Mark 3:10

For he had cured many of them, and so people kept crowding around him, so all who were sick might touch him.

living icons are few
their very scarcity
increases their commodity value
no Black Friday Sale
could be more dangerous
we reach over one another
not worried whose neck
we are pushing off from
crowd stampedes are mindless
fear      flee      repeat
where does my need
trump your advantage
reach      stretch      touch
this is high magic
and we are enthralled

Too much of a good thing is as dangerous as having too little.

In this case healing, a good thing, brings forth more cases than can be handled with the resources available. [So, why doesn’t G*D, Jesus, your favorite saint, or just plain spontaneity wave one magic implement or other and cure everything at once?]

Jesus and ourselves can both be driven by exterior forces beyond our control. At times those forces are destructive in nature and sometimes they are constructive. In excess, either is capable of swamping an initial call to prepare a way (by clearing a way) toward a better way through repentance and changed ways of living (extending mercy).

When a goal becomes to reach out to touch (read greedily grab for one’s self) sources of power, it needs tempering through learning about internal power as well as external. What is it that needs shifting within us so we can distinguish between curing and healing, between negative space of exorcism and positive space of holism?

When not confronted with hands pushing you away (those for whom your message is nonsense) or hands reaching to touch and pull power from you (those for whom your message strikes an adoring chord), there is a healthy rhythm of engagement and reflection, an ability to deal with tests without an anxiety often carried with them.

At this point in Mark’s tale, both pressures are coming to bear at the same time. A perfect storm is brewing.

Do note, however, that Jesus’ need to retreat is more often related to responses of desire (to be healed) rather than threats, conspiracies, and trials. To be more worn out by internal, positive expenditures of energy carries more maturity than having external negatives take so much psychic energy from our living.

Mark 3:9

So Jesus told his disciples to keep a small boat close by, so that the crowd would not crush him.

when there is no more room
extend yourself
into a wilderness of the deep

pushed into a retreat
embrace your limits
find an unexpected small still-open space

surprise a retreat is spacious
limits are removed
more ears are touched than hands can hold

circumstances go beyond planning
opening available responses
and water-walking practice

Many commentators question the use of “small” here. However, it does comport well with the concern about being crushed, either by those plotting against him or a curious crowd.

A small boat can be nimble. The very largeness of a boat can draw further attention to it and invite stowaways. All in all, a nice touch.

It is important to note that differing languages and cultures assign different qualities of life to objects. There are those wherein people can be “ready” but inanimate objects such as a boat cannot hold that quality. They can have place, but not purpose, intent, or independent action.

In English a boat can be prepared and ready for use. Boats also remind us of the way in which Jesus’ followers were located when called to follow. There is an immediacy to readiness for following. By extension, a question continues about our current readiness to follow. If we do, there will be work to be done to prepare for our souls and bodies to deal with crushing threats.

An ability to identify and use vehicles to retreat or to enter a retreat will be a critical tool for our tool-chest or treasure-chest. As a treasure-chest is stocked it becomes more and more useful. We will be able to bring more tools out to deal with a given situation. An anointing, a prayer, a retreat, a willingness to not have a trial taken from us, an inspired response, etc. will come easier to hand when we know we have it held and ready for use. Instead of a shield and breastplate for protection we might rather use a MacGyver- or Batman-useful tool belt, utility belt, treasure belt.

Ready your small, daily, set of tools and retreat vehicles.

Mark 3:8

A great number, hearing of all that he was doing, came to him from Judea, from Jerusalem, from Edom, from beyond the Jordan, and from the country around Tyre and Sidon.

wildernesses are everywhere
each and every frailty
reveals a panicked response

those finding a lack of control
are finely attuned to signs
rumors of a way out run faster than light

from every hither and thither
familiar and strange on the tongue
people gather to test the waters

did you hear all is not lost
there is a get-out-of-jail card
drop everything this is big

what is the intersection
between being called to be fishers
and folks looking to be fish

Up to this point Jesus has been travelling to synagogues, towns and villages, with wilderness retreats thrown into the mix. What has now started off as another leaving on retreat is shifting larger gears.

This listing of the closest of the diaspora ends Jesus’ travels to populations of people. Now the people will have to go out of their way to experience the healings and subsequent hope coming from Jesus.

The diversity of this crowd reminds us of another expansive gathering—Pentecost. People who have been reliving the ancient story of Passover freedom in hope of a voice who will speak for them are reminded that there is no intermediary beyond themselves. It is in the coming together of all the differences among us that we find the belovedness of community expanding the belovedness of individual lives. Focusing on one or the other diminishes the energy of creation into nationalism or individualism. On their own they are idols. In concert they heal and free.

This break with locations in Galilee solidifies the realities then and now of recognizing our being in a wilderness setting wherever we settle or wander. Healing and liberation become a constant call to those who understand they are beloved people in a time of occupation and distrust.

Finalizing a plot against Jesus can be seen as a triggering event similar to a famine that in the past sent Joseph and the Israelites to Egypt where they were initially successful but were eventually plotted against and enslaved. Shifting away from population centers sets Jesus on an Exodus journey of episodes in wilderness-type settings.

Mark 3:7

Then Jesus went away with his disciples to the sea, followed by a great number of people from Galilee.

we always return to the sea
in stress a rhythmic surf calms
in despair a typhoon brings perspective
in tiredness a holiday swim revives
in routine a sunny bask is a muse
in confusion a shore simplifies choices

threats are submerged
in memory of baptismal energy
we recapitulate a water cycle
from storm cloud to ocean basin
but then we remember
this particular setting

water from cedared hills
and underwater springs
finally make their way
to a larger salt-making sea
we are here to add our salt
living large enough to make a difference

This is one of the clearer places that indicates the weakness of an imposed versification of a piece of art. There are multiple ways to have done this better. At best it reminds us to watch out for our own automatic responses.

Following another healing turned into an angry challenge by Jesus and a resultant plot against him, there is another return to wilderness exemplified by deep water. Without saying it directly, prayer is entered to reset a threat.

A crowd follows. Their ears had pricked up at the direction Jesus was moving—liberation from traps. “Crowd” in Mark is yet another marker of more significance than might first seem. In a country occupied by a foreign power healing speaks to people disenfranchised by their situation in life. Note this same disenfranchisement can also come about when a same-thinking internal power has no room for differences among people.

For those who have lost control of their own life through no obvious fault of their own, healing individuals anticipates a jump to the next level—liberation from Empire. From wherever one’s sense of being trapped with no options arises, healing is a banner under which the poor and disadvantaged can rally.

Crowds, however, are notorious for not being controllable by those around whom they gather. More than one factor is at work that would attract a crowd with no core but unreasonable hope.

Mark 3:6

Immediately on leaving the synagogue, the Pharisees and the Herodians united in laying a plot against Jesus, to put him to death.

playing nice is over
institutions will play along
at the banter level
a nod and a wink is good enough
until it is obvious the game can be gamed
with angry resistance
no longer pretending
everything will be alright
with so many not right now
now it is but a matter of time
until an ultimate schism
is enforced through death
no matter the cultural manner
authority eventually chooses death

We are about 11% of the way through Mark’s verses and the political realities of life come crashing in—Jesus is unmistakedly marked for death. The wildness of wilderness is stalking.

There is nothing new in this being a reality that cycles through our political life and the reign of Empire. Still, how is it that healing brings out the worst in us?

Whatever response can be made to this question, there is no question that a common enemy leads to strange alliances between groups that in ordinary times would have no association with one another. The antagonists mentioned ordinarily vie against one another for control of the community ethos.

While it doesn’t come through in a number of English translations, we are again with our old friend “immediately” (εὐθύς euthys). Jesus flits hither-and-yon, followers quickly come, healings seem instantaneous, and now a growing opposition to Jesus disordering the status quo is finally organized on a moment’s notice.

“What got him was nothing….” begins an e.e. cummings poem reflective of Ecclesiastes’ mantra of “vanity”. When truth is being told, its opposite is not a lie, but nothing. This is a major part of wilderness, the great “Nothing” in The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.

For decades wilderness has been growing in the USofA through the process identified by Stephen Colbert as “truthiness”. “Facts” are abandoned when faced with what we “Feel” should be the case. Data is erased by creed and doctrine. Civics classes are dismissed. Learning is to the test. Critical thinking is labeled elitist. In such an atmosphere traditionalists, accommodationists, bullies, supremacists, Fascists, and more conspire to settle into a pact that identifies and destroys anything and anyone contrary to their preferred order.

Mark 3:5

As they remained silent, Jesus looked around at them in anger, grieving at the hardness of their hearts, and said to the man,  “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched it out; and his hand had become sound.

without a prayer
or a smile
a healing needed

without a reason
or hope
a needed healing

without mustard faith
only anger
healing’s need

without a friend
or ally
need’s healing

Friend and foe alike have been waiting for Jesus to bring the action forward. So far we simply have a question being raised to which there is no good response: is the Sabbath a most propitious time to taste restoration and extend it?

Into the scene as set, Jesus finally begins a slow burn. Glancing back and forth and through those gathered, their willingness to stand by, as if impotent, brought his sense of a loss of good news to a boiling point.

Any attempt, even Mark’s, to put this into words is doomed to failure. Anger is a wide-ranging word. We don’t easily associate it with a Jesus-meek-and-mild. Partly this is because we know we are not up to following a path of good news with the threat of military annihilation or community exile staring us in the face. Just how angry we are willing for Jesus to be is a marker of our trust in being a beloved among beloveds when there remains a stubborn dullness deep within us.

The word behind “anger” is ὀργή (orgē) which in other settings is used as descriptive of the “wrath” of G*D. In Luke, this is part of John’s angry calling out of those come to be baptized as “snakes” in need of a change deeper than a shedding of skin.

Unmitigated anger is wildness—let lose it would melt everyone’s face as in Raider’s of the Lost Ark. It may only be through a repeated experience of personal wilderness in the midst of social wilderness that this sort of wildness can be focused.

Whatever the process, the fury of being set up and “obdurate stupidity” (C.S. Mann) on the part of those watching and judging a man’s weakness, an instruction comes to simply hold out the withered hand. Without further ado, faith language, forgiveness, or any other reason given, a hand is healed. The end?

Mark 3:4

and to the people he said,  “Is it allowable to do good at the Sabbath – or harm? To save a life, or destroy it?”

don’t you just hate it
when your own petard
jumps out from behind
your own best laid plain

just when it appeared
our blame mechanism
was about to kick in
we were called to account

everyone knows rules
can be bent and parsed
until they’re barely recognizable
but that’s our back-room game

taking advantage of self-censorship
is not so easy out in the open
our self-contradictions leave us
unable to contradict behavioral details

Constructing a legal structure to deal with the big dualities of morality (do right; do wrong) or community relations (do good; do harm) is always problematic as Law as Law is always several cases behind. The combinations and permutations of life continually throw new challenges to static thinking. Interpretation and application are critical for ethical decisions.

The theme of wilderness exemplifies the difficulties. Here practicalities take precedence over precedents and protocols established through the years. There is no time to lose if we are to survive the latest outbreak of famine or other dis-ease. In wilderness settings law is made up as it goes.

Given an occupation by Empire, Law is the easiest way to placate the powers that be—both extending their power and putting off a show-down testing that power. Both overseer and subjugated have a stake in law-keeping.

Jesus’ question carries echoes of the Great Question of Deuteronomy 30:15-18: Having life and death set before you, which will you choose? This question is originally followed by an urging to choose that which brings life. What will bring life back to a hand, to all of Israel? This relationship between the individual and community is a more dynamic question than what is currently on the books and how closely it can be hewn to.

This is a question that must be responded to in every generation and context. It is still a question within and between religious communities of every faith.


Mark 3:3

“Stand out in the middle,” Jesus said to the man with the withered hand;

silence is death
visibility is healing

between secrets and flaunting
relationships grow

I see you there
even when you don’t

your belovedness shines
before you see it

reflected and refracted
in other smiles

come stand alongside me
we’re better together

in such a small invitation
a new world begins

In a time of insistence that the Messiah will only come if Israel keeps true to the Sabbath and other honorings of G*D, Jesus breaks open a conversation about the purpose of Sabbath by bringing a fraught situation to a head. A helpful way for a tense situation to be resolved is for the elephant in the room to be acknowledged. Jesus’ insider/outsider location can help begin a larger conversation. If he doesn’t act, he’s over. If he does act, he will be charged with provoking or picking a fight.

“Come here, where you can be seen.” These are simple enough words but they turn the scene from a script to a play.

Whether dealing with the wilderness of having lost one’s identity or use of one’s whole body or just one part of it, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference if a healing seems to come out of the blue or whether it is intentionally set up. In the face of the trauma of having lost one’s community as well as one’s place within it a healing can be fantasized as being a good thing, but it can also be an equivalent to the current curse of trying to reestablish life after conviction for a felony. You may be quite able to work only to find a little box on an application form that will likely put you out of the running even before you have an interview or can demonstrate your ability.

We don’t know anything about this person with a non-usable hand. Was he purposely invited to be present or was it sheer happenstance? What will we find out about him during a healing? What do we hear about his experience after the fact? Nothing. There is nothing here but an example to be used by Jesus. Being a specimen carries its own place of being-of-no-account. Healed or not, wilderness identity abides.

Mark 3:2

And they watched Jesus closely, to see if he would cure the man on the Sabbath, so that they might have a charge to bring against him.

we know our enemies
better than ourselves
no not better better
but predictable better
they are consistent
in their mean ways
while we always have
a virtuous reason
for changing for the better
we see them approach
and can see it in their eye
disruption dismay disorder
they can’t help themselves
so we wait and watch
with a constancy
all our own
giving no option
and no quarter

As suspected, it is not just Jesus and a man with a withered “hand”. This is our own story as well. We are not alone. That done in secret will be revealed. Opponents will gladly give us enough rope to hang ourself.

In this public setting, the “they” who are paying attention cannot be limited to opponents. Even supporters will have a reason to be interested in what is going to happen and how it will play out.

One of the things that keeps everyone intrigued is that it is difficult to keep up with Jesus. His itinerary and agenda behind that still appear rather arbitrary, unscripted, and chaotic. His is not a straight-line, connect-the-dots, approach.

The Pharisees have a home-field advantage in the synagogue. After all, their interpretation of Mosaic Law does fulfill a significant community function—refereeing religious boundaries. Jesus has already been warned (2:24) to watch what he does on the Sabbath because humans do not have authority or ability to change Sabbath rules intended even for G*D. Will the warning have Jesus step-down or will it trigger him to stretch the meaning of Sabbath one more time? Will a game between Jesus and the Pharisees come to an end with a Pharisee victory? Will there be a walk-off home run by Jesus?

Word will likely soon be travelling through the community that there is about to be a fight. Even those not initially present will sense that something is up and come running to see the car-wreck, the show-down. Since the last military action by Romans or resistance by the Zealots, this has got to be what will be talked about in the market for days or weeks. To be able to chime in about what you saw and heard will be important for a claim to fame.

The plot thickens, breath is held, lines prepared—Action!

Mark 3:1

On another occasion Jesus went in to a synagogue, where there was a man whose hand was withered.

holy places fill with hopeless cases
they hold in carefully constructed niches
reasons to disbelieve hope’s percentages

there are times when no choice
comes to a choice between
some version of holy and suicide

should we decide to continue
all our withered hopes and dreams
contract to the limits of holiness

in the dark we freeze from rebelling
accept our wilderness lot
active waiting settles into memory

withered hand and heart
disrupted dreams and desire
tamed by candle and chant

“Again” Jesus comes to a synagogue. Mark’s writing style wants us to pile more one synagogue and Sabbath experience on top of previous times. This helps prepare us for a next visit.

Even though being in a synagogue on a Sabbath is expected behavior, it appears that Jesus is intentionally participating in religio-political theatre as we run through a familiar pattern of challenge and response. His choice of location to initiate a confrontation with a variety of traditions is telling.

A withered hand is likely to be connected to a withered wrist. By extension the whole arm could be withered or a whole life. Our tendency to take one physical flaw and blow it out of proportion is legendary. Simply listen to a teen have their life destroyed by a pimple.

A further connection is with Israel which has withered under the onslaught of Empire (Rome) or any land under physical or economic occupation by any external or internal Empire down to the present. If we consider the Temple in Jerusalem as a hand that has withered and can no longer be raised in prayer of praise or supplication, these healings do have a political component and not just a personal one.

There are community consequences for only having one hand, only being half there. Culturally there is a private hand and public hand and when both functions have to be done by only one hand, suspicions arise that make everyone uncomfortable.

In two short lines a scene is set and we begin to anticipate its unfolding. At the same time, Mark’s style of jumping and returning does keep us engaged. How will it resolve this time?