews as a sacred institution. So, when Jesus openly began to violate the Sabbath traditions, it was like declaring war against the religious establishment. But Jesus was more concerned with meeting the needs of the people he loved than with the man-made rituals of the Jewish law and protecting traditions. God gives us the freedom of the Sabbath to rest and to worship him.

Jesus offers us forgiveness, fulfillment, and freedom. Have you accepted his offer? If not, today is the day to give your life to him.

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