The Gospel text for this Sunday starts us back on that short and high-intensity road of Jesus to Jerusalem in the Gospel according to Mark (7:1-13). And the first verse of the text even mentions that famous city: ‘Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem….’
It is interesting that the word ‘gathered’ is basically the same as a synagogue. It is even more interesting that this eventually happens in every account—that some of the religious leaders of the day come from Jerusalem to see this ‘new’ thing that has to do with Jesus.
You might think that this would happen at approximately the same time in all the four accounts. If this story were a history lesson, then that might be true. But if this has to do with our salvation, then there could be different ways in which Jesus shows his authority … to those who had some authority while he was on earth.
Some of the ‘great crowds’ who followed him came from Jerusalem in Matthew 4:25 (that city being in the center, the third, of five places mentioned). But the first time we have some authorities coming from Jerusalem is Matthew 15:1. It is basically the same text as Mark 7:1, but it is interesting that the account in the Gospel according to Matthew mentions that the disciples came up to Jesus later and asked him if he knew that the Pharisees were offended by what he said! The Gospel according to Mark does not focus on that perspective at all. Jesus is much more difficult with them in the Gospel according to Mark.
Mark 1:5 also records people from Jerusalem coming to Jesus, this time saying that ‘all Jerusalem’ was going out to him—along with all the country of Judea! Another ‘great crowd’ follows him, with some from Jerusalem, in Mark 3:8. But the first time authorities from Jerusalem come to Jesus is in Mark 3:22: ‘And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul….”’ This is obviously a harsh statement, ‘fighting words’ you might say.
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus entered into a discussion with some of the religious leaders of Jerusalem when he was a boy of twelve, visiting the city (Luke 2:41ff). But, again, the first time authorities come from Jerusalem to Jesus is a totally different account. When Jesus healed the paralytic, the account starts in this way: ‘On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem (4:17).’ And there is a wonderful result after the miracle: ‘And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things [literally, ‘paradoxes’] today (5:26).”’ This is a much more positive text.
Just when you thought there was enough variety, there is also the Gospel according to John. Religious leaders in Jerusalem never come to Jesus in this account; he comes to them. But they do come to the one who was sent before him—John the Baptist. John 1:19 has this perspective: And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”’
How much variety would you expect from someone who is interested in saving ALL people? From the beginning of time, there have been many types of authority—even the sun, moon and stars ‘rule’ in a way (Genesis 1:16). Jesus responds to that manifold authority with a manifold, gospel-based answer. He gives what is needed for salvation.