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A Year with Mark: June

A Year with Mark: June

The Jesus whom Mark shows us is not merely a gentle healer. He has no hesitation in pointing out the deviations which had seeped into the practice of Judaism. He did not fear to break the health and safety laws of hygiene and ritual by touching a leper to heal him. He would not tolerate the dominance of detailed interpretations of Sabbath practice over human needs. He protected women by outlawing the creeping ease with which wives could be dismissed by their husbands. He thrust aside the traditional teaching (qorban) which enabled children to neglect their aged parents. Most of all he showed no patience with the business which had become associated with Temple sacrifice.
The same directness is to be found in Jesus’ use of scripture: he takes the basic texts and returns to their original meaning, often with a four-point contrast: ‘What God has joined, no man may separate’ (referring to the joining of Adam and Eve at the first creation). ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’, where ‘was made’ is the constant verb of the creation-narrative in Genesis. ‘Abandoning the command of God, you exalt the tradition of men’ as he re-asserts the fourth commandment about respect for parents. ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, reverting to the first commandment of respect for God. Furthermore, each time he goes beyond the expectations of his listeners to reach a new level of true understanding of the Word of God.
On other occasions Jesus teaches by questions. His opponents put to him a question. He replies with his own question. They reply with an inadequate answer. He clinches with a deeper answer than ever they wanted. So when they challenge him about the source of his authority, he replies with the challenge of John the Baptist’s authority. When they ask for a ruling on divorce, he replies by asking for Moses’ ruling. When they seek to trap him into disloyalty to the Emperor, he ripostes by citing their own disloyalty to God.
The opponents are often the Pharisees or the scribes (their legal experts), and yet one wonders just how deep the hostility went between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus uses the same methods of argument, the same scriptural basis and often the same codified rules of interpretation – hence the praise he receives for this argument over the Great Commandment. Are the disagreements fierce controversies or in-house discussions? Was Jesus himself a Pharisee, but an independent-minded Pharisee? Two other factors must be remembered: the Pharisees took no part in the arrest and trial of Jesus; the scribes and Pharisees are not mentioned at all after Mark 12.40. Secondly, by the time the Gospels came to be written, after the Sack of Jerusalem in 70ad, the only Jewish opposition to Christians came from the Pharisees. Bitter hostility at this later date may well have influenced the tone of the story-telling.

by Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB

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