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What could be upsetting or dangerous about somebody healing people?
The centrality of conflict in Mark is also born out by the care with which Mark composes this section unless he already received the stories in this form: Three things hold this section together compositionally: A skilled oral performer of the text would be able to bring this structure out in such a way that its main theme, made explicit in the centerpiece, is prominently emphasized: The second thing that holds the section together is the increasing level of hostility and opposition Jesus engenders from the scribes and Pharisees: These are, of course, controversies largely over Jewish law, and we have to be careful here.
Such controversies over the law were -- and are -- the very fabric of Judaism.
The Pharisees, especially the more conservative ones, believed that God had given the law as a means of carving out a sphere of holiness and righteousness on earth -- the very presence of God on earth depended on it, they believed. The boundaries the law prescribed between sin and righteousness, clean and unclean, sacred time and space and profane, Jew and Gentile, and between physical imperfection and wholeness -- these could not be breached without profound damage to the social and religious order.
And, occupied as they were by the Romans at the time, maintaining order was paramount. So Jesus subverts ritual boundaries not so much by introducing something completely new, but by drawing on parts of the tradition he thinks are much more in line with what God wants for and from humanity, and by implicitly -- and later explicitly -- accusing his opponents of maintaining the established boundaries at the expense of human need.
Thus living in the way Jesus does -- and that he calls his followers to do -- will inevitably lead to conflict with those powers. More than any other Gospel, he portrays the disciples as also lacking the insight and knowledge necessary to hear and follow Jesus, due to the same fear of such a radical new way of being in the world; they are also blind and deaf, and their own hearts are hardened e.
The fearful striving for self-preservation that prevents people from crossing boundaries for others is a human problem, and we see it today in both Jewish and Christian communities. As I write this, the Catholic Church is engaged in precisely this debate about boundaries in its Synod on the family; and we see it within Judaism in the increasing split between those who want to carve out a zone of ritual purity within Israel, and those who are concerned with Palestinian suffering and injustice a dicey topic, I know.
In this section, Mark makes it pretty clear where he thinks Jesus stands on these issues. Do we have the courage to stand with him?
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