In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus has returned to a synagogue. Previously He was in the synagogue at Capernaum where he was teaching with authority. Is this the same synagogue previously visited? We don’t know. There is no specific identification within the Gospel text. What we do know is that Jesus is still in Galilee preaching, teaching, and healing. It is here – in a Galilean synagogue – again, Jesus finds himself in controversy.
To reflect upon this controversy we need to remember that the synagogue is a focal point of Jewish worship outside of the Temple in Jerusalem. The use of synagogues for Jewish religious gathering for worship can be dated from the 3rd century BC, but synagogues doubtless have an older history. Some scholars think that the destruction of Solomon’s Temple of Jerusalem in 586 BCE gave rise to synagogues after private homes were temporarily used for public worship and religious instruction. Other scholars trace the origin of synagogues to the Jewish custom of having representatives of communities outside Jerusalem pray together during the two-week period when priestly representatives of their community attended ritual sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem. Whatever the exact origin of synagogues or their development they were centers of religious life for the Jewish people outside of Jerusalem, (source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/synagogue).
Now, Jesus is in the synagogue and being watched closely to see what he is going to do, so that those who are watching him can accuse him. The Greek here is kategoreo meaning “to bring charges”. It is a technical term as those who are watching Jesus are collecting evidence to build a legal case against him. Who is watching Jesus? The identification of the watchers does not occur until Mark 3:6 where we hear about the Pharisees and the Herodians who hold counsel with one another so that they can destroy Jesus.
The controversy includes last week’s reading from Mark 2:23-28 involving three principles: (1) the principle “the sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the sabbath”. (2) the principle that “the son of man is lord of the sabbath”. (3) the principle which Jesus puts in the form of a question “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”
These three principles are the culmination to this point of Jesus’ ministry (preaching, teaching, and healing), Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel of God “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15); and identification of Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 1:1) as well as the Son of Man (Mark 2:28). In other words, the controversy is about the kingdom of God; the controversy is about repenting (turning around) and believing in God — incarnate.
Through the lens of the controversy, how do you think about the kingdom of God?
Perhaps the message on this Sunday is about how we think about the kingdom of God by examining why we go to church?