John J. Kilgallen | Sep 21 2008 - 10:15pm | 0 comments
As Mark builds his story that shows Jesus to have the powers of the Messiah, he also includes elements that go beyond miracle-working. These three stories show some of these elements. 1. Pious Jews were used to fasting, though frequent fasting was not obligatory. In this religious climate it is puzzling why Jesus’ disciples, now so interested in piety, do not fast. This wonderment gives rise to criticism of the disciples and the criticism goes straight to Jesus. His answer to this criticism goes further, as Mark wants, than just a type of legal answer. Jesus indicates two realities to consider. First, fasting was done (and so fasting is understood in this context) to hasten the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah is present; when he is again absent, then there will be reason for fasting, but not while he is present – the longing should be over and replaced with great joy. Second, this presence of the Messiah is the end of the waiting for him; there must be a new way of thinking, consonant with his presence. Old ways, like old cloth, will not satisfy anymore. 2. Picking the heads of grain so as to eat is considered a work on the Sabbath, a work forbidden. Here the Pharisees call out the disciples: they are doing something unlawful. The answer of Jesus is twofold. First, he makes an appeal to the one common Scripture accepted by all as sacred: what does it say? It tells of a time when David allowed his men to break a law regarding holiness, because they were in need, i.e. hungry. If David could do this out of a sense that a person’s need is more important than a law about external holiness, then Jesus can allow for the same. Second, Jesus announces that he, in his Messianic role, as wise King, dictates what is to be done on the Sabbath; the Sabbath does not dictate what Jesus or others are to do. It will be Jesus who will teach how to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Here we have the first of many instances where Jesus shows his own understanding of the commandment about the Sabbath. 3. Mark offers another ’Sabbath’ story. In this we have a question of what the Law of Moses (i.e. the mind of God) allows. Certainly, Jesus’ opponents see a cure on the Sabbath as breaking the Law of ’no work’ on the Sabbath; healing is clearly a ’work’. Again Jesus reveals his own thinking. He puts the healing in the context of love of neighbor, of saving life, of doing good. How can the Sabbath rest forbid doing good? Or should one, by not helping one’s neighbor, do evil, allow death? The miracle is performed, but with two results. First, Jesus has given for the ages sufficient reason for the Christian’s understanding of how to keep holy the Sabbath. Second, it is his ’cavalier’ way of handling the Sabbath, of contradicting Tradition, that make people plan to destroy him. Pharisees, who hated Roman rule particularly because it was pagan, and Herodians, who feared Jesus would lead people to an uprising which would bring Rome to Israel and to the removal of Herod Antipas in Galilee – these natural enemies now join to plot the death of Jesus. A new and somber theme – death – has been introduced already in Chapter 3; it will come to fruition soon. John Kilgallen, S.J.