Old Wineskins (Mark Ch.2)

The second in the series of essays I wrote for my Gospel of Mark class from the Summer 2017 quarter. Although this paper is more analytical in nature, I really enjoyed watching the literary mastery of the Gospel of Mark unfold. I’d never read the Gospels with classic storytelling in mind, so it’s amazing to see how brilliantly paced the Gospels truly are, Mark in particular. I hope you enjoy!

As we study the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark, we see that John-Mark’s habit of merciless brevity has not made his work careless. Instead, the second chapter follows a very logical progression from the first. As we saw, the first chapter set the stage—however abruptly—for the arrival of the Kingdom of God and its heralding figure, the Messiah. Throughout the first chapter, Jesus was introduced, commended by God, tested in the wilderness to prove His position, chose His first followers, and performed His first miracles. This not only made Jesus’ character and purpose vividly clear, but it also set a precedent for what life in the coming Kingdom would be like.

Interestingly, however, the first chapter is largely devoid of conflict. Outside of the temptation and some benign astonishment on behalf of the crowds, Jesus proceeds in full force without resistance. The first disciples leave the boat without question, and no opposition is recorded in response to His first miracles and healings.

The second chapter, by contrast, swiftly introduces the tension that will plague Jesus and His advancing Kingdom. This chapter documents a healing, a calling of another disciple, and two accounts of teaching/questioning. In every single case, Jesus is opposed, challenged, accused of sin, and even ridiculed by the bystanders.

This shift in the narrative accomplishes two important objectives. First, it introduces conflict—an “antagonist,” as it were—to this new story, proving John-Mark’s narrative to be logical. Second, and of keen relevance to us even today, the choice of stories in this chapter prepares us for the specific theological questions Jesus’ hearers—and any wishing to enter the Kingdom—will have to answer. The four stories included are as follows:

—“The Healing of the Paralytic” (Mark 2:1-12): This is one of Jesus’ more famous healing stories, in which the paralytic’s friends let him down through the roof. Jesus bids the man forgiven before He heals him; it is this divine declaration of pardon that the Pharisees object to.

—“The Calling of Levi” (Mark 2:13-17): Jesus calls another disciple, this one a tax collector. This controversial choice leads to the Pharisees criticizing Jesus for “eating with sinners.”

—“New Wine in Old Wineskins” (Mark 2:18-22): Jesus is presented with His first theological debate by the Pharisees and disciples of John, who question why His disciples do not fast as they do. Jesus responds with His parable about putting new wine in old wineskins.

—“Sabbath Was Made for Man” (Mark 2:23-28): Jesus is rebuked for allowing His disciples to pick corn on the Sabbath, to which Jesus responds with declaring His lordship over the Sabbath.

It is worth noting that in each of these stories, the aggressor is the “legal experts” or “Pharisees”—that is, the established religious system. This realization brings us to the core message John-Mark is conveying up to this point in the Gospel story. Jesus arrived like a burst of lightning (Chapter 1), bringing a new Kingdom (Chapter 1) with new teaching (Chapter 2), to which there will be opposition from the established earthly kingdom (Chapter 2). At a time when many will be attempting to put new wine into old wineskins, it’s time for us to be “born again” and woven into a new garment ready to accept the new Kingdom.

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