In the next few readings from Mark this week the Pharisees challenge Jesus. His hungry disciples eat some grain from a field on a Sabbath day. (Mark 2: 23-28} Then, in a synagogue on a Sabbath Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. (Mark 3: 1-6) The Pharisees object and look for help from the “Herodians”.
Today the Pharisees may seem to us to be a small-minded group opposed to Jesus throughout his ministry. Yet, in his time they were seen differently. They were considered the “real” Jews, faithful people who kept the law and took care of their neighbors.They went to the synagogue, said their prayers, kept the Sabbath, and followed religious customs. They weren’t afraid to say they were Jewish, even the clothes they proudly wore told you who they were.
They were the “good Christians” of their day. They believed they saw things and did things right. But Jesus called them blind. Their blindness appears especially in the way they looked down on others. Think of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector in the temple.
We learn a great deal about faith watching the Pharisees. Faith is not simply intellectual conviction or good conduct. It’s not simply knowing your catechism and keeping the church laws. Faith leads to “boundary-breaking activity.” Think of the four men who broke through Peter’s roof to lower the paralyzed man to see Jesus; they disturbed the order of that house. Jesus’ choice of Matthew, the tax-collector, disturbed the model for leadership. Jesus healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath broke the order of that day.
Faith breaks boundaries, the Gospel of Mark indicates.
Yet, let’s not look down on the Pharisees either. We need to keep the laws and say our prayers and be proud of who we are. Actually, couldn’t we use more of that these days?