Homily for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

January 21, 2024.  Texts: Nehemiah 9:13-21; Psalm 64:5-12; Mark Chapter 3.

Sermon on the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 3

To read this passage online click this link to Biblegateway.com

Over the past nine months, members of our One Parish One Prisoner Core Team have been on quite a journey with our friend Andrew. It might best be describes as a roller coaster ride, with ups, downs, and wild curves. We hang on for dear life, because we have promised our friendship.

And, for what it’s worth, all life is dear, right?

Along the way we have become more familiar with the court system than we ever imagined possible. And one thing that has become evident, is that there is compassion in the courts. This is a reflection of the compassion that is in our law. And who has ever thought of the law as being an instrument of compassion?

In much the same way, God’s Law – most obviously the Ten Commandments are expressions of compassion.  Have you noticed that they don’t pronounce judgement or punishment?  They exist to help us practice being good friends with God and our neighbors, as Jesus taught.

The third chapter of Mark begins with Jesus in a synagogue on the sabbath, probably in Capernaum. It appears that Jesus is picking a fight as he draws attention to a man with a deformed hand, asking, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” This question is not at all random.

In the last two verses of the previous chapter Jesus had been criticized for not properly keeping the Sabbath. He responded with a Babylonian Talmudic quote that, “The sabbath is given for you and not you to the sabbath.” Now, in the synagogue on the sabbath, Jesus continues the conversation.

In Genesis God commanded that all work cease on the seventh day. The Ten Commandments include keeping the sabbath holy. Yet another rabbinical tradition of the Talmud was clear on the matter of life and death. If a person’s life was in danger, even on the sabbath they should be helped.

The people to whom Jesus spoke were silent. And for good reason. The man whose disability Jesus pointed out, was not in danger of dying. This required some thought.

The point that Jesus seem to be making is that although the man’s life was not threatened by his deformity, his ability to work and his social acceptability were impaired. In that sense, his livelihood was threatened and because of the way the law was applied, he would not be living the fullness of life that God promises to us. Yet for Jesus, all life is dear and the law is meant to be an instrument of compassion.

It seems to be the people’s silence that provoked Jesus to indignation. If so, we are reminded that taking no action, or saying nothing, are still actions with consequences. Not doing good can amount to doing harm.

Worse yet is when the good is actively prevented. The Pharisees and Herodians are named as conspiring enemies of Jesus in this story. It’s odd since their interests were very different. So this is probably a general critique of religious and political leaders attempting to prevent Jesus from applying God’s law compassionately, bearing good news of healing, and release.

The point of Jesus’s work, bringing good news to people is brought home in the continuing narrative. So many people come to see Jesus that again he calls for a boat so that he can be safe from the crush, and also better seen and heard by the multitudes on the shore. And many people commit themselves as disciples of Jesus.

It is out of these many disciples that Jesus chose his core team. Like Moses, Jesus went up the mountain to be close to God as he prayed for guidance. Jesus was inspired to choose twelve, in the tradition of sacred numbering found with Abraham’s twelve sons and Israel’s twelve tribes.

Jesus didn’t just call the disciples as workers, but as friends. Mark’s list of names includes the nicknames by which Jesus called them.  Simon was “the rock” (and sometimes the “stumbling” block).  James and John were the “sons of thunder”. You get a sense of the affection with which Jesus regarded them – it’s real relationship, Jesus’s dear, if sometimes exasperating, friends.

Mark tells us that Jesus not only called the disciples, but also commissioned them as apostles.  This means they not only followers of Jesus, but also sent out with his message of good news. The disciples were given, along with the good news, the authority to cast out demons.

This chapter goes on to describe how demonic forces plagued Jesus and the Twelve. It is a text we will take up later in the spring. For now it is enough to say that many respond to Jesus’s call to friendship and following. Even when there is pushback, and though the cost of compassionate commitment can be steep.

Questions to Ponder

What limits would you place on compassion?

How does religion or society restrain Jesus today?

In what ways are you a friend of Jesus?

What nickname might Jesus give you?

Is it enough to follow Jesus or are you also sent out with his message?