Mark 2:16

When the teachers of the Law belonging to the party of the Pharisees saw that he was eating in the company of such people, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with the tax-gatherers and outcasts?”

powerful people never confront directly
this way lies loss of prestige
they find the language people use
and subvert its meaning

blue sky legislation means more pollution
destroying villages to save them is normalized
whoever gets the blame in first wins
peace means war so more war please

a sly question here a confusion there
pretty soon new friends are ancient enemies
set definitions through repetition
define others as sinful to win every debate

Mark’s first description of the feasting scene with Levi, in the prior verse, speaks first of tax collector traitors and then the irreligious.

When the scrupulous wing of the Pharisees finds out about this meal, for surely they were not going to the tax collectors place of work, they see a different situation. Their eyes order the religiously non-observants—sinners, first and tack on the traitorous tax collectors.

Wilderness settings find just such subtleties as a reversal of reporting as bases for setting one person at odds with another. This is an early political process of survival of the fittest in a time and place where power has been usurped by the Empire, leaving but scraps for the rest to fight one another over.

This joining of two outsider groups as a singular entity (non-observers) means: when you have said one, you have said the other. In a time of a powerful occupying force, different groups differently parse out who their friends and enemies are. It is almost as if Mark thought the greater difficulty was Levi’s political status and is having to recognize that the defining accusation against Jesus was about an accusation of blasphemy—shaming G*D through unclean eating.

Misreading the situation is another sign of being outside a regular frame of reference. We always need to find new ways of tracking meaning. A re-framing of what Jesus is doing is needed. At question is whether such a re-framing will set things in a larger or smaller arena. If larger, more conflict is ahead. If smaller, what difference can a nothing-sized sect make?

Mark 2:15

Later on he was in his house having dinner, and a number of tax-gatherers and outcasts took their places at the table with Jesus and his disciples; for many of them were following him.

to sup with the poor
around their table
with their friends
opens eyes and hearts

generosity sneaks in
water is more delicious
conversation is playful
who knew it could be like this

in this widening context
we naturally have each other’s back
and see a new community in formation
hidden gifts are revealed

During the Cold War (1947–91?) we heard about a “domino effect” as a bad thing. A reverse domino effect around Jesus is beginning to be noticed. People who have been knocked over, are standing again and doing so together.

“Sinners” is not a helpful translation here. We are not talking about Gentiles. We are not talking about rebellion against G*D, as Paul puts it. We are simply talking about those who are in regular violation of the religious regulations primarily noted by the Pharisees and Scribes. In this day they might also be located with the “spiritual, but not religious”.

“Sinners” could be a word that those around table would use for themselves in the same way that any group of outcasts will appropriate the main culture’s denigrating term for them. The LGBTQIA community can use the “Q” word and the Black community can use the “N” word, but others cannot do so However, this is not what is being described here.

It is around the table that community is formed. Here we learn our new manners, how this group will behave toward one another. By extension this will also be the way these learners, disciples, will behave toward those not in the group. These manners are the best evangelistic tool they will have to further invite people to join them in following.

It is this forming and reforming community that will be able to handle the deepening difficulties of rebellion, re-defeat, and temple destruction. In the middle of a seemingly hopeless situation, these castaways will find ways to mutually support one another.

Mark 2:14

As he went along, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting in the tax office, and said to him,  “Follow me.” Levi got up and followed him.

wise ones learn through teaching
fools teach and teach without learning

for a moment consider yourself wise
and that you are teaching forgiveness

whatever category of sin or distress considered
current examples are needed from everyday experience

without a new application the best teaching
winds down into creedal inquisition

those and that found on our journey
are a test of what we have so far learned

each opportunity pulls us deeper
until we move from forgiveness to premeditated mercy

forgiving after the fact is doable and difficult
doing so before sin talk enters adds joy

All manner of reasons can be given for why a person would enter the service of Rome through the tribute/tax office of Herod. None of them would likely be a lateral or downward move. In difficult times this can be seen as a good decision even if being a tax collector is seen by many as a description of a traitor.

We know that Levi’s status is frozen in place. Like Nazareth, what good can come from a tax collector?

It is into this scene of social paralysis that Jesus comes with his announcement of good news in the midst of all that violent occupation means. “Follow me”, is the language. “Beloved, be unstuck”, is the message. Now we need to think about Levi and whether he heard this as foolishness and would choose to stay or a choice of last resort and this is the day to yell, “I can’t take it any more!” This is more about the state of Levi than it is how much Jesus he has experienced.

Mark 2:13

Jesus went out again to the sea; and all the people came to him, and he taught them.

a concentration of indoors
can sharpen our differences
until all we have is our difference

in such a small place
we sense scarcity setting in
leading us to fight and never flee

we batter each other
endlessly and mercilessly right
until we are master of the recliner

such a small victory
for such a large molehill
won’t last long

eventually a ruined living room
loses even its walls
and the big wild world looks in

slowly we know a need for Sabbath rest
on a wave-loud seashore
to break us open before we break down

leave your little win
to see how wee it be
in light of friend wilderness

When we hear about returning (palin) to the lake it is wise to actually reflect back to previous lake or water location. When we do so, we prick up our ears. It was in river water we heard of belovedness. It was on a lake shore we heard a call to follow.

These small clues help us with the creative story Mark is telling.

The crowd is another hint that hooks us back into the life of a paralyzed person. Knowing that paralysis can be mental and spiritual as well as physical we might be sensitized to organizations such as

When in a trackless wilderness it is usually the small signs along the way that can lead one back out. Reading aloud can help us catch some of these much better than just reading with our eyes.

Imaginatively we wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus were teaching about freedom following the release of a paralytic. Such a teaching would solidify what had just been experienced and also begin opening doors for those who are frozen in their place by decision and circumstance. Some thought given to what Jesus might be teaching can also reach through the centuries to prepare readers now, just as then, to first affirm that their place of stuckness need not continue and then to act on that assurance.

Mark 2:12

The man got up, and immediately took up his mat, and went out before them all; at which they were amazed, and, as they praised God, they said, “We have never seen anything like this!”

just when we thought
we knew the argument
we were best able to win
along comes experience

our references and proofs
marshaled to end debate
suddenly evaporate
when someone simply walks out

we knew every loophole
and had each covered
until we were moot-ized
by standing without permission

what is this world coming to
when accumulated wisdom
falls before our eyes
when godly prestige is for naught

how long do we sit and mourn
an unexpected application
of plain everyday speech
carrying this and subsequent days

it is time to rebalance authority
that trained expectations will hold
that our majority will determine virtue
a motive for murder surfaces

Here is that word BANG again. This time it has to do with human response rather than Jesus bopping around hither and yon.

This shift in attention has led some scholars to think that “immediately” is too strong a word and is not applicable here. It would seem that human urgency is slower than some divine urgency. Theological constructs do affect the way we talk and think.

If you are willing to consider that Jesus’ quickness to respond with attention and mercy is a positive value, it would appear beneficial to practice that same premeditated nimbleness.

How do we let go of previous boundaries or restrictions? This question pushs toward a path with more delineated steps, such as a Buddhist way to deal with suffering.

ἐξίστημι (existēmi, astounded, amazed) is even stronger than it sounds—in a driven-mad sort of way. Richard W. Swanson suggests it can only be translated with a made-up word. He suggests “ecstasied”. Try this in a variety of places in Mark as well as in hymns about a supposedly awesome god to see how it fits for you.

Mark 2:11

“To you I say, Get up, take up your mat, and return to your home.”

no matter the spelling or language
a time of freedom goes way back
choices made
without knowing they were choices
ready your improving practice

whether categories are official or not
we have difficulty parsing antecedents
clarifications attempted
when everyone agrees on what is clear
set the opportunity for your fresh start

in the face of yesterday and tomorrow
a moment’s notice can unstick us
commitments revised
reveal past limits and commitments
go all the way to the end of your race

After previous healings the instruction has been to show oneself to the priests for confirmation and a certification of cleanliness.

Here the instruction is to go home. There may be some pique here after the word play with the Scribes. Let’s see how far we can push the authority of a healing to stand on its own without external corroboration.

Disease and dis-ease come in varying levels of consequence for particular issues. Degrees of purity, like any human relationship, are parsable and can be bargained about to a greater or lesser degree. Much here has to do with one’s status and the literalness of the interpreter. So how are we going to determine whether this dismissal was within the system boundaries or was pushing them? Your call. The importance of this story to you will be influenced by your decision.

Paul Clayton’s song about having laid around and stayed around too long is an introduction to formative moments in the wilderness when it appears all that lies ahead is dryness and scrabbling for survival. This picture urges us to move on to a larger home. Mark’s crude language is still evocative enough to raise the question of a restrictive locus for home.

In a wilderness setting, home is far more than simply a place where folks have to take you in. A gift of wilderness is coming to terms with all the various parts of our heritage and a consolidating or centering of vision about where and how our particular brand of belovedness will travel. It may well be within a previous locale; it may be in a wider setting.

May your “home” be better because of your participation in it.

Mark 2:10

But so you may know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins on earth”

so you will remember
I will raise your anxiety
with a magicians dexterity
to lead in one direction
without warning
finding another road taken

I will speak to one
and be heard through generations
authoring a break with expectations
through a giving of what is already given
to surprise one another out of wilderness
reconnecting animals with angels

so inured to power are we
we wonder what would excuse
no longer dividing ourselves from G*D
with top-down authority
to get out of our own paralyzed way
means first taking a deep anticipatory breath

Actually this is not going to be proof. Just as people in the 1st Century CE had plenty of wonder workers, so we have our TV healers that appear to have successfully unparalyzed many (not celebrity stories like Christopher Reeves, but plenty enough to attract more seeking a healing for themselves or someone close.)

Every continent has its special places where it doesn’t even take a healer in person, only a place such as Lourdes with a history of claims.

Speaking of claims, here is what C.S. Mann says about the phrase “Human One” or “Son of Man”, “In all the synoptic gospels, the appearance of the term before the confession of Peter or the passion predictions is an anomaly, and it is Caesarea Philippi which is accepted by most commentators as the terminus a quo of authenticity. The result is near unanimity in dismissing this instance as a primitive Christian creation.”

Such little additions creep into our conversations quite easily until we end up having said more than we know or can show. Just a little aggrandizement here or an alliterative phrasing there and pretty soon we have opened ourself to defending what we have said simply because we said it or backing down which raises further questions about what else we have said needs to be taken back.

One evaluative tool here is to look at your writing for words or ideas that keep coming around. These are our danger spots.

Mark 2:9

Which is easier? – to say to the paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’? Or to say ‘Get up, and take up your mat, and walk’?

paralyzed and profligate have lost playfulness
in the midst of limit and obsession
it is not enough just to breathe

from the past we receive permission
to simply let be what was
prelude to a next good day

toward tomorrow we are pulled
beyond fondest hope or dramatic dream
actual Arthur Murray dance steps laid down

there is no easy way forward when stuck
priests pray and prophets provoke
both take authority to remap circuits

Ancient Rabbis, and modern, use an argumentation called, “light and heavy”. The choice put forward is that of evidence. It is easier or lighter to say, “your sins are forgiven” because how can someone prove such a statement. The harder position is that of saying, “Rise, take your bedroll, and show us you can walk”, because this will either happen or it won’t.

Institutional church life often puts more emphasis upon what can’t be shown than providing a witness that leads to wonder. Our words, words, words, pile up in front of fewer and fewer people. It is like we are shouting into empty space for water in a desert to appear. All our words, incantations, and rituals are “light” as we are still thirsty.

“Heavy” is shown through practical mission work that actually feeds the hungry, brings a well to the thirsty, clothes naked refugees, sets up support circles for prisoners, etc. These are measurable benefits that go beyond theological postulates.

In every age it is important to find the connecting spots between light and heavy arguments. Without them being in relationship to one another the light will separate and go its own way, content in its heritage. Without touching each other the heavy will eventually become light as it loses track of the sparks thrown off by this intersection of light and heavy that assists both to grow.

If greater things such as referred to in John 14:12 are going to manifest themselves, the best opportunity will be in the middle of this dynamic of evidence-based formation and re-formation of theosis.

Mark 2:8

Jesus, at once intuitively aware that they were debating with themselves in this way, said to them,  “Why are you debating in your minds about this?

questions come
bidden and unbidden

questions fade
asked and answered

questions persist
alpha and omega

questions mislead
confuse and constrain

questions shift
depth and height

questions challenge
creation and renewal

questions order
intentions and actions

questions question
why and why

We are all able to sharpen our discernment skills to recognize what is going on in others—their unease and resistance. This opens new lines of conversation and clarification. It does not assure there will be agreement, but it does give a better chance of honorable contact.

A precious gift in our lives are those who toss us back into our wilderness with encouragement to reflect again on what is driving us and the basic principles upon which we engage the rest of the world. May we have friends who both provide this challenge to us and, in turn, receive it from us.

Why do we continue to think, reflect on, feel, demand, enforce our particular images of G*D and community? Whatever this “substance of we feeling (SOWF)” is that is described in Doris Lessing’s novel, Shikasta, it is powerful in our lives. Without it we wither. With it we can live together without constructing Procrustean beds for one another.

This process of wrestling our way through differences is shown in this exchange as Jesus teaches (2:2), Scribes are confounded (2:6) and double-down on their perspective (2:7), Jesus takes the feedback and sharpens his teaching (2:8-9) with an example (2:10-12a).

All along the way it takes intentional engagement by at least one party to see a larger dynamic at work and to persist in deepening the conversation one step at a time and backing up when it is evident something has been missed along the way. Note this same pattern in the way Jesus engaged his followers and in your best teachers.

We are not to take this passage as discounting all questions but to be able to ask why we are so enthralled by our fight-questions that primarily solidify and protect a current understanding.

Mark 2:7

“Why does this man speak like this? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins except God?”

claiming insult for another

the disadvantaged need allies

the affected is the measurer

inciting blame tests community

Our givens that are non-negotiable do guide us in decision-making situations. They are also responsible for creating a wilderness around us that others can enter with only a great deal of trepidation.

In an honor/shame culture the unspoken rules of who can insult whom are very strong. When it comes to blasphemy, there is no substantial distinction to be made between an insult and an assault.

One of the on-going debates regarding G*D is how thin-skinned G*D might be.

Regardless of the form of a G*D-oriented person, institution, culture or nation, its theocratic tendency is measurable by the rigidity or laxness of what it takes to insult said G*D. Prophets and healers can get away with a fair amount in a given situation. However there comes a point when some line in the sand is crossed, knowingly or not, and things are never the same.

We have here a kernel of creedal bottom line—forgiveness.

The passive voice of “your sins are forgiven” did not spell out clearly enough the honor due G*D as the final arbiter of forgiveness. All manner of assumptions could begin to gather around this relatively benign phrasing that would lead to a diminishment of G*D by way of an insult that throws the authority to punish or release into doubt.

This same understanding of authority boundary violations has been present in every age. Rulers do like to rule. When G*D is added into the mix, control issues rise to the top of the agenda. Homogeneity or group-think is one sign of a wilderness area. Woe be to any who are not scrupulous in saying things in an approved manner.

Jesus, familiar with the creative and destructive aspects of wilderness, carries wilderness as a loyal and informative friend where’er he goes. When facing mutterers, this urgently needed gift steadies.