Mark (6): Jesus Confronts the Temple: 2:1-12

Mark 2:1-3:6 present a series of stories of rising conflict between Jesus and the power structure of Israel. New Exodus shakes things up and evoke an inevitable and unmistakable response. Perception of Jesus’ threat escalates culminating in a pow wow between the Pharisees and Herodians (strange bedfellows there!) to do away with him.

We start with his challenge to the temple and its keepers.

The crush around Jesus continues. The crowds find out where he is, surround the house to him preach the Word. Four men bring a crippled mate on a pallet, climb to the roof, dig through it, and lower the man on the pallet into Jesus’ presence. On the faith of the four friends who made such a persistent and herculean effort to get the man to Jesus, he declares him forgiven before he can say anything for himself (v.5).

An individualistic faith searching for personal forgiveness and life after death with God will never understand what is happening in this story. Such folk worry about how Jesus could forgive without a request from the man himself or some expression of his faith. Or how he can accept the faith of others on behalf of this crippled man. Such questions implode themselves because they question the plain sense of this text.

Jesus does forgive on the faith of the friends who bring their crippled friend to him. Whether the crippled man has faith or not is not mentioned and is not a factor in the story. It is the faith of the community Mark is interested in. Within such a faith-filled community the gracious power of Jesus flows freely.

And within a community where the gracious power of Jesus flows remarkable things happen. Like the restoration of a physically disabled person, an outsider, unproductive and inevitably poor, and often suspicious because sin and sickness were often linked in people’s minds, to a fully functioning member of the community. Within the laws and mores of ancient Israel, sin could only be forgiven in the temple by priests who also where those who certified healings. By forgiving and healing this man’s sins and body Jesus challenged both the role of the temple and the primacy of the priests. He is the New Temple of the New Exodus and in his temple everyone, especially those left out and marginalized by the world, are welcomed and restored too full humanity.

The scribes object, not surprisingly. Myers’ comment is apt: “This is not a defense of God’s sovereignty but of their own social power, since as interpreters of Torah they control how sin is defined. As in the previous episode, Jesus unilaterally bypasses public authority in order to liberate human life” (“Say to this Mountain,” 19).   

The temple and its ideology often became a lever of power for the temple leadership. Not for nothing did the Essenes declare the institution bankrupt and ripe for divine judgment and head to Qumran to await it from a distance. Jesus shares this distrust and actively places himself in opposition to it as a one-person Counter-Temple movement though he does not flee to the countryside as the Essenes did.

The healing of this fellow should not be read, I think, simply as a act of power that proves Jesus can forgive sins. Rather, his ability to heal the paralytic is a sign of the nature of the revolution God’s New Exodus brings. That means the end is nigh for the temple and a new order is being born in this man.

And perhaps something equally as radical too. We’ll get into that in the next post.

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