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Episodes of Conflict
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After studying this section you should:

  • know the occasions when Jesus is in open conflict with the authorities
  • understand the significance of the Sabbath laws of the time and their relevance to Christians today
  • know the details of the episodes of conflict

Jesus directly challenged the established authority, not only through his parables but also through direct action and teachings.

The Sabbath Laws

  • The Pharisees applied the Sabbath laws very rigidly.
  • They had hundreds of sub-clauses about what constituted work on the Sabbath. No one was allowed to carry more ink than was necessary to write two letters or more oil than was necessary to anoint the nail of the smallest toe.
  • Jesus cast these petty rules aside.

Picking corn on the Sabbath

  • When the disciples pick ears of corn on the Sabbath they are accused of ‘working’.
  • Jesus responds by reminding the Pharisees that David and his men ate bread designated for the high priest on the Sabbath because they were hungry.
  • He tells them the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:23–27). He says the same thing when he heals the man with the withered hand, showing that it is more important to do good on the Sabbath; to help not to destroy.

The man with the withered hand

  • On another occasion when Jesus went to the synagogue, there was a man in the congregation who had a withered arm; and they were watching to see whether Jesus would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they could bring a charge against him.
  • He said to the man with the withered arm, ‘Come and stand out here.’ Then he turned to them: ‘Is it permitted to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?’
  • They had nothing to say and, looking round at them with anger and sorrow at their obstinate stupidity, he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your arm.’ He stretched it out and his arm was restored. But the Pharisees, on leaving the synagogue, began plotting against him with the partisans of Herod to see how they could make away with him. (Mark 3:1–6)

Ritual washing

Jesus challenges the Pharisees about their elaborate teaching on cleanliness. It was considered necessary to wash hands in a ritual way after they had touched anything that might make them unclean. Food from the market and other items had to be ritually washed.

Jesus chastises the Pharisees, saying they only apply the law when it suits them and treat their parents badly by declaring that all their goods are ‘corban’ (belonging to God) and cannot be used to help the elderly. Jesus says it is the things that come out of a person that make him unclean – immoral things such as murder, slander, adultery, jealousy, indecency, pride and deceit. What a person takes in physically does not make him unclean in a real sense as a person.

Paying taxes

  • Some Pharisees and Herod’s men try to trap Jesus by asking him who they should pay taxes to.
  • Jesus shows them the Emperor’s head on a coin and tells them to pay to the emperor what belongs to him and to God what belongs to God.
  • Jesus has the measure of the Pharisees and is not afraid to confront them and outwit them, if necessary, to underline his message. He is not a revolutionary about to overthrow the government. He has come to challenge the distortions in following the way of God.
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