No one enjoys conflict, but sometimes is helpful if it clarifies choices we need to make.
Mark 2.13–3.6 records four conflicts Jesus had with Pharisees. over (1) eating with sinners (2.13–17), (2) fasting (2.18–22), (3) picking grain on the Sabbath (2.23–28), and (4) healing the sick on the Sabbath (3.1–6). Each conflict clarified Jesus’ identity and mission, as well as our response to him.
First, the conflict over eating with sinners (2.13–17): Jesus called Levi son of Alphaeus to follow him. Levi was a tax collector. Then as now, no one likes a tax collector. In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were considered thieves at best and traitors at worst. The Romans hired locals to collect the taxes. Whatever amount the locals could collect above and beyond the required sum was their salary. The surcharge made them thieves. The fact that they worked for a foreign empire made them traitors. But Jesus made Levi a disciple anyway, and ate at his house. Seeing this, the Pharisees asked, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Answer: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Second, the conflict over fasting (2.18–22): The spiritual regimen of the Pharisees included fasting. But they never saw Jesus’ disciples fast. They asked him why. Jesus responded by saying, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.” In other words, fasting is appropriate when you have occasion to mourn, but not when you have occasion to rejoice. Jesus’ presence with his disciples is always an occasion to rejoice.
Third, the conflict over picking grain on the Sabbath (2.23–28): The Law prohibits working on the Sabbath (Ex. 20.8–11). When the Pharisees saw the disciples handpicking some grain one Sabbath, they accused them of lawbreaking. Jesus responded by reminding them of 1 Samuel 21.1–6, when David “entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he gave some to his companions.” As far as Jesus was concerned, his disciples had done nothing wrong. (1) “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” His disciples were hungry and needed to eat. (2) “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” In other words, if David could “violate” the Sabbath, then Jesus—who was a king greater than even David—could do the same, making him Lord of the Sabbath.
Fourth, the conflict over healing on the Sabbath (3.1–6): According to some rabbis, on the Sabbath, you could administer only enough aid to a sick person to keep him from worsening. If you helped him get better, you had worked on the Sabbath, thus violating the commandment. This legalism made Jesus angry. “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” The answer is obvious.
Who is Jesus? The Great Physician of sinful souls. The Bridegroom who calls us to a life of joy. The greater than David. And the Healer with power to do good. How should we respond? With repentance, joy, obedience, and good works.