If you are familiar at all with the life and ministry of Jesus, you know that He encountered opposition from various groups. In Mark’s gospel, the controversy surrounding the ministry of Jesus begins very early. In chapter 2, Jesus is criticized in the following circumstances:
- In 2.1-12, Jesus receives criticism from some scribes when He forgives the sins of a paralyzed man after healing Him.
- In 2.13-17, the “scribes of the Pharisees” criticize Jesus for having table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners. This occurs after Jesus calls Levi/Matthew to follow Him and then goes to eat at his house.
- In 2.18-22, Jesus seems to receive a mild criticism because He and His disciples are not fasting, while John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees do.
- In 2.23-28, the Pharisees again criticize Jesus, this time because His disciples were plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath day.
These events provide the immediate context for Mark 3.1-6, which is the passage that I want to look at a little more closely:
“Again He entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him.”
Although there are several aspects of this account that we could focus on, I particularly want to look at a couple of characteristics of Jesus’ enemies, characteristics that I think a lot of people—even those who are supposed to live as citizens of God’s kingdom—continue to exhibit today.
First, watching people and waiting for them to mess up is a characteristic of Jesus’ enemies. The text says in verse Mark 3.2 that the Pharisees “watched Jesus, to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.”
The Pharisees watched Jesus carefully, not to glean wisdom from His teaching, or to be awed by the miracles He performed, or touched by the compassion He showed, but to catch Him in some alleged mistake that would provide grounds for accusation.
Unfortunately, I have known people like that…
- People who miss the main thrust of a 30-minute sermon because they focused in on one statement that they disagreed with or one Bible verse that was incorrectly cited.
- People who come to Bible class not to learn or to grow as a part of the body or to be transformed by Scripture, but instead to correct the teacher every time they hear something they disagree with.
- People who ignore the constant, tireless, loving care of the shepherds of their congregation and instead look for missteps or questionable decisions so they can loudly voice their criticism.
Watching people just so we can catch them doing something we don’t like in order to criticize them is not a characteristic of Jesus, nor of those who would be His followers. It is a graceless way of approaching life, where we feel justified in neglecting all of the good things a person does in order to focus in on their faults. It is what the enemies of Jesus did.
Second, making immediate plans to punish or pronounce judgment upon others is a characteristic of Jesus’ enemies. Mark 3.6 states that “the Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him.”
If you are very familiar with the Gospel of Mark, you know that “immediately” is a key word. Mark is a gospel of action, and people are portrayed as quickly moving from one thing to another. In this instance, the clear implication is that the Pharisees take no time to absorb what Jesus is trying to teach; rather, without reflection, they rush headlong into a meeting with another group that is opposed to Jesus to begin making plans on how to bring Him down.
Although we should not be waiting and watching for people to mess up (see above), the reality is that people will mess up from time to time, or they might say something that we disagree with. When that occurs, the solution is not to go flying off the handle, enslaved to the demands of our emotional responses in the moment. Sure, there are times when someone says or does something that is so incorrect or inappropriate that it must be dealt with immediately, but not everything is a big deal.
A better course of action is to address the situation after our emotions have cooled and after we have had time for reflection, study, and prayer. And when we do that, many times we realize that it wasn’t such a big deal after all.
Without a doubt, our 24-hour news cycle-documented and social media-dominated society provides an environment where people can always be looking for the mistakes of others and can immediately condemn them. On top of that, it is an election season, which always seems to reveal that many of us think we can respond to political figures however we want to regardless of the fact that we claim to be disciples of Jesus, and that claim should have a major impact on our behavior. But let us be aware that when we take part in those practices, we look more like the enemies of Jesus than we do our Savior.