Miracles in Mark: Jesus At Odds With The Bible

Miracles in Mark Part 3: Jesus Is At Odds with the Bible

Mark 3:1-6

July 14-15, 2012

When I was growing up,

our family had a rather strict view of Sundays – which of course was the Sabbath for us.

We adhered to the “no work on Sunday” view.

No work meant no practicing the piano – in my mind that was a good deal!

It meant no laundry for my mother and no mowing the lawn for my father.

But it also meant no to doing anything that required others to work – so no going bowling with the Luther League, no shopping, no going out to eat.

I remember trying to convince my mother in high school

that using my new sewing machine was fun and not work –

I grinned widely as I ran a hem to show her… See how much fun this is?

She didn’t believe me.

Sunday meant no sewing machine.

Now I think my parents’ understanding of the Sabbath was strict,

but Jewish law was even more strict about the Sabbath.

Rabbis had a list of “forty minus one” categories of labor which were forbidden on the Sabbath.

Count them![i]  It was forbidden for:

  1. one who sows,
  2. ploughs,
  3. reaps,
  4. binds sheaves,
  5. threshes,
  6. winnows,
  7. selects [fit from unfit produce      or crops],
  8. grinds,
  9. sifts,
  10. kneads,
  11. bakes,
  12. one who shears wool,
  13. washes it,
  14. beats it,
  15. dyes it,
  16. spins,
  17. weaves,
  18. makes two loops,
  19. weaves two threads,
  20. separates two threads,
  21. ties,
  22. unties,
  23. sews two stitches,
  24. tears in order to sew two      stitches,
  25. one who traps a deer,
  26. slaughters it,
  27. flays it,
  28. salts it,
  29. cures its hide,
  30. scrapes it,
  31. and cuts it up,
  32. one who writes two letters,
  33. erases two letters in order to      write two letters
  34. one who builds,
  35. tears down,
  36. one who put out a fire,
  37. kindles a fire
  38. one who hits with a hammer
  39. one who transports an object from      one domain to another:These are the forty categories of labor less one.

You may have noticed that “healing” per se is not on the list.

But the rabbis interpreted and interpreted the law for different circumstances as they came up,

and by the time Jesus was  around, the rabbis had declared that keeping the Sabbath

also meant no healing on the Sabbath unless it was a matter of life or death.

And the penalty for breaking the Sabbath?

The penalty was death.

So Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath,

and there is a man who has a withered hand.

Those in the synagogue are watching closely.

Marks say that they are watching “to see whether he will cure him, so that….”

So that what?
So that they can thank him?

Not quite…

Mark says they watch to see whether he will cure him, “so that they might accuse him.”

It almost seems like the man with the withered hand might have been a plant.

Like they might have offered him some money to be there,

so they can see what Jesus will do.

They are watching to see if there are grounds for the death penalty.

They know Jesus’ reputation by now; they know he’s been going around healing people,

Will he deliberately break the law and do it on the Sabbath?

                                And in the synagogue no less?

Most of our Bibles put a heading on this section, “The Man with a Withered Hand,”

but it’s a misnomer.

This story is really not about the man at all.

If it were about the man,

we might hear about some compassion about him for his predicament.

If it were about the man,

we might hear about how members of the synagogue

brought him forward to Jesus themselves to encourage his healing.

If it were about the man,

we might hear the overwhelming gratitude of the assembly,

when he recovered functioning again.

This is not a story of “The Man With a Withered Hand.”

He is just a tool.

It’s really a story called, “Jesus Breaks the Law,”

or even more provocatively, “Jesus Disses  the Holy Book of God.”

You’ve heard the phrase,

“The Bible says it.  I believe it.  That settles it.”

Apparently it’s not a phrase Jesus lived by.

Jesus knew the Hebrew Bible.

Surely he could recite the command from Exodus 20: “On the seventh day you shall do no work.”

Certainly Jesus knew that the rabbis had declared that  in keeping this commandment,

one should attempt to heal on the Sabbath only if life was endangered.

“Good Jews” followed this tradition.

The man’s life was not endangered.

Jesus could have waited until the next day, could he not?

(Whenever my father complained that the grass was getting too long,

and he wanted to cut in on Sunday,

my mother would remind him, “It’ll be there on Monday too.”)

Would it have made a difference for Jesus to tell the man,

“Here’s my card – give me a call first thing tomorrow and we’ll set something up.”?

According to Jesus, it did make a difference.

Jesus needed to heal the man on the Sabbath.

He needed to put the Bible and biblical law into perspective.

By healing on the Sabbath, Jesus says, “Let’s put the Word of God into context.”

“Sure the 10 Commandments are important.

Sure keeping the Sabbath is important –

–          I believe with my whole heart the gift of Sabbath.

But here is a man – a man who is suffering.

Here is a human being who at this moment needs to know the gift of God’s love,

far more than the gift of the law.

Jesus effectively tells the synagogue leaders,

biblical law is not meant to trump compassion;

law does not trump gospel;

Jewish tradition does not win over grace.

When someone is hurting, one helps – even if it’s on the Sabbath – even if it means breaking one of the 10 commandments!

And so Jesus deliberately breaks the law –

and not just any law – he breaks God’s law!

We’ve struggled with that issue a lot over the years as a church.

“The Bible says it. I believe it.  That settles it.”

has been a mantra for many

resulting in pain and even harm to the human beings Jesus loves.

I have a friend I met in my medical residency by the name of Tim.

I imagine that being in medical residency in many ways is a lot like working in the military,

or working in disaster response,

or being any place where you are called to do things that you could never imagine yourself doing;

where you are placed in the midst of unimaginable human suffering,

at the crossroads of life and death.

Tim and I were debriefing in the hospital cafeteria

after we had just lost a child we had been taking care of in the pediatric ICU.

We came to talking about God and suffering…and  church.

Tim grew up in rural Ohio.

He and his family belonged to a Mennonite church.

Tim loved church.

He loved to sing the beautiful four-part harmony a capella hymns

that the church loved.

Tim was gay.

Tim is gay.

He will always be gay.

As he sat in the pews on Sunday after Sunday,

Tim heard a lot of preaching.

Here’s what he remembered hearing:

“Homosexuality is an abomination to God.”

“If you are gay, there is something wrong with you –

God did not want you to be that way.”
“You could change if you want to – you need only to pray harder.”

Tim listened.

He did pray to be different.

One day after church,

and after hearing another sermon which condemned who he was,

Tim went home.

It was too much.

He was isolated from his family which did not acknowledge him,

his classmates who shunned him,

teachers who ignored the abuse,

and a pastor and congregation who told him that he was not good enough for God….

It was too much.

He could see no other way out

He wrote a note to his family,

and made plans to end his life.

For far too many gay teens,

this is the end of the story.

21% – one in five gay teens experience such suicidal thoughts.

This is five times the rate of other teens.

By the grace of God, Tim did not end his life.

Tim went on to college and medical school and residency,

and now runs a medical clinic for poor inner city kids in Springfield, MA.

But Tim says,

I will never go back to church.

I will never subject myself to sermons which preach that I am a mistake.

The God of those churches is not a God I could ever believe in.

It’s not a God I believe in either.

I wish that all teens could hear what Episcopal Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said:

He said:

“I can’t for the life of me imagine that God would say,

I will punish you because you are black;

you should have been white.

I  will punish you because you are a woman;

you should have been a man;

I punish you because you are homosexual;

you ought to have been heterosexual.

I can’t for the life of me believe that that’s how God sees things.”[ii]


“The Bible says it.  I believe it.  That settles it.”

That didn’t settle it for Jesus.

When the leaders in the synagogue insisted on biblical literalism,

Jesus “was grieved at their hardness of heart,”

and he deliberately broke biblical law.

Jesus lived a life of love trumping law;

of grace and compassion as the foremost message of the Bible.

May we love others – all others – as he did.



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