Mark 2:23

One Sabbath, as Jesus was walking through the cornfields, his disciples began to pick the ears of wheat as they went along.

trouping through a wheat field
brings a single-file slowness
or a broad swath of destruction

with slowness sets in hunger
by the end of a line the best is gone
intended or not foraging widens

should the field owner arrive
there is certain conflict ahead
but then it’s Sabbath and they can’t

with no surveillance cameras in sight
we should be good to go on what seems right
and that is settled by those with the light

gleaning is a gateway action
to turn inequality to revolution
eat or don’t eat at your peril

What makes for a proper fast has been looked at and now we turn to the other side—what makes for proper eating.

Dietary laws have been important in the life of Israel from Moses onward. When combined with Sabbath, the questions joined are heightened.

Those who have followed Mark so far know that travel is not only broadening but carries the danger of misinterpretation between differing traditions and perspectives. So we are ready for a fairly straight-forward event to escalate.

The synagogue is a familiar place for Jesus and his students to go on a Sabbath. Imagine that has been the case again. Suppose the Jesus cultus has been to do its usual work of teaching. They are returning to their place of lodging where a review of the day would likely happen.

Regardless of whether the disciples were intentionally confronting Sabbath rules through the ambiguous action of seed picking (was it just to have a little something to chew on or was attention drawn to picking and carrying grain home?) we have the set-up for one more distinction to be drawn between the prevalent religious understandings of the day and this group of announcers of another way.

Jesus’ followers are beginning to get a sense that there is no safe sanctuary, particularly on a weekly Sanctuary Day. No variant will go unaccused.

Mark 2:22

And no one ever puts new wine into old wine-skins; if they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are lost. But new wine is put into fresh skins.”

new wineskins for new wine
a rallying cry in every generation

the uniquenesses I bring
need a larger better context

while always true it doesn’t ask
whether the wine is brand new or branded new

how many new cereals and detergents
have come only to be replaced in turn

newness of wineskin doesn’t correlate
with appreciable difference in quality

if new wine is a fishing lure
what needs flexing in wineskins caught

lose old baggage
yoga-ize old sinews

in a journey through one wild life
start a new birthday in honor of an old anniversary

Is this a contrast of fasting styles—that of John’s disciples or those of Pharisee followers?

With these being more similar than not, Jesus’ guidelines may be setting off a different comparison.

We are not only recognizing that there are sufficient differences between these two groups and Jesus, but we are returned to an announcement of good news. While no one else would pour new wine into old skins, Jesus does with healings/exorcisms and teachings that Saul Alinsky would appreciate, purposely pouring new wine into old skins until they break open.

One way this works is to be new wine poured into many old wineskins. They burst, spilling out this new wine all over the place—Evangelistic IEDs, as it were. This is also a way to think about John’s baptizing—sending repentive, converted, metamorphosed individuals from his symbolic wilderness back from the Jordan into the communities of Israel to work at changing the ethos of the people through fresh relationships with G*D and one another, as well as raising new resistance to an occupying Empire.

Mark 2:21

“No one ever sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if they do, the patch tears away from it – the new from the old – and a worse tear is made.

fashions change over time
once patched clothes
were warned against
lest your patch fail
and you stand revealed

in an age of prosperity
we now pre-patch clothes
and otherwise destroy them
as a sign of our disregard
for signs of privilege

torn clothes no longer
speak to us of repentance
they speak volumes though
prestige flaunting patches
in front of their necessity

This is not a continuation of the fasting conversation in the last couple of verses. If so we would be wrestling with how to fast from wine, even that reported to have begun as water.

Here we have more of the Christian community finding its privileged place. A distinction between old and new is part of the ancient tradition of conversion confirmation.

When we have invested the energy to leap to another quantum level it is important for us to justify that expenditure of power by attributing power to our new state and denigrating anything and everything about our old way of seeing life. Without this either-or why did we change?

This is probably an old Aramaic Almanac aphorism summarizing in an image what is being articulated in the midst of every schism. Our (with an emphasis on “our”) radical new understanding requires a privileged position and, if it can’t be in control, there can only be a conquering or a division from which we can battle their illegitimate, heretical, blasphemous wrongness.

As this is being written a schismatic rending of the old and new is being lived out in the life of The United Methodist Church over the issue of sexual orientation but under the guise of biblical interpretation. An interesting note: it is those who are bringing a new wine, an appreciation for the continuum of human identifier, who are the ones trying to hold the denomination together while those who would hold to prejudged older beliefs are bringing the schismatic action by setting up alternative structures and seeing an irreconcilable difference between themselves and those they have labeled as out-of-touch liberals and covenant breakers.

This issue will likely be clearer by the time this book is published.

Mark 2:20

But the days will come, when the groom will be taken away from them, and they will fast then – when that day comes.”

disciples are party animals
braying about their advancement

they cram and forget to no end
there is no pop quiz or final

it is so very easy to bring a water bottle
and fill it with a very serviceable wine

easier and easier it is to live off the ladies
and pick up baskets of bread and fish

it’s important to pick your teacher
as well as your parents

we eat well and see the world
far better than locusts and scriptorium

it would be a real disappointment
to start fasting — might as well die

As with the end of verse 19, this verse has been considered a late add on by the Christian community.

It will be important to identify what aspect of fasting is being suggested here.

If fasting is some form of repentance, is a fast a form of excusing ourselves from attending to the movement of belovedness through creation and clinging to our various levels of status?

Are we being nostalgic for a past that never was when Jesus could be counted on to get us out of one storm after another? If so our fast is about our lack of engagement and running away when danger and death was being faced.

Even if it were for a renewal of vision and energy to live out the gifts and graces we have been endowed with, there is a tendency to turn this into individual fasting. It must be questioned whether or not the fasting of the friends is done one-by-one or if there is a corporate element to fasting.

Given that fasting rules protect the faster from harming themselves through lack of food, what besides food would friends band together to fast from?

Are we left with fasts that protest the wilderness set loose in our midst with such ancient practices as slavery and its current trafficking face? Fasts to protest discriminations and deaths of LGBTQ persons or be in solidarity with Native People protecting water and other corporatized resources? A community-wide fast to welcome immigrants?

Mark 2:19

Jesus answered,  “Can the groom’s friends fast, while the groom is with them? As long as they have the groom with them, they cannot fast.

we now fast for a preferred future
each time we do we find a vision
pushing us to break our little fast
to do what needs doing right now
to live that future into existence

our fast becomes appetizer
for a feast beyond measure

this fast is far more satisfying
than magical thinking of an intervention
that will set everything right
with a transaction exchanging debasement
for a reward of imputed glory

such a fast is strangely unsatisfying
when we forget its boom/bust cycling

The question is set up to have only one response—No.

Look behind a scene with an automatic response and there are additional questions that lined up to be asked.

Ched Myers,, in “Say to this Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, notes a critical difference between those with resources sufficient to fast and those for whom hunger was a reality that could not be avoided and thus not a fast. When this is the case, a Pharisaic intention to honor G*D turns into a shaming of neighbor.

This structural critique presents another wrinkle with the way religions “domesticate” patterns of behavior. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus by Robert Funk, et. al., reminds us:

The custom in Jesus’ day was to fast as a part of regular religious observance. In contrast to the behavior of John the Baptist and his followers, Jesus apparently did not fast, but came to be known as “a glutton and a drunk.” The early Christian community immediately reverted to fasting as a religious practice, but now they are driven to distinguish their fasts from those of their Jewish counterparts by changing the days.

This process of assimilating the Jesus tradition to an earlier established custom is known as the domestication of the tradition.

We do become afraid of unscripted living. It is seen as dangerous or leading to wilderness. As a result, we bring order everywhere we are. Where else might we have drawn back from considering “the bridegroom” always being with us?

Mark 2:18

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, and people came and asked Jesus, “Why is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, while yours do not?”

when feeling vulnerable
I gather all my similarities
to bolster a sense of solidarity
to reduce questions of trust

an inner wilderness cries out
for validations of behavior
who’s wrong who’s right
at least you and them fight it out

fasting is fasting or its not
just being between meals doesn’t count
serious repentance is serious
as are rules and signs

either be an expected Messiah
or pack up all your other tricks
there is no room for word play
in the face of a righteous fast

Turn from feasting to fasting catches us between the devil and the deep blue sea, between a rock and a hard place. Some see Jesus’ followers as gluttons; some as severe ascetics. Some try to find a rule of thumb for what following might mean for them. Is learning from Jesus the same or different than being a student of Baptizer John or a Pharisee?

The law of Moses has one day of fasting—the Day of Atonement. This is close to most peoples having feasts of celebration but no ritualized fasting.

Over time additional reasons for fasting came into view. A major one is an appeal for justice (related to John’s imprisonment?) or to change the course of a nation’s future (Nineveh?). In addition to mourning and penitence, fasting is a prayer intensifier and a preparer for vision questing. These and other reasons to fast can lead to the institution of preventive fasts such as those of the Pharisees on Mondays and Thursdays—the claim: regular fasting will help keep all the rest of life on the straight and narrow so no fault will come your way.

The question of where fasting fits in with learning from Jesus will be something that can assist or hinder people from hearing a call to follow. This call is quite a subjective one. Sometimes it is heard or misheard by an individual. Sometimes it is heard by a community regarding one in their midst needing to be called forth. Regardless of its hearing, calls need testing for there are consequences in the accepting of a call, particularly one that is misheard.

Mark 2:17

Hearing this, Jesus said,  “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I did not come to call the religious, but the outcast.”

in the face of a thought
stopped too soon
settled into shoulds and oughts
never looking deeper
than unhelpful blame
rise demythologizing reversals

people exiled
defined as wild and weed
everywhere they breathe
needed as unholy examples
invisible comfort for those not them
don’t need allies

a doctor with a screwdriver
to tune a larger setting
now that would be useful
with larger internal space
than even an infinite beyond
carries enough we-ness to go around

such a doctor knows wilderness
temptations given into or resisted
are a measure of a life
listen for the vibrations of adjustment
turning a cry to exterminate
to a tardis of mutual grace

The saying about healthy and sick people is common folk knowledge that well predates its use here.

The on-going question about those who don’t currently follow the basic rules of the religion of the day is where difficulties arise.

Our first reading of “righteous” focuses on being right, being good, doing things correctly. Given a wilderness motif, these are the people who have built a walled city in the midst of beasts and warring factions.

Seen from inside, that which keeps us safe is seen to be the rules and regulations we follow. From the outside such rectitude appears fragile. The loss of one precept will leave a hole in the dyke that a finger cannot fill and will all too soon transform a small spout into a raging deluge.

When “I AM comes” the vision is larger than even health/sickness, the following of the latest pharmacological cure-all or blood-marker. In a feasting setting, we are to remember Passover, quail, water from a rock, manna, and milk and honey. We are to again work toward a Year of Jubilee resetting all the little advantages we have accumulated and hold over each next lower class/status. A step toward Jubilee is to live with and call to the river, to the wilderness, those not walled in and who have nothing more than enough.

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.