Mark 2:26

how he went into the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which only the priests are allowed to eat, and gave some to his comrades as well?”

taken for me
taken for you

two distinct rationales
needing parsing and clarity
within a manipulative wilderness

left to their own devices
it won’t be long before you
is only a longer spelling of me
you taken me taker

hopefully hungering temptations
will be revealed
as variants on a theme

we are together in this
eucharistic partners

The Jewish Annotated New Testament, edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, reflects on this verse:

This typical controversy story involves a legal challenge, presented as petty and mean-spirited, and a pithy rejoinder that transcends the legal challenge to address the underlying human need. Before that response, however, the text includes a scriptural and legal argument: if David could supersede law to meet human needs, so could Jesus and his disciples. However Mark does not accurately follow the biblical text, 1 Sam 21.1–6, making the question—have you never read?—perhaps accidentally ironic. David acts alone in 1 Samuel, does not act from hunger, and does not enter the house of God to eat the bread of Presence. Further the priest is Ahimelech, not Abiathar. Pharisees would also not likely be out in the fields on the Sabbath to observe behavior, so the story, like other conflict stories in the Gospels, is likely created to define the identities of Jesus’ followers and their opponents.

Here is our opportunity to reflect on how easy it is to shave just a little bit off a story to further advance our over-investment in a particular perspective. It is small steps as these small slights to a common history that eventually lead to gaps too large to step back over.

A part of the wrestling here is with the limits of irony and sarcasm. An appeal to the ironic is a relatively common way of avoiding an apology or saying, “I’m sorry”. Is all, including sarcasm, fair in a game of religious differences? Is this really a zero-sum game that calls for a deep fundamentalism at the heart of every religious tradition?

Honor consensual reality before taking advantage of it.

Mark 2:25

“Have you never read,” answered Jesus,  “what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and his companions –

too often caught
yesterday’s gift forgotten
today danger looms
blockading perspective
it’s my responsibility

remembers to share
intersecting pathways
depths and movements
possibilities available now
caught and applied

“Said” is too neutral a word in this scene, Consider something closer to “retorted” or “responded in kind”.

If Jesus has not recently been on retreat it would be understandable that he is using arrogant rhetoric intended to end an argument before it can be lost. It would be expected that any Pharisee worth their salt would know all the stories about David. The reader might also be expected to know any David reference.

From this it is not unreasonable to see a glint in Jesus’ eye as he readies his return trap.

This anticipatory sparkle continues a long history of a question/counter-question form of argumentation among the Rabbis. Such back-and-forth questions as these offer a possibility to put us on track to reason together. Unfortunately, this same process can also be condescending rather than honest and deepen divides.

It will be important to be scrupulous in picking and choosing what, out of a common pot, is going to be focused upon. When we are coming from different perspectives but want to claim ourselves as the primary interpreter of history, we are but a step away from revisionism in its most difficult sense. So it is that differing Orders were formed within Roman Catholicism; a multitude of Lutheran Reformations reformed away from one another; United Methodists are using differing strands of their Wesleyan heritage to find yet another way to split apart. Without agreement on various pictures of an elephant by blind-men, we dissect the soul out of life. Simply naming David, like naming Jesus, does not give any assurance that we are talking about the same David or Jesus or Torah or Muḥammad or ….

Mark 2:24

“Look!” the Pharisees said to him, “why are they doing what is not allowed on the Sabbath?” 

wise opponents keep us guessing
once they asked me about you
now they ask you about me
a little explanation hems us in
one rationale now will resurface
in another setting to further accuse
the only strength we have
is in knowing what every slave
knows about their master
blame is based on perception and whim
every corner of ritual must be defended
slave-phobia can never be admitted
since blame and misrepresentation
are expected every day from any angle
know a larger frame of belovedness
here there is no law against sharing
no injunction to representative purity
only a hard tension of virtue and community

“Blemish” is an ancient transactional game similar to finding someone to blame before we are held to blame. We look for someone’s weakness or distance from a given mean of behavior.

Having identified what their wrong is, puts us in a good position from which we can protect our own wrongness. So we have a notice of action quickly turned into an accusation.

With the crop ripe enough for harvest, it is easy to see the disciples as reaping and eating rather than gleaning, after a harvest, or finding a gum-like chewing substitute. Seeing wrong at work is particularly easy after having several run-ins with Jesus. Obviously there is some malice aforethought going on here.

Rather than follow the same game-plan as before—running directly at Jesus—it is time to try a triangling ploy of tacking at the disciples. This is an easy one to catch when it is happening to someone else, but when surprised we can easily slip into excuse mode rather than to find the main thread of the distress and address it.

To be called to be an announcer of good news is as dramatic as a call to leave the familiarity of Egypt for a land of one’s own. This exodus is a wilderness journey and manna (at hand food) is directly tied to Sabbath. Later restrictions on what was or was not acceptable on Sabbath began to take precedence over earlier understandings. So we have now later versus earlier understandings of Sabbath/Food connections. This same dynamic is present in every argument.

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.