Mark 3: 1-6 – Healing on Sabbath (Fifth Conflict Story)


The fifth and final episode is presented as the climax of the conflict stories in this section. As we have seen in the previous stories, it was his enemies who questioned Jesus or his disciples about their conduct and behaviour (Cf. Mk 2: 7, 16, 18, 24). In Mark 3: 1-6, however, it is Jesus himself who takes the initiative and questions his opponents (differently in Mt 12: 10). In fact, they neither question Jesus nor reply to him. They are silent. Confronted by the insensitive attitude of the Pharisees and the pitiable condition of the man before him, Jesus is not only angry but defiant. He healed the man straight away and we are told that the Pharisees went out and conspired with the Herodians to destroy Jesus.

While the Pharisees were concerned with what is permitted and what is not permitted to do on the Sabbath, Jesus’ concern was about doing good and helping a man in need. According to the Pharisaic traditions the law of the Sabbath rest forbade all activities including healing of the sick (Cf. Mt 12: 10; Lk 13: 14), unless, of course, the person concerned is in danger of death. For Jesus, however, the Sabbath regulations are secondary when it is a question of doing good. According to Jesus the decisive factor is not what the law prescribes but the obligation of doing good and helping a man in need. Jesus who is Lord even of the Sabbath (Cf. Mk 2: 28) heals the man of his ailment and by doing so he also frees the Sabbath from the legalism of the Pharisees.

With this healing episode the conflict stories in this section (Mk 2: 1 – 3: 6) are brought to a climactic point in the adversaries murderous plot against Jesus (Mk 3: 6). Here we see the religious leaders joining hands with secular powers against Jesus. The Herodians were not a special religious group like the Pharisees or the Scribes. They were men of influence, men of some standing who, as their name suggests, had pledged their allegiance and loyalty to the ruler Herod Antipas. The significance of the Pharisees’ conspiracy with the supporters of Herod becomes clear when we remember that it was Herod who put John the Baptist to death (Mk 6: 14-29). The shadow of Jesus’ cross thus begins to appear quite early in the Markan narrative.

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