We see Jesus withdrawing from the bustling industrial fishing town of Capernaum glad perhaps, of some respite from his growing confrontation with the Pharisees. They are already full of doubts about him and have challenged him about his disciples' behaviour on the Sabbath and Jesus's radical answer The Son Of Man is Lord of the Sabbath certainly did not diffuse the tension.
In fact the tension is deepened by Jesus's healing of the man with the withered hand. Mark records that Jesus was grieved and angry by the religious leader's lack of grace and love. They are grieved at his perceived destruction of the foundations of the law that for them define who Israel as a nation is called to be. That misunderstanding between grace and law will lead to the cross. It is sobering to see that conflict emerging here not in the city of Jerusalem but in the fields and hills of Galilee.
So Jesus seeks respite; we might do well to note his need for this, but it is not be, the phone rings! ... A vast crowd pursues Jesus. They are coming to him, crowding him but he is prepared, he orders his disciples to have a boat ready, here and elsewhere it would serve as floating pulpit, he can speak to the crowd but not be crushed or overwhelmed by them.
Those who are sick push forward thinking, hoping that just to touch Jesus will bring healing. What expectation and fascination had Jesus already generated; the word goes out across the region of the healings in Capernaum. The paralysed man lifts his bed and walks home forgiven restored and new life ahead of him that he never dare dream if.
Did the Pharisees feel God would reward them for thid planned murder? Woods and trees comes to mind. They had come to understand that God could be pleased by rule keeping, they saw themselves as not like other men remember that was the boast made by the Pharisee at prayer? This was despite God warning them through his prophets that even their most righteous deeds were bit like filthy rags before him.
Jesus was expanding their version of God. They had seen enough to be really threatened by him. And the fascination of the crowd is set in this context of confrontation with the religious establishment and its guardians. Now evil spirits pipe up making their presence felt. Unclean spirits crawl out, they are shown in the behaviour of some in the crowd. They are dominated by a will that is not their own, driven to cry out and Jesus calls on them to be silent.
This may seem rather strange after all, they are witnessing to a key truth of who Jesus was. Did Jesus not want this to be spread around? " You are the Son of God". Surely Jesus would want them to keep going; no, they are to be silent. Why? Because the people and the disciples do not yet understand what being the Son of God would involve or be about or about what Jesus had come to do; they had seen him as a healer and heard him as a teacher but as a single bearer, and a redeemer, well that had to be worked out, not revealed, by hostile forces who are malevolent towards all things godly and wish only to defeat and deface God's creation, these evil spirits only seek to discredit and neutralise Jesus. They need to get silenced and they are, for that time. Snapshots of Jesus for us to ponder today.
No wonders large crowd gathers. Here then is the impact of Jesus, not just what he says but what he does. He cannot be ignored.
I wonder what if the confrontation with the Pharisees, was also creating interest among the crowd. Clearly it has escalated. Mark tells us that the Pharisees are plotting to destroy Jesus, seeking allies with their political opposites the Herodians to plan for this. We need to understand that this is a big thing, like UKIP joining with the Labour party today! Clearly they are both rattled by Jesus proclaiming the kingdom and by what he had done and his popularity among the crowd. Here is no simple Galilean wondering around the lake with a few rag tag friends piously meditating on the lilies of the field!
There is dramatic inconsistency in the Pharisees thinking here. They are the rule keepers; grain should not be harvested if ground on the Sabbath, healing should not be done on the Sabbath but they are prepared to plot to destroy a man, to murder Jesus so ignoring the sixth commandment to get at him! They are infuriated that Jesus is prepared to circumvent, reinterprete, or is it fulfill the law.