Jesus begins his first ministry campaign by calling fishermen from the north country of Galilee to be his disciples. One would think he would’ve started somewhere in the vicinity of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religious life and devotion. After all, Jesus was in the area when he came down to be baptized by his cousin John (1:5). Nevertheless, after his time in the wilderness, he begins his ministry in Galilee where the unimportant lived. Galilee was not exactly a hotbed of culture, it was an agrarian culture full of disenfranchised peasants. This is where Jesus begins. No wonder the religious leaders said he was possessed.
It gets better though.
After calling his first disciples, Jesus hits the ground running, exorcising a man of an unclean spirit in the synagogue in Capernaum. This demon represents the teaching of the scribal class which served to legitimate the oppressive structures of the religious leaders. Thus, Jesus embarks on a preaching campaign throughout Galilee wherein he preaches in their synagogues and casts out demons (1:39). In effect, he is attacking the institutional structures of the religious leaders. No wonder they claimed he was possessed.
But it gets even better or should I say worse.
A leper comes to Jesus imploring Jesus to make him clean. Jesus does so but with a command. Jesus sends the former leper to the priest as a witness against the religious establishment (not “as a proof to them” as the ESV translates in 1:44). Again, Jesus is taking a hit at the religious establishment and as a result he can longer enter the towns openly because he is now a marked man. This is crazy. It’s as if Jesus is looking for a fight. Of course he is possessed by Beelzebub.
Yes, it gets better.
Jesus returns to Capernaum and a paralytic is brought to him (through the roof!) and what does Jesus do? He forgives him his debts! Jesus did not have the authority to do so, that authority came from Jerusalem, from the Temple apparatus. How dare he! Jesus’ actions are now having a direct effect on the economy of the Temple, on Yahweh’s very own house. He must be possessed!
Bear with me, it gets crazier!
Jesus continues on and calls Levi, a tax collector, to follow him. Levi was the lowest of the low, a collaborator with Rome, a betrayer of his people and a lover of money. He is the epitome of unclean and corrupt. But Jesus doesn’t stop there, he invites many tax collectors and sinners to his home to break bread, to have table fellowship. Only pious Jews were to have table fellowship with other pious Jews. For the Pharisees table fellowship was a mark of brotherhood. Jesus was communicating that these tax collectors and sinners were his brothers and sisters. This was abominable in the eyes of a devout Pharisee. It really isn’t any wonder that they think he is of Satan.
And now the nail in the coffin.
The disciples of Jesus were eating grain on the Sabbath and Jesus defends them. In fact, he likens himself to David on the run from King Saul which is not surprising when one considers that Jesus is on the run. Jesus then enters the synagogue and heals the man with the withered hand. He could’ve waited until sundown to do so and not offended the religious leaders so deeply, but Jesus had his reasons. For Jesus the Sabbath was about life and restoration and for the Pharisees it was a boundary marker, another rule to be followed that identified them as God’s chosen people. How both sides understood Torah was at the heart of the conflict. Jesus’ understanding counters the Pharisees’ understanding which is why they conclude that he is possessed. Thus, they along with the Herodians, decide that they must destroy him (3:6).
Sane people don’t do these kinds of things especially if they are seeking to win friends and influence people. During his first ministry campaign Jesus delegitimates and calls into question many cultural norms and practices. In so doing he sets many people free and makes many people angry. Faithfulness to God, to his ways, often elicits a reaction whether intended or not. Jesus couldn’t help but do this. He got into holy trouble immediately.
Mark ends this section with Jesus calling 12 men to be his apostles reminding us of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus is beginning something new. Hence, new wine for new wine skins (2:22). These twelve men are fishermen, terrorists and tax collectors. This is who God is calling to establish his Kingdom on earth. By all human reasoning and expectations this is downright crazy. Jesus had the best of the best all around him from scribes to Pharisees to priests but instead he opts for peasants to be his disciples. No wonder Jesus’ family thought he was out of his mind (3:21) and no wonder the sribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out demons ” (3:22).