What Did You Expect?: Mark 3:1-6


Again he entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched him closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up here before us.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

What was it about the Pharisees? Why did they have it in for Jesus? The answer may scare us!

It’s hard to understand though, just where they were at, without a little background of the sects of 1st century Judaism.

We are fairly familiar with two; the Pharisees(of course) and the Sadducees (mentioned in the New Testament, Matt. 16:6, Mk. 12:18). Another sect (mentioned in this passage) is the Herodians. There were also the Essenes, the Zealots(of which Simon the disciple came, Lu. 6:15) and the Samaritans (Jn. 4:9).

One of the things I find fascinating, is the “history” behind which these sects are formed. It’s not unlike Christianity today, in that what started out unified, is now splintered into “denominations” and like Judaism in the first centuries before Christ, came the rise of “remnant theology.”

Remnant Theology was developed during and coming out of the Exile. Mainline Jews declared that God would preserve a faithful remnant of His people, who would be the seed of the “new” Israel. For the first time in their history, they entertained the notion that not all Jews were “chosen”. During the Exile, synagogues had been built all over and rabbis (at least those well versed in Torah) expounded on their view of what it said. So in Exile, as these different sects formed, and rabbis with different views taught Torah, they came out with different “interpretations” of what the Hebrew Scriptures said. Of course, like today, more than one sect, considered itself to be the “faithful remnant of God”. This is the mind-set of the sects of Judaism prior to and at the time of Jesus.

The Pharisees descended from a group called the Hasideans. During the time of the Maccabees they are referred to as, mighty warriors of Israel, all who offered themselves willingly for the law(I Macc. 2:42). After the Maccabean revolt, during the time of the Hasmoneans (when John Hyrcanus named himself king and priest in 135 B.C.) The Pharisees emerged from this sect, as master interpreters of the oral traditions of the rabbis. Most Pharisees came from middle class families of artisans and tradesmen (as St. Paul was a tent maker). The historian Josephus observed that when the Jewish people faced an important decision, they relied on the opinion of the Pharisees, rather than that of the king or the high priest (Antiquities, Bk.XII, Chap.X Sect. 5 ). Because they were esteemed so highly by the people, they were often chosen for high government positions, such as the Sanhedrin. Could this be a/the reason why they feared Jesus so, His ability to draw large crowds ? Of all the sects of Judaism, the Pharisees were more in line with Jesus’ teachings on the resurrection of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the wicked.

Now why, as we read in our text for this week, did the Pharisees go out and take counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death?

Not much is known about Herodian beliefs as a sect. We do know that they were basicly a political group, made up of Jews from various religious sects. As their name suggests, they supported the dynasty of King Herod the Great, and some scholars believe that they may have taught that indeed, Herod was the Messiah (though there is no hard evidence to support this veiw). But, if this were true, The Pharisees could certainly count on the Herodians to help dispel this Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah, not only from the religious side, but from the political side as well.

One thing is for sure though. Jesus was not  the Messiah they were expecting! And the Pharisees, the Herodians (as well as all the other sects) reacted just as they had every other time before. When some self-proclaimed, or people anointed “messiah” came along, they got rid of him by any means possible – even if that meant using the hated Roman authority.

So, what does all that have to do with us?

Plenty!

Do we think of Jesus in a one way only kind of faith? In other words, do we put God in a box? One that He couldn’t possibly work out of? Is He not what you expected, and you’ve made Him into what you did expect?

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Expectation of the Messiah and his Spirit
 

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“Behold, I am doing a new thing.” Two prophetic lines were to develop, one leading to the expectation of the Messiah, the other pointing to the announcement of a new Spirit. They converge in the small Remnant, the people of the poor, who await in hope the “consolation of Israel” and “the redemption of Jerusalem.”We have seen earlier how Jesus fulfills the prophecies concerning himself. We limit ourselves here to those in which the relationship of the Messiah and his Spirit appears more clearly.
712
The characteristics of the awaited Messiah begin to appear in the “Book of Emmanuel” (“Isaiah said this when he saw his glory,” speaking of Christ), especially in the first two verses of Isaiah 11:

    There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
    And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
713    The Messiah’s characteristics are revealed above all in the “Servant songs.” These songs proclaim the meaning of Jesus’ Passion and show how he will pour out the Holy Spirit to give life to the many: not as an outsider, but by embracing our “form as slave.” Taking our death upon himself, he can communicate to us his own Spirit of life.
714
This is why Christ inaugurates the proclamation of the Good News by making his own the following passage from Isaiah:
    The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me,
    because the LORD has anointed me
    to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
    he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
    to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
    to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.
715
The prophetic texts that directly concern the sending of the Holy Spirit are oracles by which God speaks to the heart of his people in the language of the promise, with the accents of “love and fidelity.” St. Peter will proclaim their fulfillment on the morning of Pentecost. According to these promises, at the “end time” the Lord’s Spirit will renew the hearts of men, engraving a new law in them. He will gather and reconcile the scattered and divided peoples; he will transform the first creation, and God will dwell there with men in peace. 
716        The People of the “poor”—those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah—are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming. It is this quality of heart, purified and enlightened by the Spirit, which is expressed in the Psalms. In these poor, the Spirit is making ready “a people prepared for the Lord.”

Maybe we need to use our time this week, to re-examine who Jesus the Messiah is, in our own lives.

Is He the long awaited Messiah, or is He only what you were expecting the “messiah” to be?

Amen.

Lord Of The Sabbath: Mark 2:23-28


As he was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Jesus faces yet another question by the Pharisees; “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” This time in His answer, he uses an example from scripture about David and his companions from I Sam. 21:2-7. Let’s take a look;

David went to Ahimelech, the priest of Nob, who came trembling to meet him and asked, “Why are you alone? Is there no one with you?” David answered the priest: “The king gave me a commission and told me to let no one know anything about the business on which he sent me or the commission he gave me. For that reason I have arranged a meeting place with my men. Now what have you on hand? Give me five loaves, or whatever you can find.” But the priest replied to David, “I have no ordinary bread on hand, only holy bread; if the men have abstained from women, you may eat some of that.” David answered the priest: “We have indeed been segregated from women as on previous occasions. Whenever I go on a journey, all the young men are consecrated–even for a secular journey. All the more so today, when they are consecrated at arms!” So the priest gave him holy bread, for no other bread was on hand except the showbread which had been removed from the LORD’S presence and replaced by fresh bread when it was taken away.

Now, exactly what does this have to do with the Sabbath? Let us see why Jesus ties these together.

First, Jesus addresses the issue of lawfulness. This is why He brings in the example of David and his companions. David’s dilemma was hunger. Jesus’ disciples were no doubt hungry too, picking the heads of grain an activity of “work,” and the Sabbath called for “rest.” Thus, the parallel is drawn, that King David did what was not “lawful” as well, when he and his companions were hungry. Jesus’ point is that sometimes, for the well being of others, the letter of the law may be broken, but the spirit of the law remains in tact. We see this principle taught throughout Jesus’ ministry. That our love and concern for others is second only  to the love we are to have for God.

To realize God’s love and mercy in our own lives means we share that love and mercy with others, especially in their time of need. If this happens on a Sabbath, would God be more pleased if we ignored our brothers need and worshiped and rested? Or would our help be considered and act of worship to God – showing His love toward others? Clearly, Jesus is teaching the latter.

This leads us to His second point; the issue of the Sabbath itself.

The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. This is a very telling statement.

We, as humans, tend to look at rules as negatives and not positives. “Why can’t I do this?” and “Why can’t we do that?” “Why do I have to do it this way?” But let’s really look at this statement, even recalling Ex. 20:8, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”, and examine it in a positive light.

The sabbath was made for man… Man needs rest. He needs reflection and rejuvenation. It is good for his body, mind and spirit. Spiritually speaking, he also needs to take time to worship, adore and praise the Creator. For we see that God, even though not needing rest, provided an example of rest for us to follow. Again, it being for our good.

not man for the sabbath. God didn’t create us because the Sabbath needed us. It was because we needed the sabbath. We are creatures with very short memories. It wasn’t very long after walking through the Red Sea on dry land, that the people turned from God an made an idol, was it? What a mighty work by the hand of God, witnessed to, and so quickly forgotten. Sacred Scripture is filled with example after example of our forgetfulness, when it comes to the things of God.

So the Sabbath is an opportunity for us to rest, recall, and worship. If the Sabbath is kept to fulfill a law or a religious obligation, it is done in vain and therefore, worthless. This is the heart of Jesus’ message.

There is also a third point I’d like to bring up.

…the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.

As we’ve seen from the very beginning of St. Mark’s gospel, Jesus has authority over….well, everything! His teaching, His healing of the sick, His casting out of demons, all demonstrated His authority. Jesus now states His authority over the sabbath.

Often, a question will arise, about the Sabbath. Should it be celebrated on Saturday, as in the Old Covenant or Sunday, as we do today? The answer is simple, really. It all begins with the authority of Jesus. The authority He has, He passed on the the apostles and His Church. Particularly, when they understood the meaning of Christ’s Resurrection, as a fulfillment of the Old Testament, a “new creation” and the “eighth day.”

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:

  348

 The sabbath is at the heart of Israel’s law. To keep the commandments is to correspond to the wisdom and the will of God as expressed in his work of creation.

 349

The eighth day. But for us a new day has dawned: the day of Christ’s Resurrection. The seventh day completes the first creation. The eighth day begins the new creation. Thus, the work of creation culminates in the greater work of redemption. The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendor of which surpasses that of the first creation.

 The day of the Resurrection: the new creation
 2174

Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week.” Because it is the “first day,” the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the “eighth day” following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica)—Sunday:

We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.   (St. Justin, I Apol. 67: PG 6, 429 and 432)

 Sunday—fulfillment of the sabbath

    2175

Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ’s Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man’s eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ:

Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the sabbath, but the Lord’s Day, in which our life is blessed by him and by his death.   (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Magn. 9, 1: SCh 10, 88.)

2176

The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship “as a sign of his universal beneficence to all.” Sunday worship fulfills the moral command of the Old Covenant, taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people.

 If, indeed, Jesus hadn’t left His authority to His Church, the day of the Sabbath celebration couldn’t have been changed at all….period! Because as Jesus clearly stated, That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.

So this week, let us realize the significance of the “new creation” and the “eighth day.” The Resurrection of Jesus, fulfills all the promises of the Old Covenant and ushers in the New Covenant, for Jesus is indeed the lord of the sabbath. He should be Lord of our lives – thoughts and actions. Realizing He left His Church with the authority to help us recall and celebrate “the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.” (CCC 2177)

Amen.