Seemingly insignificant things can end up making a world of difference when God is concerned.
Paul is born in Tarsus in Cilicia making him a Roman citizen. He is born a Jew, and it clear from today’s passage that it is this Jewish heritage that mattered most to Paul’s family. These were Pharisees, apparently a long line of them (23:6). Paul’s father will go to the expense and trouble to get him to Jerusalem to train under Gamaliel the Pharisee (22:3). This is a good education. By all of his own accounts scattered throughout Acts and his letters, it is this Jewish background that Paul gloried in.
And yet in today’s reading it is Paul’s Roman citizenship that makes all the difference between life and death. The Jews are ready to tear him “in pieces” (23:10). A gang of Jewish extremists have pledged not to eat or drink until they kill Paul (23:12). An assassination plot is hatched (23:15). But leave it to the Jews and Paul is as good as dead.
Ancient Roman Citizenship Diploma
It is because of his Roman citizenship that the Roman tribune is involved at this point. The tribune’s greatest desire is simply to preserve peace, but he ends up protecting Paul nonetheless. The tribune’s palace guard whisks Paul out of the fomenting Sanhedrin. The Roman respect for law ensures Paul a fair trial. An army of two hundred foot soldiers and seventy horsemen escort Paul out of Jerusalem and off to a Caesarean prison, and safety as well. Ultimately, it is Paul’s Roman citizenship that will bring him to Rome so he can give his “testimony about [Jesus] in . . . Rome” (23:11). Bottomline:
When I [the tribune] learned that he was a Roman citizen I went with the guard and rescued him. (23:27)
Where one is born is not nearly as important as what one does once one is born. And yet Paul’s place of birth is what rescues him at this moment.
What seemingly insignificant detail from your life has turned out to have made a world of difference?
People were watching to see if Jesus would heal him [a man with a withered hand] on the sabbath, so they could frame a charge against him. [Standing before them with the man] he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath, or to do evil? To save life or to kill?” They stayed quiet. He was deeply upset at their hard-heartedness, and looked around at them angrily. [When Jesus healed the man] the Pharisees went out right away and began to plot with the Herodians against Jesus, trying to find a way to destroy him. (3:2-6, editing mine)
Wow! We are only three chapters into this story and the antagonists are already going for blood! Mess with power and you will feel the pain!
“They stayed quiet.” Of course they did. Side with the law and condone the neglect of the maimed? Or side with Jesus and de-value the law they held so dearly, too dearly, undermining their own power? Catch-22.
We use silence to hide. Inaction is an attempt to skirt the issue. Just don’t get involved and pass by on the other side of the road. The Pharisees knew this approach well (remember that Samaritan parable or “picture,” as Wright calls them, 3:23?).
I am convicted today by how Jesus sees a lack of compassion as “hard-heartedness.” Even when we feel like we have some good reason for it.
What did you find yourself “chewing on” today from Mark 3?
Who is this guy Jesus?
It sounds like a weird question, for us, the initiated. We are in, so we get Jesus.
But as our story begins, to his audience Jesus was just another rabbi calling people to “follow him” (2:14; 1:17). Frankly, to more and more people today Jesus is also just another religious teacher, a wise man, one more path up the proverbial mountain of religious options, a mountain where all religious paths ultimately lead to the same place and to the same God whatever you may choose to call Him or Her or It or Them.
Who exactly Jesus was is precisely the question asked in various ways today:
Jesus saw their faith, and said to the paralyzed man, “Child, your sins are forgiven!” How dare the fellow speak like this?” grumbled some of the legal experts among themselves. “It’s blasphemy! Who can forgive sins except God?” (2:5-6)
They [Pharisees] said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (2:16)
People came and said to Jesus, “Look here: John’s disciples are fasting, and so are the Pharisees’ disciples; why aren’t yours?” (2:18)
“Look here,” said the Pharisees to him, “why are they doing something illegal on the sabbath?” (2:24)
This man named Jesus. He is not like the rabbis, the religious leaders, the masters we are normally used to.
What did you notice today that you had not before?