The Naked Man – pt. 25

Fourth Century synagogue in Capernaum

Fourth Century synagogue in Capernaum

Mark was praying in the courtyard when Benyamin returned the following morning. Mark rose to greet him. “Peace be with you, my brother.” Benyamin’s lips grew thin, and as he took a deep breath Mark braced himself for another verbal onslaught. But his brother’s face suddenly sagged, and he simply responded, “And also with you, Yohannan Marcus.” Mark indicated a bowl of fruit on the table and as he took his seat, he asked, “Have you eaten?” Benyamin sat down across from him, and took a handful of dates. “We speak of peace when there is no peace. What we have here in Yerushalayim is a temporary break from fighting. Make no mistake Yohannan: the Romans will besiege us. And we will all have to fight.”

Mark regarded his brother carefully before saying, “Not all of us, brother.” Benyamin slammed his fist down on the table. “Is that why you have come? To strengthen the resolve of ‘the Way’ to refuse to take up arms?” He practically spit the name out. “We need every man, woman and child to defend the city and the Temple of our G_d. We will not endure it to be destroyed by the pagans again. If our people stand as one, then G_d will send Messiah, and the Kingdom will be restored to us forevermore.” Mark held his brother’s gaze for a long moment before gently replying, “Messiah has come, Benyamin, and with him has come the Kingdom. The Temple will fall, as Jesus Messiah foretold. The pagans once more will enact G_d’s judgment on our people for failing to keep covenant. And the Way will be here when it does – but we will not fight. We will take up the cross as our Lord did, for if we are to be saved, we must endure until the end.”

Benyamin pushed himself up from the table and looked down on his brother. Shaking his head in disgust, he turned and walked into the house. Mark looked with sadness at the doorway through which his brother had passed and then returned to prayer.

Later that night, as Mark rose to address the ecclesia, his thoughts still lay with his brief conversation with Benyamin. “As I said last night, the Pharisees kept a close eye on Jesus – especially whenever he went to the heart of their authority: the synagogue on the sabbath. And so when Jesus entered again into a synagogue, where there was a man with a withered hand, they were watching him to see if he would heal him on the sabbath, in order that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Rise and come forward.’”

Rachel spoke up. “Wasn’t that a little…provocative? If Jesus wanted to heal the man, why didn’t he just wait till he left and do it quietly somewhere else? If he knew they were watching him, why deliberately do something to make them angry?” Miryam leaned forward to respond. “Because of what the sabbath represents to the Pharisees. As all here know, the sabbath is central to our identity as Jews. For centuries we have been killed simply for being Jews, and the sabbath is our mark of resistance. By keeping the sabbath in all circumstances, we proclaim the freedom that is to come, our hope for the great Day of Rest when G_d will finally liberate Israel from all pagan oppression.” Heads all around the courtyard nodded in response to Miryam’s declaration. Mark saw that Yiftach was listening intently. Miryam continued.

“But for the Pharisees it became more than an act of resistance: it became a weapon. To keep the sabbath as they dictate is a sign that you are committed to the kind of fierce and exclusive nationalism that has brought us to this tragic and shameful point – fellow Jews slaughtering each other to prove who is more loyal to Torah.” She shook her head wearily. “And it made Jesus as angry then as it does us today. To take the sabbath – such a beautiful reminder of God our Creator and the hope of redemption – and turn it into yet another oppressive practice, well, perhaps Jesus wanted to show the difference between his vision for G_d’s people’s future, and the vision of the Pharisees.” She leaned back and looked to her son, who rose once more.

“Jesus stood with the crippled man by his side and confronted the Pharisees. He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm; to save life or to kill?’ Jesus waited for their response, but they remained silent. After looking around at them with anger – grieved at their hardness of heart – he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out and his hand was restored.”

Rachel spoke up again. “But how is that breaking the sabbath? To tell someone to stretch out their hand? How is that work?” Mark nodded. “It was not the healing that brought the wrath of the pharisees upon him. It was that fact that once again he challenged them in their own domain, and exposed the bankruptcy of their interpretation of Torah.” “What did they do?” asked Rachel. Mark responded, “The pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians against him…” his gaze shifted from Rachel to Yiftach, “…as to how they might destroy him.”

“What?!” exclaimed Yiftach. “But the Pharisees hated Herod Antipas and his supporters – traitors that they were, and still are. Why would they form an alliance with them?” “Because they had no power themselves,” answered Mark. “And this would not be the last unlikely alliance that those who opposed Jesus would form.” He looked around the courtyard. “But before we become too indignant, let us remember the constant danger we face to be so blinded by our own commitment to what may seem necessary rules, that we too fail to see God’s healing and work of restoration breaking through before our own eyes…”

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