POLITICS MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS, the saying goes. So does religion – or to be more precise in terms of Mark’s story [in Mark 3:1-6], so does opposition to Jesus’ interpretation of sabbath. The text singles out two otherwise estranged groups united by such opposition: Pharisees and Herodians.
Pharisees served as leaders for those who viewed the heart of Judaism to be faithful adherence to the Jewish law or Torah. During and since the time of exile, sabbath keeping emerged as central to both Torah observance and Jewish identity. The Pharisees were not some fringe group in Judaism, religious extremists akin to the political fanatics who came to be known as Zealots. The Gospels sometimes overstate the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees. . . .When the early church and Judaism began to take increasingly separate paths, the church (and the writers of the New Testament materials) sought to trace their differences with Pharisaic Judaism to Jesus’ relationships with the Pharisees.
The truth is, Jesus and the Pharisees were not that far apart. The Pharisee Nicodemus declared to Jesus that “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” Other Pharisees warned Jesus of the danger posed to him by Herod Antipas (Luke 13:31). …Jesus’ teachings about keeping the law in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17-20) reflect the essence of the Pharisees’ teachings. …
The pairing of Pharisees and Herodians seems like a match made anywhere but in heaven. At best, Herodians paid lip service to Torah observance. The law certainly did not restrain their titular head, Herod Antipas, from marrying a woman who was both his niece and sister-in-law. But like the elite of any day, their overriding goal was to maintain the status quo, seeing as how they balanced on top of that heap. Any unrest, civil or religious, would not be appreciated. The perceived undermining of a bedrock societal foundation like sabbath keeping would have been most unwelcome. As a result, an unspecified number of Pharisees and Herodians conspire to destroy Jesus. …
This encounter that unleashes rejection by some religious and civil leaders of Jesus’ day merits catution in our own. Keep in mind what evoked their rejection: an innovation in established tradition by Jesus.We miss the point of this encounter if we say that since we no longer have the same scruples about observing sabbath, that this story is just about an ancient Jewish issue. Friends, it is a Christian problem too. Innovation in tradition can be a problem for any religious tradition, especially those where the lines between religious and civil authorities blur. Rejection came then because Jesus rocked the boat. Rejection still is apt to come now when we open our lives and churches to something more than a “gentle Jesus meek and mild.”
– John Indermark
From pages 58-60 of Gospeled Lives: Encounters with Jesus, A Lenten Study by John Indermark. Copyright © 2008 by John Indermark. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books. http://bookstore.upperroom.org/ Learn more about or purchase this book.
Where is Jesus, and hopefully the church, rocking the boat? Share your thoughts.
Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.
Mark 14:9, NRSV
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This week we remember: Joseph (March 19).
(Courtesy of Vanderbilt Divinity Library)
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