Jesus returns to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He had already rebuked his enemies with the throwaway line, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Then he added fuel to the flames by once again referring to himself as “Son of Man”–a Messianic reference. Then he made it worse by saying that he was the “Lord of the Sabbath.” When this was added to his claim to be able to forgive sins his enemies were sure that he was guilty of blasphemy.
For the Jews it was forbidden to even speak the holy name of God. To claim to be God or have the power of God was a terrible blasphemy worthy of death. So the Pharisees watched Jesus carefully to see if he would offend again. He knows they are watching and this time he breaks the Sabbath to do good. When he asks the question whether it is right to do good and save life on the Sabbath he is trying to shake them from their blind legalism to understand what the law is all about in the first place. The law is given to bring life and health–not death, but their harsh legalism has reversed the whole point of the law.
No wonder he is angry with them. Notice that Jesus IS angry. Anger is okay if it is truly righteous anger. Notice also that his anger is combined with the fact that he is grieved by their hardness of heart. This is a good test of whether your anger is legitimate. Are you angry because you or your pride is injured or you didn’t get your way, or are you angry because you know how much good God could do and other are blocking that because of their hardness of heart, sin and rebellion?
This is a constant tension within religion. We allow our ego, our plans, our intentions to push forward and we block God. We think we are doing God’s work and we insist on doing it our way. We have to step back and discern what God is doing and co operate with his grace. The worst thing about religious people is exhibited here–when they think they know the mind of God so well that they actually work against him and work with the enemy.
What proves this is that the Pharisees immediately go out and plot with the Herodians how to get rid of Jesus. The Herodians were a group of Jews who were loyal to King Herod. Herod was a patsy of the Romans. He was rich, decadent and corrupt. He put himself forward as the “King of the Jews” and heir of David, but he was a fraud and the religious Jews despised him for being a corrupt toady to the Romans. But if this scoundrel could serve their plans, the Pharisees were willing to work with him. So it is with the enemies of Christ: they might hate one another, but their shared hatred of Christ brings them together.
Now Mark gives a short summary of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He is by the seaside once again, but now the crowds are growing even greater. They are coming not only from the villages of Galilee, but from the Southern region of Judea, Jerusalem and from across the Jordan and across the sea of Galilee. Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities so now Jesus’ fame is spreading and people are flocking from the whole area of what we recognize as Palestine. The crowds of sick and demon possessed press upon him so much that he gets into a boat to pull away from them.
There are a couple of details worth pondering. What were the crowds looking for? Did they really want Jesus’ words of life? Were they hungry for his teaching and for God? Mark gives the impression that they were really only interested in being healed and seeing signs and wonders. It won’t last, and Jesus realizes that the adulation of the crowd will be fickle. They don’t really love him. They love what he gives them. Is that your attitude?
In the next passage we see the apostolic authority of the Church being established. Jesus goes “up the mountain”. This is an echo of Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments and instructions for the establishment of the nation of Israel. When Moses came down he also chose leaders for the nation of Israel. Choosing twelve indicates the establishment of the church as the New Israel–the new people of God, the twelve apostles fulfilling the twelve tribes of Israel.
Notice that Jesus gives the apostles the same striking authority that Mark was at pains to show that he had. Jesus had authority to teach the truth and cast out demons. Elsewhere we will see that he also gives the apostles the authority to forgive sins in his name and to heal the sick. This same apostolic ministry is exercised in the church today through the successors of the apostles–the bishops and their “fingers” the priests. The main job of a priest and bishop therefore is to preach the gospel, take authority over evil, heal the sick and forgive sins. That’s why only a priest may preach (or delegate to a deacon) conduct exorcisms, pronounce absolution and anoint the sick for healing.
A few other details: Peter’s name at the top of the list shows the headship of Peter over all the apostles. The fact that Mark includes his new name “Peter” (the Rock) indicates that he is placing Peter first on purpose to assert his pre-eminence. If there is any doubt about this, it is affirmed by Judas Iscariot coming last. James and John are clearly the second in command. James would go on to be the head of the Church in Jerusalem and his brother John the guardian of Mary and the Evangelist of the fourth gospel. That Mark includes their nicknames–Sons of Thunder–shows a personal touch and a memory of Peter. Then Peter’s brother Andrew is next in the top four, followed by seven more in order of priority. Judas last.
We’ll see tomorrow that this passage is followed by a conflict with Jesus’ earthly relatives. It is as if Mark is saying, “Jesus knows that even his family will turn away from him. This is his new family. These are his brothers. This is the foundation of the new people of God. His taking them up the mountain for the appointment also looks forward to his transfiguration. These mountaintop experiences are when his glory is revealed and his ultimate destiny is glimpsed. Here Jesus is presented as the second Moses–establishing the new family of God on earth.